Every Step Counts – Walk for Kids in Congo

Reply with Music 5k Walk Team Memebers Kai Gibson, Nick Kochmann, Alistair Dobson, Leo LaPlaca and Niccolo Bechtler at the amphitheater of Pettronello Gardens, NJ

OPERAnauts’ Reply with Music 5k Walk Set-up Team Members Kai Gibson, Nick Kochmann, Alistair Dobson, Leo LaPlaca and Niccolo Bechtler at the amphitheater of Pettoranello Gardens, NJ




Every Step Counts – Walk for Kids in Congo at the Princeton “Reply With Music” Annual 5k Walk


PRINCETON, NJ – A local music NGO will host community residents and high school students in their first annual “Reply with Music” 5K Walk for children in Congo at 9 AM on Sunday, September 25th.


The “Reply with Music” 5K Walk is open to the public and welcomes on-line registrants at https://operanauts5kwalk.eventbrite.com. There is also registration on the day-of the “Reply with Music“ 5k Walk.


“From my experience teaching singers all these years, our ‘Reply with Music’ 5k Walk touches the CORE of what I believe — that we can inspire and engage children with opera music!” says Joy Bechtler, founder of OPERAnauts Inc.


OPERAnauts is a team of performing artists, artisans, and creative artists – including opera singers, musicians, dancers, photographers, videographers, journalists, and designers — who envision a world where the transformative power of opera helps both individuals and societies recover from violence and poverty.


There are an estimated 100,000 street children in Kinshasa, the capital city-province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it has been estimated that one in ten child soldiers – or 30,000 children – are found.


Studies show that traumatic life experiences like the ones currently experienced by children in Congo cause them to lose the ability to understand and share the feelings of one another. OPERAnauts aim to give opportunity and restore empathy to these children through music.


100% of donations go to OPERAnauts’ music program to help children in Congo. For more about OPERAnauts’ activities, visit their website at http://operanauts.org.


OPERAnauts, Inc. is a non-profit corporation based in the U.S., with a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status and registered in New Jersey operating exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. Contributions to OPERAnauts, Inc. are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.



Congo Jazz Co-Jazz in Kinshasa

Congo Jazz Co-Jazz in Kinshasa

(Kinshasa, January 15th) On MLK’s birthday we presented the debut jazz concert of violinist HERITIER MAYIMBI and his group CoJazz. The concert successfully demonstrated the collaborative and community-building process that has become OPERAnauts’ hallmark. Having discovered this lively 180-seat theatre during our recent feasibility assessment trip to Kinshasa (August, 2015), it became the perfect place to introduce this exciting new art music form to a Congolese audience. (photo below courtesy of CoJazz)

Musicians of Cojazz

We are especially proud of Héritier who has been participating in our 2015 Opera Fellowship program. He is a disciplined musical artist, the concertmaster for the OSK, and teaches music theory at the Institut Nationale des Artes (INA) in Kinshasa. Here are a few comments from the international, intergenerational audience we had hoped to engage:

“OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD! The music was amazing! The theater was packed and rocked right along with the musicians! Oh, you would have loved it! Armand played guitar with them!!”

“I was at the concert of Congo Jazz on Friday. The concert was fantastic!”

“It was fantastic! A real meal of oohs and aahs! Our [Congolese] friend said it was a total distraction from the problems and challenges that pile up. We all completely enjoyed it. Thank-you for this wonderful opportunity! Please let us know if you do it again.”

“Exceptional Congo jazz by CO-JAZZ! We enjoyed it with dear friends tonight. I love Congo jazz! So proud right now to belong to Congo!”


OSK Choir Sings Carnegie Hall

OSK Choir Sings Carnegie Hall

(New York, December 1st) We celebrated the work of philanthropist & rock singer BONO and his ONE Foundation, along with the beautiful 20-voice choir from the OSK (l’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste) at CARNEGIE HALL in New York City. The choir was invited to sing backup for pop musicians you may know – Bono, of course, the Edge, Hozier, Miley Cyrus, Jessie J., their bands and accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

Dressed in stunning gold Congo-print gowns and matched tailored shirts, the choir, lead by Maestro Armand, opened the event with an a cappella Congolese sacred song. It was amazing! (photo below courtesy of Charles Chauvel)

OSK Choir at Carnegie CharlesChauvel 2

We are especially proud of MIREILLE KINKINA, who is a participant in our 2015 Opera Fellowship program. Mireille was responsible for preparing the choir; she coached them on style and singing in English (OPERAnauts provided for her English class in Kinshasa), all within only a few days’ notice!

Featured 2015 Opera Fellows

Featured Fellow: Mireille Kinkina, soprano/youth chorus director


Mireille Kinkina photo2

MIREILLE KINKINA is a versatile soprano and chorister with the OSK. She achieved a music diploma with a vocal focus from the l’Institut National des Arts, and has been a Juniors’ Choir director since its inception in 2014; she is also a beginning pianist and aspiring harpist. However, she has reached a barrier in her Congolese-based musical development, having taken advantage of all available opportunities for artistic growth. To circumvent this obstacle, she is working to travel to New York so that she can partake in the immense wealth of music and culture found there and to continue her education within this environment. After she accomplishes this goal, she will return to her home in Kinshasa to educate others in music. With OPERAnauts, she will coach and direct the Street Boys’ Chorus, and carry on the message of empathy from the important perspective of a Congolese woman.

