Sophomore Isaac Tshibal wears a wooden necklace made from the trees of the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo every day that he received from his grandmother. The necklace is from his mother’s village in the Congo.
Tshibal described, “This was kind of a souvenir to remind me that wherever you go, whoever you become in the future, think about your land, think about where you come from, think about where you grew up, where you’re from, think about your ancestry. Your ancestors, like your great grandparents, the people who died for the freedom of the country during colonization.”
Tshibal, born and raised in the town of Boma, which he described as “the promise of central Congo,” moved to the U.S. in 2016. He now attends Keene State College, studying political science with hopes to be a diplomat in the future, he said.
His interest in politics started in the Congo as a political activist, where he was part of a youth political movement that was in opposition to the government. He became interested through friends and then eventually helped get others involved to stand up to the government.
He said that the youth movement decided to speak up against the government because, during his father’s time, there was a leader who ruled for 30-plus years who then died in a coup. After that, another leader came to power and was killed after four years. From there, the same president sat from 2001 to 2019. Tshibal said he was supporting the peaceful transition of power and was against the constitution being amended to allow the president to be elected for a third term.
He said in 2015, he was a part of a riot that ensued. The political group he was a part of had suspected the president was going to amend the constitution, so they decided to stand up against that move. During that riot, he was struggling with a police officer and, as he was trying to be let go, he ended up being stabbed by a bayonet, which left a scar on his arm.
Tshibal said of his friends that were a part of the same group during his period of political activism in the Congo, “That time was really rough because some of them disappeared. We don’t even know if they’re alive or not.”
He eventually made his way to the U.S. because of his father, Tshibal said. His father learned from his uncle that Tshibal was involved in the opposition party to the government. His father was worried and had him and his sisters come with him to the U.S.
Tshibal noted that his father knows him well. “When I’m engaged in something, I don’t just give up easily like that,” said Tshibal. So, his father pulled him out of it.
However, his political activism has not stopped there. He messages friends from home to motivate them through social media.
Tshibal continued his interest in politics by studying political science here at Keene State. With plans to become a diplomat, Tshibal said he knows five different languages: English, French, Lingala, Swahili, and Kikongo. He said his next goal is to have learned ten languages.
Despite being visually impaired, Tshibal pushes forward. Tshibal said that he lost his eye sight due to a cancer, blastoma, when he was a baby. He said, at the time, there was not a hospital that could treat it, so by the time they got him to South Africa he had already lost his sight. The radiation treatment saved his life.
He is able to use a device called the Braillenote Touch Plus, which allows him to take his class notes, do research, and record and play his music, noting that he sometimes DJs with it.
Besides his interest in politics, Tshibal is part of a band out of Manchester, N.H. called Ware Ware Music Band, where he plays the keyboard. The band plays a variety of genres including, but not limited to, afro-beat and reggae music. Tshibal said he joined the band in 2019.
In addition to that, he makes music for his friends back home for them to sing over.
“It was not my idea, it was my dad’s suggestion, but I’m just grateful to him because he saw something that I did not know about myself,” said Tshibal.
Tshibal originally started as a singer, but found a love for the keys per his father’s persistence. He began taking lessons at age 12.
When Tshibal sits down to compose his music, he said that he usually writes about the state of the world and what is happening around him. He said that he gets his inspiration from his observations.
While he mainly plays in N.H., he and his band do travel, with plans to play in Washington D.C. soon. He also mentioned that he would like to bring his band to Keene to share with everyone here.
Junior Dylan Spearow, a friend of Tshibal, has heard his music many times — from hearing it when they hang out or hearing him play the keyboard when he passes Tshibal’s room in the hallway.
“Sometimes, during one of our club meetings, he just put on one of his songs and it was really relaxing. He’s obviously really talented with the piano,” said Spearow.
Spearow mentioned that in addition to Tshibal’s musicianship, he is really cultural.
“The sheer amount of culture and stuff that you can learn about the Congo from him. He can tell you so much about a completely different world,” said Spearow.
“You could talk to him for hours and find all sorts of weird, funny, interesting things about him and the Congo,” Spearow added.
Tshibal also participates in a radio show with a friend from the Netherlands. Tshibal joins in via Zoom when on air. On the radio show, he discusses the news and analyzes the news in the Congo.
Tshibal said that he likes to talk to people, but sometimes finds it hard to make that first move for a conversation. “I don’t talk a lot, but when you get me involved in a conversation you’ll know I’m here,” he said.
Timothy Bruns can be contacted at