By Chris Hendrickson, special to the Monitor
Their city was ravaged by war, and violence was commonplace.
Just as there was a glimmer of hope that the war might be coming to an end, the Nyiragongo volcano erupted, bringing with it a new form of devastation.
Lava flowed through the city streets, destroying everything in its path. Displaced from their homes and living in refugee camps, most people would not necessarily decide to start a band.
Yet that is exactly what the Balume brothers did.
The city was Goma, the year was 2003, and the band is Maisha Soul, or “Soul of Life.” The band will play a free show at the Monroe Covenant Church on Friday, Dec. 21.
Goma is a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is the capitol of the North Kivu province. The city has been wracked by violence for more than 18 years, most recently with rebel fighters taking over and displacing many civilians.
Fear is high and stability is low in Goma. With the continued risk of the rebels returning, along with the constant threat from the active volcano Nyiragongo, Goma has been referred to as “the most dangerous city in the world.”
The Balume brothers, through their band Maisha Soul, have found a way to promote peace and hope throughout the Congo with their music. They began singing in the refugee camp where they lived after the 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo to inspire people there and raise spirits.
Prince Balume, 25, founded the band, and is the oldest of the four. A songwriter, he also sings and plays the guitar and the maracas. Eric, 20, plays guitar, drums, and sings. Achilles, 18, plays drums and sings, and Innocent, the youngest of the four at 15, is a songwriter, vocalist and percussionist.
The brothers’ talent is known throughout the Congo, and is beginning to gain international recognition. At 13, Innocent Balume was honored in a singing competition, winning Congo SuperStar 2010. Innocent sang a Michael Jackson song along with a song that he wrote himself. All of Goma celebrated Innocent’s win.
It’s more than just music to the Balume brothers, it’s a peace movement. The band is helping to unify musicians in Goma to better spread their message of hope, and their motto is “Music is our gun.”
Maisha Soul’s music is an upbeat combination of traditional Congo sounds, featuring modern touches of hip hop, reggae, and rhythm and blues.
The brothers are no strangers to the Pacific Northwest. They performed at Vashon High School in April of 2011 where they received a standing ovation, and were also guests at the Seattle radio station KEXP.
Their travels were sponsored by the Eastern Congo Initiative and Monroe-based organization HEAL Africa. HEAL Africa was founded in 2005 by Monroe residents Dick and Judy Anderson. The organization is focused on community development in Goma, empowering women and providing medical aid to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dick and Judy will host the Balume brothers during their journey to the U.S.
When asked about Maisha Soul, Judy Anderson commented that the band is able to “articulate dreams and compassion through their music.”
Maisha Soul will appear in an effort to raise awareness of the situation in the Congo, but also to support the local work of Take the Next Step, a non-profit organization in Monroe, which provides life skills classes, food, clothing and other services for people in the community who are homeless or otherwise in need.
The band will perform at the Monroe Covenant Church on Friday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. Donations will be accepted in support of Take the Next Step. The Monroe Covenant Church is located at 202 S. Sams St. in Monroe. In regards to peace, Maisha Soul says it succinctly: “Music is better than a gun.”