As a world-renowned flutist and teacher, Kaori Fujii has taught many the art of performance. For several years, she’s been traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help empower musicians there to teach others – work that is part of the foundation she created, Music Beyond.
Fujii began working with Congolese musicians five years ago, though the symphony was founded two decades ago with – as the story goes – a single violin. The instrument was shared among 20 people, some traveling on foot for hours to get a chance to play it. That violin launched a symphony in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which now has more than 200 choir and orchestra members, many of whom are self-taught and continue to travel long distances to rehearse together. Kaori first traveled to Kinshasa to see if she would be welcomed as a teacher. It took two years and six trips to convince the musicians that she was actually coming back, she said. Fujii’s work with the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, the only symphony in subsaharan Africa, is the center of a short documentary completed recently by Montana filmmaker Jessica Jane Hart. Hart was inspired to produce a film after meeting Fujii. They connected through Fujii’s husband, Eric Cecil, a guitarist and former Miles City resident Hart knew during high school. In November 2017, Montana Hart and fellow journalist Tarek Fouda spent five days filming in the Congo, documenting Kaori Fujii’s work with the only symphony in central Africa. The documentary, filmed in Kinshasa, made its debut at Art House Cinema in Billings in 2019.