Rumba Rules review – a window on to the passion of the Congolese music scene

An up-close-and-personal portrait of the long-running Brigade Sarbati Orchestra, a titan in the Congolese music scene, this vibrates with the energy that emanates from studio rehearsals and live performances. Juxtaposed with fly-on-the-wall observations of lengthy recording sessions is vibrant footage of the bustling Kinshasa streets, a dynamic flow of imagery that underlines how rumba forms an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Congolese rumba might seem purely improvisational on the surface, but in practice it requires immense discipline and professional rapport. When following extended studio sessions, the camera swirls between singers and instrumentalists, the frenetic movements capturing the thrilling magic that sparks when the musicians play off each other. On stage, the cathartic pleasure of these pieces is intensified by the amazing dancers, whose swaying hips and dexterous footwork sends the crowd into ecstatic frenzy.

But amid the beautiful music produced by the Brigade Sarbati Orchestra, there are also notes of discord. A young musician called Lumumba speaks candidly about what he considers favouritism inside the Brigade Sarbati, with similar tensions emerging inside the recording studio. In one scene, the musicians argue fiercely over whose names should be included in a song’s lyrics.

Rumba Rules grapples with these internal disputes, but neglects to dive deeper into another glaring imbalance: the obvious gender disparity in the orchestra, with every musician on screen being male. Ending on the melancholic image of Lumumba gently caressing a statue of legendary Congolese musician Franco Luambo, the film evokes the passion as well as the turmoil of a new generation of rumba artists.

 Rumba Rules is available from 1 September on True Story.

Source: The Guardian