In the mid-20th century, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, was for twenty years the music, dance and party capital of Africa.
At night, people from all over Africa and from all over the world met in the many bars and clubs of the city to dance to the beat of cha-cha-cha and rumba music. Carrying his camera and flash unit, photographer Jean Depara was an integral part of the scene — his images have immortalized the feeling of being alive in those boom years. People freed themselves from conventions and abandoned themselves to nightlife in all its variants. In Depara’s images, women pose on engine bonnets in revealing clothing, men proudly show off their muscles or new outfits, couples openly show their affection and friends express their enjoyment of life. The scenes that Depara captured may well surprise viewers today, who are likely to have different contemporary notions of Kinshasa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These images can only be understood taking into account their historical background. The energy surrounding the years after decolonization, the country’s self-confidence in being one of the largest and potentially richest nations in Africa, a population who looked towards the future with boundless optimism, even euphoria — all of these things fell apart over the following century. Depara’s images allow insight into a forgotten past, making it easier to imagine a happy future for the Congo.