1keynote on #YourMusicYourVoice

Before the Event

About a month ago, when I received an email from the Goethe Institute in Rwanda to participate in a workshop/concert project in Kampala, Uganda, scheduled from 1st-5th October under the theme #YourMusicYourVoice on which Megaloh & Ghanain Stallion, who were on an African tour, would perform, I thought “Who are these guys?” So I looked them up and damn they were hot! I don’t speak German but music has no language. It is the language of the universe. I felt the anger, the protest in their Hip Hop. That’s when I felt the hell-let’s-do-this vibe in my guts. So I emailed back Goethe with a yes. A few days before the event, when Goethe Zentrum Kampala asked me to send a short bio with details about how I use social media to address social injustices, I thought “Okay, it’s serious! Let’s do this!” When the poster was out and I was officially representing my country in such a noble cause, I thought “This is awesome!”

Day 1 – Intro

On the night of the 4th of October, I took the bus from Kigali to Kampala and was picked up from the station to the hotel the next morning. The hotel was nice. The best part was the location: less than two-minutes walk to Kisimenti, Goethe, and Kamwokya for Meddy’s chicken (and everything else one may need on this planet). Since some of the international artists/activists had already arrived, we got to share a drink at the barbecue on Goethe’s rooftop. There was even fireworks in the Kampala sky. Not exactly for us but since we were there, we took it as a personal welcome. It was beautiful energy all over.

Day 2 – Presentation

The morning began with a presentation of my work. I focused on my latest projects: The Expericment and La Voi(e)x de la légende because someone said “You are as good as your last work.” A couple of artists/activists, international and Ugandan got to share their journeys as well. The experiences were so enriching and brought to light our African realities into similar perspectives even though we live in different geographical and historical contexts. We easily related to each other’s struggles. Then came the Q&A. It was intense. In a good way. I still cannot get around some of the questions. For instance, how does one answer to;

  • What have you achieved in your country in terms of social justice for your people?
  • How do people react to your music in your country? What about the government?
  • As an artist/activist who criticize your government, are there instances where you have been in trouble because of something that you said? How did you get out of trouble?
  • Are there available legal bodies in your country to defend you in case you get arrested for protesting and voicing certain opinions? If yes, where does the funding come from?
  • How far will you go to defend your ideals?

It’s not like I had never thought about these questions. They are usually part of my work as a conscious artist. It’s just more challenging when you have to answer and sometimes you don’t have the answers. Unless you have the experience of Monza who said “In Mauritania, I have been arrested many times for speaking out against the injustice. The government is the judge. The people are the lawyers.” The irony of life did not miss the rendezvous. As we had these discussions, one of the artists could not freely participate because he was going through a series of intimidation, persecution, arrest and even attempt to murder. Why? Because he was/is using his voice to protest the motion to change the constitution that would allow Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to become another Mugabe.

In the afternoon we visited a studio in Muyenga where NewzBeat is produced. As the word suggests, it’s the news delivered on a beat. Journalists are rappers and they just don’t rap the news, they research and create new ways of engaging with everyday realities. What was even more inspiring was the fact that Xuman, the creator of the new-on-the-beat format known in French as Journal Rappé in Senegal, was there to witness at first hand the ripple effects of his creation.

Left to right: Xuman (Senegal), Monza (Mauritania), Nash emcee (Tanzania), 1key (Rwanda) and Ntare Patience (Burundi). All are Hip-Hop except Patience, who is a reggae man.

A little bit later we visited the Youth Sharing Centre in Nsambya where Abrahamz gives free hip hop dance classes and cyphers regularly, especially to street kids. I felt blessed to be there and learned a couple of moves. So next time you wanna battle me on the dancefloor, there is gonna be some serious poppin’ n lockin’.

