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Obadia Taura

Obadia Taura

The Democratic Republic of the Congo
23 years old
Biography collected and written by Asa Sutton with additions from Lisa Gilman and John Fenn


Biography collected and written by Asa Sutton with additions from Lisa Gilman and John Fenn Note: Lisa and John wrote short biographies in the summer of August, 2022. When they met Obadia while he was still living in Dzaleka. Asa interviewed him in the late Fall 2022, shortly after he came to the United States.

Obadia Taura, above all else, cannot allow himself to forget where he has come from. Even here in the United States, he cannot forget the time he spent in the Dzaleka refugee camp. Just as in Dzaleka, he could not allow himself to forget his life in the Congo. It helps him keep his passion and stay connected to his past. It helps him to not think of himself as a refugee.

From his earliest childhood, music was important to Obadia. Before coming to Dzaleka when he was 15, he grew up in a place where the whole village would come together at night and sing songs before sleeping: tell stories, dance, be together, and share in tradition. After arriving in the refugee camp in Malawi, he continued to seek this sense of community, playing music at church services as well as weddings and parties. Gradually, though, his focus began to shift towards electronic music, incorporating loop-pedals. As his own signature style developed, he found himself being given more and more opportunities.

Obadia became a well-respected musician in the camp performing Congolese rumba, Afro-beat, amatoshi, sebene, mutwashi, and Cuban music, which he learned through his own research into the roots of Congolese music. He composes original songs and also learns cover songs. He identifies music as “a food of sorts.” When he finds himself experiencing stress, he turns to music so as to forget everything. He seeks to support youth, and notes that we all rely on the new generation in a number of ways. His music expresses powerful social messages about love and ending violence and discrimination, messages that come from where he has come from, experiences of displacement and having witnessed fighting and killing for no good reason. When asked if he missed anything from his home country, he said that the music scene is vibrant in the Congo, where “music is life.” There is lots of infrastructure, opportunities to perform, and distribution of recordings, far more than in Malawi, where it is much harder for musicians.

Before coming to the U.S, Obadia regularly played in churches, the Tumaini and Makasi festivals, bars, and various functions that involved music within the camp. While he used to be a member of the band, Breath of Life, more recently, he mostly was a solo artist, sometimes backed by the More Fire Band. He was invited occasionally to perform outside of the camp, rare chances to share his talent with the larger Malawian population. His talent attracted more and more attention, and soon enough he played with famous Malawian musicians, such as Peter Malanga and Loulou.

Still, Obadia always had to come back to Dzaleka, and conditions for musicians there were (and still are) bleak. There was less violence for him there than there had been in the Congo, where there had always been fighting. In the camp, everything is shared, both space and food, everyone living as a family, people from everywhere all together. But at the same time, there is very little in the way of resources or opportunities, very few chances to make money as a musician, and very few chances for musicians to expand the reach of their music beyond the bounds of the camp.

Obadia was not content to simply sit back and let things remain this way. He had been outside the camp, and he had seen firsthand the discrimination that refugees faced from Malawian citizens. Refugees are not allowed to work outside the camp legally and often refused when they want to use recording studios. Musicians who are refugees have experienced having their recordings deliberately destroyed or lost. But he had also seen how much better things could be, and he decided that he was going to be the one to make things better for camp residents.

Slowly, he taught himself how to use a computer, assembled the necessary parts—rented a laptop, bought a sound-card, downloaded software—and learned the ins and outs of it. Finally, he was ready to open his own recording studio, operating out of his small house. Things took off quickly from there. The camp is filled with musicians desperate to share their passion and creativity. And more than that, they want to create products that they can sell and use to market themselves, perhaps eventually being noticed nationally or even internationally. Obadia received an immense amount of business, and was happy as well at the chance to finally record his own music.

But life was about to throw him another curveball. Several years ago, Obadia had applied for refugee status through the RRCC (Refugee Rights Coordinating Committee), and one day in 2022, he received a phone call from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), following up, and informing him that after a few meetings in the camp, he would receive paperwork officially inviting him to seek asylum in the United States of America. He told very few people that he was leaving, and kept the circle small. It was best not to invite jealousy or bitterness. It was only luck, he believes, that brought him such a chance, and it would be just as easy for luck to take it away again.

But sure enough, here he is now, living in Buffalo, New York.

Obadia talks with joy about how he felt leaving for the United States, even the length of the plane ride was hardly a bother. He’d spent his whole life watching movies that took place in the United States, and he was sure he was going to a good place. And more than that, it is a place where he’d be able to gather the resources and influence, and most of all, the freedom, to allow him to turn back towards Africa and help more of his fellow refugees escape their situations. His two brothers and sister came to the United States alongside him, as well as his sister’s husband, but Obadia thinks constantly about the countless more that were left behind. He worries about fellow artists especially, who don’t have access to real income, sponsorship, or management options. And meanwhile in the United States, he can see that people often don’t think at all about refugees in Africa—particularly not as musicians or creators. But Obadia has always been an artist first, and a refugee second.

The United States, at least, has managed to live up to the movies in many other ways. Obadia loves the cars and the roads and the driving. He loves the way that people live, so differently from what he has come to know. He sees the United States as being a good tribe, so to speak, with good habits. But at the same time, he feels isolated and listless, away from his studio and his music. The RRCC will assist him in finding employment and housing, and other basic needs, but he hopes to have a guitar in his hand again soon, to have a band playing beside him. He hopes to find a church to attend, and to play at. He hopes to meet as many people from Malawi and Dzaleka as he can, so that here in the States, he can start to rebuild a part of that community for himself.

More than anything, Obadia wants to see people giving each other peace and supporting each other, thinking outside of themselves. People need to do research about the world beyond their own communities and countries, and learn about how other people live in other places.

A message he has for people all over the world is to support refugees. We need to build up their resources and capacity by helping sponsor, promote, and distribute their art.

The photograph from the Malawian newspaper, The Nation on April 7, 2023, is about the Malawian band Lulu’s performance in South Bend, Indiana. Obadia was excited to be able to join them, only a few months after coming to the U.S.

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