Entre 2 album review: Gêne-Aise

Track 9: Gêne-Aise ft. Cassa & Samy Kamanzi  

Powerful poetry is born out of pain. Enveloping us, it demands our full attention; creating a ripple of silence, our minds become consumed by the words. Our bodies are effected too: goose bumps on our arms, a lump in our throat, or a knot in our stomach. Perhaps a tear down our face. This is what I experienced when I watched 1Key perform Gêne Aise live for the first time on the #expericment. I understood how much this meant to my friend, and there was no way to escape his pain. And yet the pain was lightened by the pleasure of this shared experience. Through his music, 1Key brought us all together: an audience of friends and strangers, from Francophone Rwandans to Anglophone North Americans, to me, the emotional British anthropologist on my final evening of fieldwork!

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Kigali, Rwanda. 2016. 1Key performing Gêne Aise live on the #expericment. [Courtesty of Innovation Village]

Gêne-Aise is 1Key’s most intimate piece. It tells his life story, a story which is shared by many Rwandans, but is not often talked about openly. The track is a collabo between Cassa (or Dady Cassanova) – a Rwandan who lives in Canada – and Samy Kamanzi, who, like 1Key, is half-Rwandan and half-Congolese – and who was living in France at the time. Once again, new digital technologies triumph in their capacity for enabling musical collaboration!

The initial idea for Gêne Aise was developed by the three artists, through the circulating of voice notes using WhatsApp. Samy produced the music for the track and emailed it to 1Key. 1Key took the track to Dustville Studio in Kampala, where he added some beats using Logic Pro. He layered in his vocals and emailed his progress to Samy and Cassa, who continued the process, and so it went on. According to 1Key, it was a complicated endeavour, due to the three artists all using different, incompatible recording software.  When listening to the beautifully haunting harmonies in the Hayaya yoyoooo sections, it is difficult to imagine these challenges.

The opening section of Gêne Aise switches back and forth between Cassa and 1Key, and between English, French and Kiswahili. The tone is set instantly when Cassa sings:

“I’ve been holding on for too long

I’m gonna let it all go through this song.”

Indeed, 1Key tells us:

“Tonight there will be no metaphors in my verses

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to talk to you with an open heart.” (Translated from French to English)

Later, in his verse, 1Key tells us:

“I was born in exile in my father’s country… /

… When my grandfather’s neighbours were slaughtering his brothers

He found asylum in this land which belonged to his forefathers before

It is complicated but basically I was born between the anvil and the hammer

In this region of the Great Lakes known for the blood that flows

Between two large countries, one known for genocide and its bravery

The other for its size, its riches and its endless wars…” (Translated from French to English)

Here, 1Key is explaining his complicated family history. Son of a Rwandan (Tutsi) mother and a Congolese father – who he has had limited contact with – 1Key was born in Goma, eastern DRC – which used to be a part of Rwanda. 1Key told me: “I have always felt more Rwandese. Rwanda is the family and the traditions I know.” 1Key and his family were living in the DRC as refugees; lines 2-3 of the above extract refer to the 1959 massacres in Rwanda, which led to vast numbers of Tutsis fleeing Rwanda to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

Rwanda on the map

On the map: Kigali-Rwanda; Goma-DR Congo; Kampala-Uganda. Source: World Sites Atlas (2016)

In the album’s second track (Mal Appris), we learned that 1Key was exposed to poverty, hunger and disease, while growing up in Goma. This track reveals how 1Key also “received the treatment of the cockroach” – cockroach being the derogatory term used to describe Tutsis in the de-humanizing campaign, which contributed to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. (Translated from French to English) As 1Key’s narrative continues to unfold, the rapper softly tells us how he went on to spend time in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, and then Kinshasa, DRC, before he finally “landed in the arms of Rwanda.” (Translated from French to English) 1Key tells us that, while it feels good to be accepted in Rwanda:

“…it’s heavy to bear

The weight of knowing that I can no longer put my feet

On the land which has seen me rise because the volcano has erased it.” (Translated from French to English)

This is in reference to the 1997 volcano lava flow disaster in Goma, which destroyed his childhood home.

Gêne-Aise is wordplay: apart, the two words translate as “discomfort” (Gêne) and “ease” (Aise), while together they become like Genesis. Indeed, 1Key’s personal creation story is defined by such dichotomies, as he attempts to understand the twisted roots of his life history. This is a story of rejection and suffering, of poverty and abuse, of war and peace, and of loss and pain. At the same time, this is a story of perseverance and strength, and of rediscovery. Towards the end of the song, Cassa sings:

“Strong like a stone, I keep rolling on (on and on and on).”

