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'My experience in Ireland has been quite simply incredible'

My life here has given me amazing opportunities as a professional musician. I don’t miss a lot of things from Kinshasa (apart from the sun, obviously).

Niwel Tsumbu

IT IS EXACTLY a decade this year since I moved to Ireland – and what a wonderful time it’s been.

I have met many people over the years but meeting my wife, Niamh Collins, and creating my own family is the highlight of it all. Niamh is from Bandon, Co Cork and we met at a gig in Cork. We have three children – Queinge, who is nine, Georgine, who’s six, and Violet, who is eight months. We also have a cat called Lola. She ignores us most of the time but we love her.

We are blessed and cursed because of our wealthy land

I grew up in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was great and I have a lot of great memories, however, it is a different place at the moment and not a very safe place to be. We are blessed and cursed because of our wealthy land. With gold, copper, diamonds and coltan, which is the mineral used in electronic devices, we should probably be one of the richest countries in the solar system but instead there are millions of us scattered around the world running away from the conflict that is happening right now.

The last time I was in Kinshasa, two years ago, everything seemed OK, until one morning we were woken up by a massive explosion that shook the whole city. I said a prayer to the universe for my kids as I did not think I would ever get out of there. The explosion was caused by a blast at a nearby arms dump. More than 200 people died that day, and many more were injured. The next day everything was back to normal, as if nothing had happened.

Life in Ireland has been simply incredible

My life is here now with my own family and lots of friends. I live in Greystones, Co Wicklow. I don’t miss a lot of things from Kinshasa – apart from the sun, obviously. The air quality here is amazing and it’s something I miss when I’m away.

My experience in Ireland has been quite simply incredible. In 2007 I was awarded a grant from Cork City Council to compose music for a ten piece band which we called The Big Bang Symphony. The project was a great success with a sold out show at the Cork Everyman Palace Theatre and a tour around Ireland. The project was an important stepping stone in my career as professional musician.

Since then I have performed in China, Spain, France, Lithuania, Catalunya and I have had the opportunity to share the stage with so many great musicians, such as Sinead O’Connor, Liam O Maoinlaoi, Glen Hansard, Donal Lunny, Nigel Kennedy, Baaba Maal, and Richard Bona, to name but a few. I’ve represented Ireland at the Chinese Expo in Shanghai and I composed music for the movie Happy Ever Afters. I’ve also performed for President Michael D Higgins and the British royal family. Last year I was invited to represent Central Africa at the prestigious poetry festival Marché de la Poesie in Paris.

There is space for everyone in Ireland to share their ideas

Later this year, I will release my fourth album with my new group, RiZA. People ask about my musical styles but I don’t think of styles when I play or listen to music – all music is just sound. It is like water for me, the same that falls from the sky becomes the sea, the river we drink, shower in and so on…

Everything that I have heard, from traditional Congolese music to classical, jazz, rock pop, metal, has influenced me. I like it all, it is all part of my culture as a citizen of the universe.

Ireland is very different now to when I arrived. There are many more nationalities, which is a fantastic thing and in my experience people are integrating very well together.  I share my message with people from all over the world who live in Ireland but have not embraced Ireland as their home - there is a lot of space for everyone in Ireland to share their ideas, traditions, culture and skills, and to honestly express themselves. Work hard, get out there, do it and do not take short cuts.

Niwel Tsumbu, along with is band, RiZA, will perform at Africa Day 2015 at Farmleigh Estate, Phoenix Park, Dublin 15 on Sunday, 24th May. Visit africaday.ie for further details.

Here is a link to Niwel’s new song, Kabembe:


Uploaded by RiZA

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Niwel Tsumbu

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