Day 3 – Arts And Activism

We kicked off the morning with fresh discussions related to how we do what we do where we come from and what are the receptions/perceptions in regards to our opinions. I felt blessed to be on the same platform with artists and social activists who make moves that influence change in their societies. It was great to be surrounded with people who have the same ideals as mine and who have been living up to them. Some of the topics that were unearthed surfaced were related to identity, home, the role of the artist in the society, North-South relations, colonization, decolonization, democracy, freedom, free speech, poverty, corruption, justice, equality etc. Check out some of the quotes on Twitter #ArtsnActivismUG

Outspoken talking about his struggle as a social activist in Zimbabwe. Right to Left: Patience (Burundi, Outspoken (Zimbabwe), the moderator, Nash emcee (Tanzania), 1key (Rwanda), Xuman (Senegal) and Monza (Mauritania)
Bobi Wine (Far left) courageously joined the panel a bit late after his house had been subject of grenade explosions. Later on that day, he was taken to jail.

After the talks, there was more talks. This time live on NTV with Douglass on his show The Beat where we got to share a bit of our arts and what to expect at the concert.

Left to right: Juma (Kenya) talking about how he uses music to for refugees plight. I’m paying attention just like Megaloh and Douglas, the host of The Beat.

Day 4 – #YourMusicYourVoice Concert

It was a pretty chilled-out day as we all needed to be fresh for the evening concert. By 1pm we were at Design Hub for sound check (and work on a paper costume for some of us, you know 😉 As for the rest of the show, it was legendary! You are definitely going to hear about #YourMusicYourVoice for a minute. On top of the concert, we did two songs and two videos featuring all the artists on the poster and more legends from Uganda. Meanwhile here’s how my performance looked like…

 

I had so much fun, I learned a lot, I met amazing people, I ate delicious food… I can’t ask for more. It’s been enriching in every sense and I am grateful to Katherina for thinking highly of me, to Anja for treating me with such respect and consideration, to Lara & Flora for making shit happen, to Anne Whitehead for the “positive vibes”… it was well organized. Thank you!

To my sisters Yallah MC, Lady Slyke, and my brothers Monza, Xuman, Outspoken, Juma, Nash Emcee, St Nelly Sade, Sylvester & Abrahamz, HE Bobi Wine, Megaloh & Ghanaian Stallion, Koz n Effekt , Sparrow and everyone that I did not mention, thank you so much for keeping up the spirit of Africa and for making me believe in us more. Let’s keep in touch!

~1key, 1love

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The Expericment Film 

About a year ago, a young Rwandan with an unusual English accent walked to me and told me, “I really like what you do and I would like to document your journey through film.” I looked at him and without the shadow of a doubt I said, “Sure!” From that day, Isumbabyose has been part of my life in a creepy kind of way filming me in awkward situations and sometimes positions. Every time he used my phone, he would remind me “Don’t delete that!” I don’t know if it’s written on my face that I do delete stuff a lot because he was right. I do. 

When the time came to start the #Expericment series, we sat and discussed what he needed in terms of equipment and logistics. I watched this young man spend his last coins and many hours of his youth shooting, directing and editing my life. I am going to miss our 4am arguments over the tone of color, the sound level, the right transition and passing out on those comfy couches at Another Cat studios. Isumbabyose’s work ethic and discipline throughout the entire documentation made me question my rants about why music is not valued in Rwanda? Because I haven’t invested 10% of what he has. Yet he is the most composed friend I have.

Before the premiere on the 3rd of February (venue to be disclosed), I would like to invite film critics for a screening this Friday and hear from them. So if you are one living in Rwanda, please email your best review at ericonekey@gmail.com and I will get back to you with details related to the screening before the official premiere. Speaking of which, the entrance fee will be whatever amount you decide to pay via my Mobile Money (0788353630 Ngangare Eric), cash at the door, bank transfers if you insist, any way you wish to support with your money is welcome. Here’s a snippet of the film. It’s not enough to give you an idea about what to expect, I will upload a couple more as we wait for the premiere. Enjoy! 

