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Papy Kapenda

37 years old
Democratic Republic of Congo
Biography collected and written by Lisa Gilman

Papy Kapenda is both a singer and a dancer. He started dancing when he was young and living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He loved to sing as well, and when he was a teenager dreamed of being a musician. He also enjoys visual arts, including ceramics and painting. He studied arts (beaux arts) in the Congo.

Since coming to the Dzaleka refugee camp, he has engaged in a variety of creative activities and ways of making money. “On se débrouille,” he explained in French, which means something like we do whatever whatever we have to do. He mostly makes money as a content writer and as a graphic designer.

There is a lot of creativity going on in the camp, but there are also limitations. For example, there is always a problem with electricity, lots of blackouts, which makes it hard to run a studio.

As a musician, he sings and is also a sound mixer. He enjoys singing reggae, hip hop, acoustic, r&b, Congolese rumba, and traditional songs. He used to write songs, but he no longer does. He also used to have a band that played at events, including an Apostolic Church where they played gospel with a mix of styles: reggae, rumba, and blues.

It’s hard to make a living as a musician in the camp because they don’t have many opportunities to perform or access to recording studios. In theory, they could perform outside the camp in Lilongwe or Blantyre. But, when people find out that they are refugees, they usually aren’t interested in hiring them, regardless of how talented they might be. And, even if they were invited, they usually don’t have enough money to pay for transport.

He misses life in the Congo. He remembers that there was much less stress than life in the camp. There was something very special there.

He wants readers of the book and website to know that through music, there is a message of hope. When he sings, he feels more free. “We communicate messages of hope through our music. We feel lighter.”

Papy Kapenda