​Explaining Myself 

A good friend of mine who left Rwanda for a “better life” in Europe recently asked me, “Eric, why are you always criticizing? There are also great achievements in Rwanda.” I almost bounced him a “Kindly remind me why you left, again?” But I realized that was besides the point. Plus, he was right. I really do a lot of criticizing. Why? 

Have a look at Igihe, New Times… You already have the picture of the paradise that is Rwanda. Speaking of this picture, I was thinking we should have regular “RWANDA FOR DUMMIES” tutorials breaking down the government priorities. For example, why an airbus is more important than producing potatoes since you can’t have more than 2 spoons in a restaurant now. (Criticism again, oops!)  because after all, there are great minds behind this mindblowing progress. So why not share the vision, execution with the people in a language they understand. Please spare me the political jargons. Talk to me as if you’re talking to your grandma, yeah? Then I might be able to ask questions. 

Everyone is talking about THE FUTURE but repeating in my ears “You are the future” doesn’t necessarily make me a part of it. It’s like when you say, be an entrepreneur and I decide to be an artist then you dismiss my choice because it doesn’t align with your idea of entrepreneurship. What if I dream of a more artistic future? And how can we focus on the future if we do not start now? Obviously the government is playing its part creating an infrastructure that will allow that future. My question is “Why doesn’t the government let me contribute how I see fit?” Do your part and let me do mine! For example, we have a ministry of sports and culture that operates from a football stadium obviously because it never thought a theatre was important. What’s the correlation between sports and culture? Oh sports is a culture? Sorry, we’re crating a culture of sports?” I’m lost. I got even more lost this morning when I woke up to some policies about regulating entertainment events in #Kigali because “Some of these [events] tarnish the image of our country by implying that people do not attend.” implying you said? but the picture of empty seats speaks for itself  http://smart.inyarwanda.com/articles/show/EntertainmentNews/akajagari-k-itegurwa-ry-ibitaramo-kahagurukiwe-71301.html. If you really cared about the state of events, you would talk to the producers. It is sad that such crap would come from so-called artists. What kind of artists are you anyway? Who are you to tell us what to do, when to do it and how to do it? 

When I think about how far we could be right now and realize how lower we get every day, the time we waste instead of working, it breaks my heart and drains me. I have poems to write, albums to record, a world to tour, shows to produce… Speaking of shows, you really believe that by adding beaurocracy to the multiple issues of the ‘industry’ (allow me to use the word for lack of options) is going to help the youth? Even my 5-old son would shake his head at this logic. The truth is you are creating these positions and responsibilities just so you can have a paycheck. And how dare you reduce our sweat to “akajagari”? Suddenly you feel more responsible for shows you never attend, artists you never pay, huh? Give me a break. 
Why am I explaining myself? It’s very simple. Some think I use these mistakes to be famous, well it’s your right to think whatever you want. I just wanna say that I know for sure that I am one of the few artists who still got some energy left to fight and speak up. Many did the same before me, got tired (I just got started and I am already tired), gave up, left the country because every time they tried to create something, you found a way to make a mess out of it. The most recent FESPAD should serve as a lesson. Or not. It’s about reporting, right? It happened after all. El Oh El. 

Anyway all I am saying is some policies are draining your youth, you can see it in the comments of the few vocal ones. They would love to be more involved but the implementation is too military. “Kitendo kwanza, complaint baadae.” The funny part is that you get surprised by such reactions but then again, “They’ll talk for a few days and move on” right? What you don’t realize is that you keep sucking the love of this land out of our souls little by little. And frustration heats up more and more. I write these notes simply because I fear the day we reach a boiling point. Too extreme? Well, read and listen to your youth without judgment and maybe you’ll get it.  

Amahoro 

1key, 1Love

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Workshop with Akua Naru in Kigali 

 There is power in numbers

I didn’t know what to expect when I was invited to partake in Akua Naru’s workshop which happened a couple of hours before her unforgettable show in Kigali as part of her African tour

After a quick lunch with a selected number of Kigali’s Hip Hop community, we headed to Goethe Institute where Akua Naru was waiting for us. I had imagined all the things I was going to say when I meet her but the unexpected formal handshake did not let me. So I curbed my enthusiasm, but that didn’t take long. Meanwhile we sat in a circle, introduced ourselves and began with the workshop. She started by sharing her story. As opposed to most of us who grew up in families that shut down our creative sides and pushed us towards a more office-oriented lifestyle, Akua Naru was encouraged to perform her poetry at various family gatherings as early as she can remember. Sometimes she would get remunerated for it as a token of appreciation from her family. And that gave her the courage to grow fearlessly and artistically into the great emcee that she is today. She kicked off the workshop rolling the ball in our side in an attempt to understand where we come from and most importantly, where we want to go.

 

A select number of artistes in the Hip Hop community in Kigali. From Left to right (clockwise): Reflex, Cheryl, Angel Mutoni, Mike Kayihura, B Threy, Extra, Prime, Don Nova, DopeGurl, Wiz Kool, 1key, Chris Poppin & Akua Naru.

 

1. What’s the art/music scene like in Rwanda? 

A moment of silence followed this question. Probably because there is no simple answer to it. I personally had had this conversation before with various people via Twitter, blog posts and informal conversations. In fact here is a debate that I took part in regarding the state of music in Rwanda.

After the long silence, she rephrased. “Are artists doing big shows, making a lot of money?” I looked around and I could see my fellow artists struggling to pinpoint at names that are successful in music around here. Then a few started mumbling, “hmm yeah… ish ish” until Cheryl expounded, “Artists don’t really make money from their music. The top chatters survive as brand ambassadors and through advertising deals.” How do they become popular? “Basically after producing a song, you put it on a CD and invite a radio dj, buy him a few beers and give him some money so he can air it and invite you for interviews” Don Nova, an underground rapper, explained.