EANT to treat Kigali to a four-night festival of contemporary dance

My first experience watching a contemporary dance performance was in Kigali. It was part of a play. As I converged all my attention towards the shirtless man trying to fly like a bird, land like a leaf and run like a gazelle in slow motion, I couldn’t help but wonder “Do those Tai Chi-like moves really mean anything or is Wesley Ruzibiza playing with us?” Over the years, my curiosity took over my skepticism. I attended more related shows and it’s only at the East African Nights of Tolerance (EANT) festival last year, that I found the courage to ask a choreographer, “How do you expect people who are not familiar with contemporary dance to interpret your piece?” The director simply replied, “It is in fact subject to interpretation.” Definitely not the answer I expected but it also hit me that I don’t always understand every move in our traditional dance yet I always have a great time watching. If you can relate to this then you may relate even more to the numerous dance performances organized by Amizero Kompagnie for the 5th edition of the East African Nights of Tolerance festival.

For 4 nights in a row starting this 24th November, Kigali will be treated to stories depicting the state of our shared humanity and beyond through unique contemporary dance signatures from Tanzania, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazaville, Cameroon, Benin, Ivory Cost, France, Belgium and Rwanda.

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From Thursday to Saturday, 7 pm, the shows will happen at Zenith Hotel, 12 KG 676 Street (Kimihurura opposite Papyrus) for a fee of 2,000 Rwf per night or 5,000 Rwf for the three-night package.

On Sunday, the show will be at Maison des Jeunes Kimisagara, still 7pm and 2,000 Rwf entrance fee and will bring young Rwandan contemporary dancers, newly trained by local and guest dancers throughout a week workshop, to perform, watch and exchange with the dance maestros.

I promise you, you will gain pounds of joy if you go.

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.

1000 Shows of Mediocrity

I have been to a gazillion of music events in this country either as a member of the audience or as an artist and from both ends I can tell you it’s not hard to tell that our music shows have two things in common- they always start late and the sound usually suck.

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The Oxymoron at Isaano Festival a couple of hours after the show was supposed to start. The venue was so empty that it became my son’s playground. That’s him. Way to go, boy.

Four out of the gazillion shows however have given a hint of how it’s done but I am afraid our current event organizers got the memo. One can even wonder if they were there. Here is my top 4 in no particular order.

The first show that wowed me was Shaggy’s performance at the MTN’s 10th anniversary in Petit Stade’s parking lot back in 2008. When my friends and I reminisce, we jump from our seats- Badass!

The 2nd show was Gael Faye’s Pili Pili Tour at the Rwanda Revenue auditorium in 2013. That evening I went home full of life feeling like “So this is is why it’s called a live concert!” Oh we even had a freestyle session on Papyrus rooftop. Unforgettable!

The 3rd show and I don’t need to go into details since it trended on Twitter for about two weeks after the event was Stromae’s Racine Carre tour that ended at ULK last year. There’s even a Mutzig billboard at Prince House today thanking the Maestro for that formidable concert.

The 4th show was local. The only local music concert that had me hats off, hands down! It was full house, the sound was on point, the acts were incredible, the set was beautiful and Mani gave 200% since he launched two albums at once. More power to you brother.

I have also been to a number of other “ok” shows that gave hope that it was possible, we were going to get there some day but still forgettable. If not then you’d remember individual’s performances and not the whole event.

Now if the number of flops I have witnessed! Ayayaya it’s not funny. Those one have inspired this post.

 

FB Late Show
As shared by some, starting shows late is a routine – an “African thing”

Last week I attended one of these shows. It was a festival happening in a small bar. I was sitting on the floor waiting… waiting some more… I asked the main artist why we weren’t starting, she smiled. I got it. So I engaged in a quick chat with one of my favorite rappers in the universe to kill time. He was on the evening lineup.

  • What’s good, bruv? Are you doing a live performance tonight?
  • Dude, I’ve had such a horrible experience in the past with guys around here that I can’t even think about going through that again. I’ll stick to instrumentals. And guess what?
  • What?
  • I was only told yesterday that I will perform tonight.
  • Your name had been on the poster for about a week, though?
  • What poster?

