All the children in this film live on the streets of Kinshasa. After several castings, Marc-Henri Wajnberg, the director, chose Emma, José, Gaby, Joël, Gauthier, Michael, Rachel and Sammy to play the “shegué” street children in KINSHASA KIDS. They did not know each other beforehand, but got to know each other whilst preparing for the film. They soon began working as a very tight-knit group. Today, four out of the eight children continue to live together.
When Marc-Henri Wajnberg met Rachel, the only girl of the group, she was 12 years old and was living in extreme poverty. She sold alcohol and worked as a prostitute to survive. Her experience working as an actress on KINSHASA KIDS changed her life forever. Once filming was over she was chosen to play the main part in WAR WITCH and won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2012. Rachel now goes to school in Kinshasa and hopes to pursue a career in cinema. For the seven other children in KINSHASA KIDS Rachel is a role model. They are all intrigued by the good fortune of this ex-“shegué”.
“SHEGUÉS”: CHILDREN ACCUSED OF WITCHCRAFT IN THE CONGO
It is not unusual in the Congo, when couples separate and the family breaks up, for the mother (who is often left penniless) to hand her children over to the father and to her mother-in-law who is rarely willing to accept them. Any bad luck that befalls the family is used as a pretext for accusing these children of witchcraft: a glass breaking, a sick uncle, soil erosion… These children are then sent to an “Awakening Church” where a pastor performs an exorcism and subjects them to horrifically cruel treatment. But once “delivered from evil”, these children are rarely deemed saved and are rejected by their families. Their only chance of survival is to run away and join the thousands of other children who live on the streets. They are known as “shegués”. There are tens of thousands of “shegué” children living on the streets of Kinshasa. The luckiest amongst them have pitiful jobs but the majority are social outcasts. During the day, they hang out on the streets, but at night they group together for protection. They are vulnerable to corrupt influences and often find themselves caught up in crime. They are trying to make enough to get off the street and become “normal children”.
Bebson Elemba aka «Bebson de la rue» is a musician who takes José and his friends under his wing to help them record an album and organise a concert. In real life, Bebson is a rapper and is incredibly talented. He rehearses with his musicians in a tiny courtyard under the beating sun. What counts the most for him is his music, he has dedicated his whole life to it. He does nothing else and has no money.
Life is tough for musicians in Kinshasa. They perform wherever they can, often for free. They too are just trying to survive. In this challenging environment, music is a lifeline. Whether for the children in rags, the neighbourhood big shots, desperate families, music is a magical ointment and shows Kinshasa’s humane side… and humour!