2. How do you get your music produced? 

“It’s a big problem. The person we call producer is actually not more than a beatmaker though they would decide on a number of things in the production process. Pretty much everything: creating the beat, arranging, mixing, mastering, and sometimes they would dictate the artist how to do his thing even if the artist doesn’t quite agree.” B Threy said. It was mentioned that this way of working compromises the artist’s identity and is the reason why almost all the music sounds the same in the country. “We haven’t tapped into our history and culture yet and I believe these are stories we need to tell.” Extra reminded us.

3. Who are you? 

As complex and existential as the question seems, it is important for the artist to face it. To make it easier, Akua Naru put us in groups of two so we can tell each other about who we think we are as artists, and as individuals. There’s a thin line. She repeated before sending us to meditate on this, “If you don’t define who you are, people will defined you.” Through this exercise, we opened up and told each other some of the qualities that we see in each other and understood the need to create lanes through wich to operate in order to maintain our individual identity. To break it down even more, we deconstructed some famous Hip Hop artists’ images/brands to get to the core of who they are. Akua Naru volunteered to be part of the case study and gave us quite some revelation behind her new album’s cover.

akua

“People tell me I reminded them of Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Gill Scott and many others including Hugh Newton, the father of the Black Panther movement because my music is pro Black. I did not use those as compliments, I studied these icons and picked bits that I used for my image.” Of course she added her touch of genius to it.  

4. What is your goal? 

“Would you perform if there were no audience? Are you trying to make money? Are you simply having fun? ” Akua Naru tried to simplify the heavily posed question, which led to a moment of self-realization for many of the participants. One needs to have clear objectives and work methodologically towards the goal or else it would be easy to go astray and sometimes give up.

After a couple of hours digging into the ills of the music scene in the country, we found ourselves in front of a huge question mark: “Now what?” Because to be honest, there will always be a “I wish I had this, I wish I had that… ” but what do we do with the resources that we have at our disposal to create the art scene that we want to be a part of? Resources are not necessarily money. They can be the talent that we surround ourselves with – musicians, journalists, beatmakers, event organizers, publicists, entertainment business moguls etc. Why can we not come together as collectives, labels and start booking shows because one thing for sure is there is power in numbers. Resources can also be your phone, social media, a software, skills… “Don’t be landlocked when the internet is global” she stressed. Use anything at your disposal. Quality should not stand in the way of producing content. On that note, Akua Naru pulled a small portable microphone from her bag, connected it to her old tab and invited us to freestyle. At the end of the session, she checked at the time. Oops! She didn’t have enough time left to prepare for her show at Maison des Jeunes, Kimisagara.

Akua Naru recording something in Kinyarwanda that she intends to use on her next project.

I won’t talk about the show, which was dope by the way. I saw some journalists covering the event, I hope they will do it justice. I just want to express my gratitude to the inspiration that Akua Naru is to the world, and for making a trip to Rwanda to share her journey, talent and stage with us.

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Thank you, Akua Naru.

1key, 1love

Afrogroov brings Keziah Jones to Kigali

I love everything about the association of these two names. If you are the type that doesn’t miss cultural events in Kigali, you would know that Dj Eric Soul, the man behind Afrogroov movement, is all about treating Rwandans to an exquisite taste of music by great artists from Africa and the diaspora. Let me refresh your mind, do you remember the electrifying performances by Thais Diarra, Nneka, Tiken Jah in Kigali? Well, there is a collective of cultural actors and leading creative entrepreneurs from the region behind all that, working with or without sponsors because they believe Rwanda deserves to experience the genuine touch of African artistry. That said, behold la crème de la crème Keziah Jones! First time to hear the name? Not surprising. He is not on your mainstream TV and radio channels but when you look him up, you will find his name next to Ben Harper, Prince, Fela Kuti, Miles Davis, Jimmy Hendrix, John Coltrane, among the greatest of all time, who at most influenced his music.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, on 10th January 1968, Olufemi Sanyaolu known under his pseudonym as Keziah Jones is one of the greatest artists in the world to hold a guitar. He taught himself how to play at a young age and grew to become the legend he is today. Keziah is so unconventional that not only he had to add a new genre to the world repertoire- the Blufunk, which heavily rests on his guitar strumming style- a guitar maker company had to create the perfect guitar to accommodate the move of his fingers. When you listen to his music, you have a feel of jazz, blues, rock, funk, a touch of ethnic combined with suave vocals that smoothly carry a deep, mystic, and poetic message, all embodied in a charisma that would give a goose the chills. And that is not even half of it. He is also a great painter, a poet, a playwright and a generous educator. Talk about an all-rounded artist, this is what Kigali will be treated to. Forget about the usual, get ready to immerse yourself in an energy beyond description and allow yourself to be touched by the sound of a genius. 


This 25th September, the city will be lit by the brilliance of this son of Africa. To attend, please book your seat in advance by filling this form. You will then receive a confirmation message. In the meantime, get familiar with the legend already inviting you to. 

“I guess you better familiarize yourself

with me ‘Cause the weather’s all fine

You know there’s never no waiting for the right

kind of breeze when pleasure all’s mine”

Watch this live performance of Keziah’s Femiliarise

There is a lot more to savor online while waiting for the night your music experience will change for good.

For more info, follow Afrogroov on Facebook, twitter (@afrobysoul) or email at info@afrogroov.com for enquiries.

PS: Don’t forget to book by filling the form

1key, 1love.