The name sounds French, but this musician and peace activist was raised in the northern corner of Belgium, in the province and city named Antwerp. His message of peace goes beyond borders. He remains a mysterious figure, someone who exudes peace and tolerance. In his presence you breathe inspiration.
Christophe, in our lives we have key moments, events that stay with us because they change our lives in some way. What always interests me is that moment in which the change occurs in us and what happens to cause that change. Where was that change in you as a peacebuilder?
For me the change was clearly in 2005 when working in an orphanage in Congo, Kinshasa. I chose this internship during my studies in African languages and cultures. I remember very well my first impression of the colorful Congo, chaotic. Poverty and young hoodlums who were expelled manu military by police officers. I did not understand what I saw. It was my first impression, on my first trip beyond my familiar environment in which I grew up in the peace of Belgian urbanity. I wished to take the plane back home immediately, but instead continued my mission. Otherwise I would not be sitting here talking with you.
My six weeks of internship were over before I realized it. I organized activities for the orphanage youth (between 6 and 16 years old) and wrote my first lyrics and full song in French: “The world has to change”. Step by step I came into the rhythm of Congo. It was a wonderful experience. It shaped me into the person I am today.
Once you acclimatized to the country you suddenly had to go back to your own. After all those contradictions that you saw, after all the beautiful and interesting experiences you had, did you return home with the thought of returning again?
Yes, of course. In 2006, a year later, I returned. Determined, I saved some money and got a scholarship to build up a new project. I organized an inter-orphanage football tournament. It was there that I met a person that showed me a completely different side of Kinshasa. He took me out to the townships, also known as urban areas. It is very rare to go there as a white man, especially as someone that is not from the area. He was respected in the streets and therefore could show me the townships. I felt privileged. A new world was opened up to me, I was “inside” Kinshasa.
In the days I visited these areas I got in touch with street musicians. It is important for you to know that since my early years I went to music school where I learned to read music and to play the flute, the xylophone, the piano and the saxophone. Music is a very important part of me. To cut a long story short, I was invited to come to their recital. Soon there was a bond between us. We jammed it out loose and eventually formed a band.
So you were becoming real stars in the making and in the heart of Kinshasa.
More or less. We wrote our own lyrics, we did some studio recordings and even had our own video clips. It did not take long before we were invited to our first festival. We were real rebels. Critiquing the injustice of the system was our common thread. We had a large following among the youth. With around 30,000 youth living on the streets, words and lyrics such as “Embaraque la systeme” moved them. We wanted to change the system into a just and social one. It was a battle between us and the system.
I remembered our second festival. Just before we took to the stage, the organizer came to tell us that our music was very good, but that we had to change our lyrics. Of course we did not.
I find it hard to imagine the Christophe that I now have before me, surrounded by an aura of calm, as such a rebel. It seems very daring to go preach inflammatory language in a country like DRC, especially as a foreigner.
We did have a purpose, that is, spreading the idea of a just and social system where corruption does not exist. But it was indeed more about the battle than about the message. It was not worded very positively. We attracted the wrong “vibrations” to us. We were not liked by the government and that also brought with it an uneasy feeling. Freedom of expression was restricted. There were a few people that slowed us down. The struggle became more and more like one-way traffic, I put much of my efforts into it and got little in return. It was also a period of my life in which I had a spiritual attack.
Such pressure on the group and a mental dip seems like a bad cocktail. How did you deal with that?
Something had to change. It was no longer going smoothly with some of the group members. You know, I was a little naïve at the time. The driving force for achieving peace was anger and the cause was the system. In 2010 I got to know FERACO (Federation des rastas du Kongo). This was a second key moment in my peacebuilding story. Peacebuilding is a learning process. I do not regret my experiences with my former group, not at all. It was an adventure. But life moves on, and so do we.
You are talking of a learning process. What did the Christophe who now sits before me learn and how did he interweave it into the story of FERAKO?
It was a switch in my way of thinking. Before, my question was: “How can we blow up the system?”. My answers were not constructive to society. Now my question is of a different nature: “What do I wish to create?”. I want a peaceful and just world. So I have to contribute to that image in my medium. You have to first feel what you want before you can send it out to the world. This brings me to the law of attraction.
The law of attraction says that you attract what you radiate. We are ethereal beings and with every emotion that we create, we send out a vibration that according to the law of attraction will come back to us. For example, If you feel guilty, you will attract people and situations that give you guilt. Whoever rejects themselves will attract people and situations that in turn reject him or her. And so on. It makes no sense to go to a project with such mindsets and search for the cause as well as the solutions to your problems in the outside world. Many will condemn external factors for disagreeable emotions, making them confirm these emotions and therefore will attract negative results. Everything becomes twice as hard. Instead, people who believe in themselves and are convinced that everything is always going to be okay will vibrate pleasant emotions. They will achieve a lot in life. Many do this subconsciously, but it is the law of attraction manifesting itself.
You make me excited with this law of attraction. But how can this law contribute to the work of a youth peacebuilder?
My examples show how attraction works. The universe is unconditional. Some peacebuilders believe that the world has never been as violent as today. This gives them emotions of anger, frustration, helplessness… and they will therefore act from these emotions in an attempt to change the world. Unpleasant emotions are the driving force of their peacebuilding. However, the law says negative emotions attract negative results and that the universe will return them unconditionally.
In other words, a violent world will continue to exist as long as we continue to confirm it. Want to change the world? Then start with yourself. Imagine what a just, peaceful and loving world with a healthy environment and a fair distribution of wealth would look like. Your body becomes calm and inside you can feel the roar of happiness. Well, keep this feeling with you and recall it regularly. You will vibrate pleasant emotions and the universe will offer you people and situations that confirm this positiveness.
So if I understand correctly, your mindset from when you started in Congo totally changed? In the beginning you worked with a sense of anger and frustration. You put this through music and words to work for peace. But you thereby drew the wrong vibes and thus the wrong people. Now you create a sense of happiness and love to build peace and you see a big difference between then and now?
With my former fellow Congolese musicians, we were very combative in our music. Suing the injustice and convinced we could throw the system down. With the awareness that I have created now, the music changed and the message in the music changed too. Music is a medium and a carrier of vibrations. The message we now propagate at FERAKO is what we wish to create. The latest action we have taken is the production of a Congolese version of the song “Happy” by Pharell Williams. You know why.
Artist: Diana Sabogal H. – “Energias para la Paz”