FIVE years ago, in 2008, Jimmy Rudahunga Kalisi knew absolutely nothing about Salsa. Nothing. All he knew was that it had its roots in Cuba, Latin America. His interest in it did not stretch any further than that.
As fate would have it, that year Kalisi attended a party at which lots of salsa was being played. He danced to the salsa beat just like he did the other genres of music. Kalisi did not even know that the dance form had its own unique moves. Being an accomplished dancer though, Kalisi still managed to catch the attention of other party-goers with his sleek moves.
An English lady was one of those. That night, she approached him with the idea of initiating a salsa club in Kigali. The dance enthusiast that he is, Kalisi immediately warmed up to the idea. The two exchanged contacts. But little did he know that this chance meeting would culminate in the birth of a new culture, that of salsa, in Kigali.
Three months later, she called him to ask if he was ready to kick start the project. She proposed Passadena Murugo, in Gikondo as a venue. “For one and a half years, I came here every single Thursday, for salsa lessons,” Kalisi remembers.
A week into his training, a Belgian national, Joost Bambuste, a huge salsa fan, came to Passadena to check it out. Joost proved to be a good salsa teacher, and helped with the salsa classes. After two dedicated years, Joost left the country and returned to his native Belgium. It was time for Kalisi to man up and step into the Belgian’s shoes.
“Me and a friend decided to carry on from where Joost had left, with the little we knew. We were teaching other students while teaching ourselves at the same time,” he recalls. The numbers kept swelling, as interest in the art form grew.
The big bang came a year later. “Salsa became such a huge addiction, and that encouraged us. It was so big, we ran into problems with the locals, who complained of too many cars jamming here (Passadena Murugo) every Thursday night. The government actually came in to halt it. We were reluctant to relocate, because this had become home,” he says.
After some negotiations, government cleared them and the crowds thronged the joint even more. “Corporate companies and institutions started calling us for promotions and cocktail parties. We also played at private weddings. Other nightclubs also asked us to export salsa to them.”
One such place to which Kalisi and his crew ‘exported’ salsa was the Cadillac VIP Discotheque, Kigali’s premier nightspot. Today, it hosts a salsa night every Wednesday night.
Five years on, Kalisi describes himself as “the history of salsa in Kigali.” “I’m Mr. Salsa,” he says cheekily. He describes salsa as “more than just a dance, but a culture.” “It’s a sport in which all body parts participate. Sometimes I think even my hair dances while I’m at it,” he says, while stroking his hair.
Kalisi’s dream is to develop “a unique Rwandan style of salsa” as a home-grown variation of the Cuban dance.