Meanwhile, 1Key makes reference to rappers who continue to inspire his art, namely: Soprano, Kery James and Tumi Molekane. Like them, 1Key’s poetry is “real” and sometimes sad. In the words of 1Key:

“Tumi said to me “It kills you and heals you at the same time”…” (Translated from French to English)

Entre 2 is available on Soundcloud – Entre2 and for sale on digital stores iTunesSpotify, and Amazon.
Eric 1key is very active on social media where you can find him discussing and debating all kinds of things. For updates and live info, follow Eric1key on Twitter: @eric1key, Facebook: Facebook/eric1key, Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/eric1key or email for bookings at ericonekey@gmail.com

_______

Song lyrics and translations

Gene Aise ft. Cassa & Samy Kamanzi [Track 9 on Entre 2 album] 

Prod. Samy Kamanzi (France), in collaboration with Dustville Studio (Kampala) and Cassa (Canada); English, French, Kiswahili

Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long
I’m gonna let it all go through this song I’m gonna let it all go through this song
1key: S’il y a du silence entre mes fous rires 1key: If there is silence between my laughter
De l’absence de joie dans mon sourire An absence of joy in my smile
C’est parce que mon historie est inédite That is because my story remains untold
Samy: Usiku na mchana najificha Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi sema There is so much I cannot say
Ukiona nacheka usizani ni furaha If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
1key: Ce soir il y aura pas de métaphore dans mes vers 1key: Tonight there will be no metaphors in my verses
Je sors de ma zone de confort vous parler à coeur ouvert I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to talk to you with an open heart
Hayaya yoyoooo Hayaya yoyoooo
[Verse 1: 1Key] [Verse 1: 1Key] 
Je suis comme tout artiste, mon art vient d’un vide I’m just like any artist; my art comes from an empty place
Mon gouffre de je le remplis de vers de poésie I fill my void with glasses/verses of poetry
Ivre de melancolie, comme soprano j’en deviens accro aussi Drunk on melancholy, I get addicted to it like Soprano
Oui je pratique un art triste, réel comme Kery Yes I practice a sad art, real as Kery
Tumi m’a dit “Il te tue et à la fois te guérit” Tumi said to me “It kills you and heals you at the same time”
Voici donc une session de thérapie pour le meilleur et le pire Here, therefore, is a therapy session for the best and for the worst
Je suis né à l’exil au pays de mon père I was born in exile in my father’s country
Une partie de moi a hérité la terre de l’autre du même master A part of me inherited the land of the other from the same master
Quand les voisins de mon grand-père égorgeaient ses frères  When my grandfather’s neighbours were slaughtering his brothers
Il s’est réfugié sur cette terre qui appartenait aux siens plus tôt He found asylum in this land which belonged to his forefathers
C’est compliqué mais bref je suis né entre l’enclume et le marteau It is complicated but, basically I was born between the anvil and the hammer
Dans cette région de grands lacs connus pour le sang qui y coule In this region of the Great Lakes known for the blood that flows
Entre deux grand pays, un connu pour son génocide et sa bravoure Between two great countries, one known for its genocide and its bravery
L’autre pour sa taille, ses richesses et ses guerres interminables The other for its size, its riches and its endless wars
Les deux se haïssent, certainement pour des raisons minables The two hate each other, certainly for minor reasons
Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long
I’m gonna let it all go through this song I’m gonna let it all go through this song
1key: S’il y a du silence entre mes fous rires 1key: If there is silence between my laughter
De l’absence de joie dans mon sourire An absence of joy in my smile
C’est parce que mon historie est inédite That is because my story remains untold
Samy: Usiku na mchana najificha Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi sema There is so much I cannot say
Ukiona nacheka usizani ni furaha If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
Hayaya yoyoooo Hayaya yoyoooo
[Verse 2: 1key] [Verse 2: 1key]
J’ai vu le jour entre la haine et l’amour I was born between hate and love
Derrière cette petite maison enduite de crépi rouge Behind this small house coated with red plaster
En 92, moins de 12 ans deja In ‘92, before I was 12 years old
Je subissais le traitement du cafard I received the treatment of the cockroach
A cette école de planches près de l’aéroport de Goma At this school of planks near Goma’s airport
Rejeté du Kivu, 3 ans à Brazza Rejected from Kivu, 3 years in Brazzaville
De kin, j’ai atterri dans les bras du Rwanda From Kinshasa I landed in the arms of Rwanda
Ses collines m’ont accueilli avec du lait caillé Its hills welcomed me with yoghurt
Des sourires jusqu’aux oreilles et Nkundamahoro comme cahier Big smiles and Nkundamahoro as note books[1]
Je dois l’dire, ça soulage de se sentir accepté I have to say it feels good to be accepted
Mais en même temps c’est lourd de porter But at the same time it’s heavy to bear
Le poids de savior que je ne peux plus remettre les pieds The weight of knowing that I can no longer put my feet
Sur la terre qui m’a vu naitre car le volcan l’a efface On the land which has seen me rise because the volcano has erased it
[Verse 3: Cassa] [Verse 3: Cassa]
Let go of what you think you know Let go of what you think you know
You got no idea about where I come from You got no idea about where I come from
My hometown’s been erased by a volcano My hometown’s been erased by a volcano
I coulda be homeless but I said “no no no” I coulda be homeless but I said “no no no”
Wherever I lay my head, that’s my home (home home home) Wherever I lay my head, that’s my home (home home home)
Strong like a stone, I keep rolling on (on and on and on) Strong like a stone, I keep rolling on (on and on and on)
(X 2)  (X 2)
Samy: Usiku na mcana najifica Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi semaa There is so much I cannot say
Mikiona naceka usizani ni furaha If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
 —  —
Hayaya yoyooo… Hayaya yoyooo…

[1] Nkunda amahoro (“I love peace”)

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