“J’aime la musique, ca me donne la force, l’espoir de vivre mais ici je suis bloque.” – MK

Mireille KINKINA


Featured Fellow: Guelor Ntela, cellist


Guelor Ntela photo#1

GEULOR NTELA is a Congolese musician, serving as the principal chair cellist for the OSK, as well as a teacher of stringed instruments to The Juniors and students within the Kinshasa community. He is currently completing his music diploma at the l’Institut National des Arts, after which he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Cello Performance. However, his great challenge lies in the absence of a graduate music program in Congo, as well as his lack of a sufficiently equipped laptop computer to finish the song compositions necessary to graduate. As an OPERAnauts fellow, he hopes to overcome these barriers. He will play in the music ensemble and will continue to spread OPERAnauts’ message of hope through music to students and audiences throughout Kinshasa.

“Je suis un artiste d’enseignement oui, mais aussi un artiste interprète.” – GN


Featured Fellow: Vanza Vatick, director/playwright


Vanza Vatick
VANZA VATICK is a musician, actor, director, playwright, and a 2016 OPERAnauts Opera Fellow.This past November in a poor commune of the city-province Kinshasa, Vanza successfully directed, produced and performed the famous old comedy by Molière, Le Médecin malgré lui.

Poster Vanza Vatick performance

In the future, Vanza would like another shot at producing it. Next time, he said, he would find a better venue and add costumes, and lights. Given his musical talents, he could also add opera music, for instance, excerpts from the opéra-comique composed by Charles Gonoud, based on Le Médecin malgré lui.

During a recent conversation about joining OPERAnauts as an Opera Fellow, Vanza told us what motivated him to perform music and theatre:

Pour montrer notre passion au monde entier !! Dire au monde entier que la musique, le théâtre, l’Opéra peut aussi être un instrument pour régler nos différences !! Nos conflit pour bannir le raciseme !! Abolir la division !! Et surtout crier l’unité à tout le monde par nos chanson !!

Je voulais aussi que le monde entier le sache que pendant que nous progressions et prosperon avec nos talent !! Quelques part il ya des jeunes qui on besoin des gens pour faire sortir d’eux les talents qu’ils on.. . J’ai envi de fer parler tout les talents qui est en moi ainsi que celle de tous ceux que je vois.



ROCK THE CONGO — October 15th – December 10th
by Nicco Bechtler, Campaign Writer


OPERAnauts, Inc. is a Princeton-based non-profit organization that aims to use music to better the world, specifically the unfortunate situation currently unfolding in Congo. It was because of this fantastic goal that I decided to devote many hours over the past three months to helping OPERAnauts succeed.

In the beginning of October, we began to work on preparing an online crowd sourcing campaign to raise money for one of the organization’s targets: Allowing five of Congo’s best aspiring musicians to travel to the United States to be mentored on the opera “La Petite Carmen.” To do this, we set up a page on Indiegogo, an internet crowd funding site, and set to work creating a campaign. This included photography, video, text, and art, as well as constant updates required to provide visitors to the webpage with the latest information. My role in the project was to write. Language is something that has fascinated me from my early memories of reading Dr. Suess, so it seemed like a natural fit. The depth of literary finesse required to be an internet wordsmith proved to be quite a challenge, resulting in many nights staying up far past when I should have just to find that perfect phrasing for an update, but I enjoyed it all nonetheless. It wasn’t easy, but I learned some valuable information about myself as a student of English, as well as improving my writing and what I can accomplish with it.

When it was all said and done, we had both a visually and statistically brilliant campaign, which we called “Rock the Congo.” It was professional and sleek, but still retained the homegrown, “do it yourself” aesthetic that OPERAnauts has made its signature. True perfection may be unattainable, but for a small company run from a little town in central Jersey, we came as near to it as was in our power. When something needed to be fixed, we learned how, and did it. There was no outside help from graphic designers, or videographers, or any professional in a field other than music. We are a group of artists and students who, using only what was readily available to us, made an excellent project and raised a substantial amount of money to help Congolese musicians with their travels to the US and their English courses. Though we did not meet the extremely optimistic monetary goal we set at the campaign’s launch, as I will explain later, the definition of success in a crowd funding campaign is much more complicated than that. I feel that even without reaching the dollar amount we sought, the project was a great success, not just for me, but for the company as a whole and for everyone involved.

To view our campaign http://igg.me/at/operanauts

When the project had ended and I was taking care of the “postmortem” analysis of what happened I had some time to consider what success really was in the context of a fundraiser versus what it meant to the company as a whole, as well as to me. To the campaign, missing the goal is the definition of failure, so in that sense, despite our best efforts, we did not succeed. For the whole organization, or for me, however, it was more complicated. To the company, it broadened the audience reached by many thousands of people and expanded the community to include a youth program and more volunteers who want to see the Congo assisted, as well as more Congolese Fellows who want to work with OPERAnauts. To me, it was more. I have gotten to know some truly fascinating people with unbelievable stories of overcoming impossible difficulties in Congo and learning to play instruments excellently. I have broadened my understanding of global issues, like hunger and the unceasing and intense brutality that has plagued Congo for decades. I know how hard it can be to run a nonprofit and what it really takes to write the campaigns that get donations coming in. It was an incredible challenge, but I took countless new experiences and understandings away from it and I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity.