KINSHASA, DR Congo—They may be out of the tournament, but the Democratic Republic of Congo’s footballers will be forever remembered by Africa Cup of Nations fans for their dance moves on the pitch.
DR Congo players danced the “Fimbu” seven times at the CAN 2017 tournament in Gabon—once for each goal scored—as their supporters in the stands cheered with delight.
After each goal, the players would gather side by side, hold their left arm up and wave their right as they moved down the pitch in unison.
The move is based on a much more elaborate dance accompanying the Congolese pop hit “Fimbu” by Felix Wazeka, which in a light-hearted music video with over half a million views on YouTube is performed by dozens of men and women in colourful dress.
“Everything about this dance is easy,” singer Wazekwa told AFP.
“But what it expresses is huge. It’s the fact that we won, and that we’re looking for the best way to celebrate our goals.”
DR Congo’s music is already known worldwide for its upbeat tunes—with superstar “rumba king” Papa Wemba leading the Kinshasa music scene for four decades until he died last year.
In the Lingala language, the word “fimbu” refers to a type of whip that was once a symbol of Belgian colonial violence in the vast central African nation and is still used in many schools and homes, despite a ban on corporal punishment.
Despite the dark overtones, football stars and fans say the “Fimbu” dance is all about fun.
“The idea (behind the dance) was never to mock the opponent or to go against the spirit of sportsmanship or fair play,” said Kabulo Mwana Kabulo, director of sports at DR Congo’s national radio and television service.
“The goal is to entertain the audience, it’s just a way to express joy,” he said.
Neeskens Kebano, the squad’s number 10, is a little more provocative.
“It means ‘whip’ – and quite simply, it’s about whipping our opponents,” he said.
The dance seems to be spreading around the world, with French player Blaise Matuidi of Paris Saint Germain and Cedric Bakambu, who plays for Spain’s Villareal, doing the “Fimbu” to celebrate their goals.
Congolese players first danced the “Fimbu” in 2016, during the African Nations Championship in Rwanda.
Far from being favourites, they surprised their fans by defeating Ethiopia 3-0 at the opening game.
Winning one match after another, they ended up bringing the trophy back home to euphoric supporters in DR Congo.
This time, the team – nicknamed the Leopards – has fared worse, eliminated on Sunday by Ghana in the quarter finals.
But rather than mourn their loss, fans are already looking forward to the next big challenge: the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
And just for the occasion, Wazekwa is working with rappers Maitre Gims and Youssoupha on a new version of the dance.
“My goal is for the ‘Fimbu’ to be danced at the World Cup,” Wazekwa said.