Instruments of Peace started out as an idea inspired by the 60 Minutes segment Joy in the Congo which featured the beauty and resilience of the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra (OSK) from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The self-taught 200-member symphony orchestra directed by ex-airline pilot, Armand Diangienda, has been learning, practicing, and performing classical music in the Congo for the past eighteen years. Their story shattered preconceived notions about a nation that is all too often depicted as helpless and ravaged by war.
After watching the 60 Minutes segment and meeting with OSK representatives in September 2012, Instruments of Peace was formed with the mission to build a music school in Kinshasa to support the amazing talents of the orchestra.USA for Africa became our first project partner and gave us seed money to travel to the Congo in December to learn about the orchestra first-hand. While we were in Kinshasa we met with Architecture for Humanity, who quickly jumped on board to build the music school. During our time in the Congo, the OSK taught us about how music changed their lives. They said that classical music taught them discipline, and when they played they felt as if they were in another world. While the smell of burning garbage permeated the air and news reports confirmed atrocities of violence and rape perpetrated by rebel soldiers in the north, the OSK found solace and beauty by creating the sounds of Bach and Beethoven. Their music echoed peace.
We came back to the U.S. even more inspired by the OSK's resilience. After witnessing firsthand the power of music to transform an entire community, we were all the more energized to continue forming new partnerships and developing plans for the music school. In January we received a call from TEDtalks. They wanted us to bring the OSK to Los Angeles for a secret performance at TED2013 in collaboration with Ben Affleck's nonprofit, Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). We worked around the clock and with financial contributions from TED and ECI (and outside assistance from some very special people), Instruments of Peace brought 17 musicians including Maestro Armand Diangienda from the Congo to Los Angeles for a secret performance at TED.
During the OSK's week and a half stay, we arranged: for the group to view a LA Philharmonic rehearsal; for the OSK to perform for Gustavo Dudamel; meet and perform with YOLA; tour the Colburn School; perform at UCLA; meet several iconic musicians; record their music at a famous studio; and had Armand speak on a special panel at the Aspen Institute. Instruments of Peace also held two private events where the OSK performed with Peter Gabriel and Herbie Hancock. It was a monumental week that would change all of our lives forever.