I rested my case and allowed myself to just let go and see what happens. Soon, he was on stage but the mic was so bad that I had to close my eyes and think about the track on youtube to get hints about when the hook would come in. The same mic issue had happened to me a week earlier, on the same festival, as I performed a couple of my spoken word pieces. The sound was so horrible that I had to stop and ask the sound technician, “I’m a spoken word artist, if the mic ain’t right, what’s the point?” But obviously he couldn’t hear me. The sound was bad, you know. It wasn’t his fault. Mind you that I was opening for a world music icon who happened to perform for an empty stadium and a handful of expats in front of the stage. To everyone’s surprise her sound was impeccable. Magic, huh?

A little background why I’m doing this. I used to just blog, write poems, record music and share online. These are things I can control from my phone. Now that I am in the universe of performances, I get hit by realities I wasn’t ready for. The worst part is that people are used to them. I am not and I don’t want to. It has reached a lever where after performing, artists don’t want to see the event organizers anymore unless they’re talking payments, which usually happens on the 67th of the same month.

That said, event organizers also have a world of their own. Challenges we don’t know about. They never tell us why we are starting late, why the only crowd is our friends, why we are not being paid… I find that disrespectful. But I’m not casting any stone since I live in a glass house now. I am just trying to understand who benefits from these substandard shows because in the end, everyone is frustrated- the artists, the musicians, the audience, even the organizers themselves. I bet the sponsors are not happy either, yet you need to go back to them either to cash cheques or get sponsorship for the next events. I know some of you who will say, “Creating an industry takes time” fine! I’m talking to you that has been in the game for over 10 years but had been repeating the same mistakes. So let’s have a chat and if you please, answer these questions.

  1. Why advertise for your show a couple of days before the D day? And on social media only? Like really? [Then you complain that only expats showed up.]
  2. What is so hard about starting a show on time?
  3. It is a music show. The least I expect is decent sound. Why is it never right? Old/poor equipment or unqualified technicians?
  4. The turnout is usually very low. How do you make revenues out of these events?
  5. Where do you get the money to pay the artists. I mean those that get paid. Sponsorship?
  6. Local artists don’t feel appreciated during festivals. From a personal experience I have had to pay the band out of my own pocket to perform where other artists were getting paid. Why?
  7. Are you satisfied with your media coverage (whenever there is any) before, during or after the event?
  8. What are the key challenges you do not share with the public? 
  9. Do you do this for the love or is it a job/career?
  10. Tell me if I’m wrong but “a mediocre event is better than no event.” Yes or No?

When I asked a fellow artist – frustrated for not only being asked to perform at the last minute at a major event that happened recently in Kigali but also for which they never got been paid – why they never talk about these issues, they said, “Something you have to know about our industry is that the moment an artist raises their voice, baramukanda!” Which means they [media, event organizers…] blacklist the artist i.e. no more air plays hence low chances to get in Guma Guma, no more interviews, no more mention in their gossip/entertainment websites… and I thought that was really pathetic. I remember this one time I tweeted a popular online entertainment magazine “Guys, your format and content hasn’t evolved since you launched your platform. Don’t you ever grow?” The response was “People like how we do what we do, even if you don’t.” Well that was a polite STFU and I respected that. It was none of my business I guess. But I’m not giving up so here is a quote that motivates me when I feel the need to speak up about these things.

“Do not accept or tolerate mediocrity in yourselves or in others. Defy the low expectations that some many have of you or that you may even have yourself. You simply do not have the luxury of getting tired or giving up.” ~ Paul Kagame

Now the ball just rolled in your court.

Meanwhile I’m about to launch the 1key Entre2 Expericment and I count on you, my friends and supporters, to start a new journey in the performing universe. Let’s raise our middle finger to mediocrity.

Cheers!

#1key