The opening ceremony had been billed to be a breath-taking display of fireworks to illuminate the beautiful and ever-expanding Kigali skyline.
For that is the sort of reputation that FESPAD, by far the hottest item on the country’s social calendar, had come to command over the years.
As usual, the Amahoro sports complex had been filled to the brim with dance enthusiasts from across Rwanda, Africa and indeed the world. And why not? The opening ceremony featured the Urukereza, a rich Rwandan traditional ballet that gathers brings together artistes from different districts and regions of Rwanda for the purpose of promoting, conserving and preserving the Rwandan culture through song, dance, and drama. Also known as the Rwanda National Ballet, the troupe has wowed audiences across Europe, China, Japan and India among others.
That was all until, well …
FROM FESPAD TO “WETPAD”
Just a few minutes to the appointed 3:00pm opening ceremony, a malicious rain maker seemed to have gone to work. And when the rainmaker went to work, it was hard work indeed. The results: A hail and thunderstorm-filled mother of all downpours.
And it had to wait for the most critical time so it could inflict maximum damage, which it surely did.
The VIP section and the stands were threatening to fill up with the eager crowds. The performers were making last-minute rehearsals. The crowds were clapping and cheering as the speakers blared out heat after local hit as a prelude to the main do.
Some at the concert say even the president’s usually dead-pan faced security detail this time joined in the leg-tapping-to-the-music, only in a less subtle way than the rest of us, for obvious reasons. Such was the mood at Amahoro stadium on Saturday, February 23, until, that is, the skies decided to open up and do the unthinkable.
What followed was a mix of maliciously heavy rain, hailstorm and gale force wind.
And naturally, this was the perfect cue for the crowds to scamper for whatever shelter they could set their eyes upon. A few lucky ones managed to squeeze into the nearest doors they could find, while the rest sought solace under the huge stage rig in the middle of the compound.
Yet another lot made its way hastily to the VIP stand, but to their utter disappointment, no VIP treatment awaited them. The tempest and whirlwind made sure that the hailstorms freely accessed any part of the VIP stand, soaking all who sought refuge in it.
Cobra Productions, who were in charge of the event had a field day trying to stave off the effects of the rain. Their maneuvers reminded one of fire fighters or flood victim rescue teams as they fought to shield their equipment from the beating.
With the tarpaulin covers on their machines blown off by the sheer force of wind, the rain had a free reign, soaking into power amps, speakers and mixers. You could only feel sorry for their owners.
Talking of feeling sorry, the Rwanda Development Board immediately springs to mind. Their staff, aided by those from the ministry of culture had put in their all in the days running up to the opening gala, trying to put everything in order for the do.
By the time the rain finally subsided, its destructive force was only too evident in the aftermath; soaked, stuttering crowds, a wounded stage, and decorative works torn to shreds.
But such is the indefatigable spirit of Rwanda, that in the face of this adversity, the FESPAD team moved fast the plug the holes punched into the festival by malicious rain. They counted their losses, picked up the pieces and duly announced a smaller and revised version of the opening ceremony for the next day (Sunday).
It was a painful but necessary move this one, as day two had been ear marked for a guided tour of Kigali city for participants, invited guests, and the media.
To outwit the rain this time, the event was moved to the safety of a roof, at the Petit Stade. It was perhaps their way of telling the rain that they had been down the previous day, but were definitely not out. Petit Stade, like only the name suggests, is much smaller a venue than Amahoro, but who cared? Out latest enemy was not the availability of space, but malicious rain.
“It was force majeure but we will meet that challenge and tomorrow a ceremony will still take place, a bit different, maybe a bit smaller, because the main stadium could take up to 30,000 people and the indoor stadium has less seats, but we will prevail. We worked very hard to bring FESPAD here and make the continent of Africa proud of us, and we will not disappoint our participants, our Rwandan compatriots, and you from the media,” read a hastily organized statement from FESPAD.
This year, the focus had been to take the festival to the grassroots, and indeed, while the opening ceremony in Kigali opened on a note of ill-fate, the auxiliary country performances in each of the provinces did help salvage some pride.
After the country shows came to highly billed “wind-down-Friday”, where the festival offere a chance to all the busy office types to take a break and head down to the scenic town of Gisenyi to dance off their work fatigue in what was dubbed the “FESPAD Beach Party.”
The beach party culminated into the festival’s closing ceremony at Amahoro, headlined by Jamaican dancehall sensation, Beenie Man on Saturday.
Within hours of the aborted Saturday opening ceremony it was clear that Sunday afternoon would see a fresh go at the opening gala, and true to the organizers’ word, it came to pass (and successfully so)!
And with that, yet another story had been told of how the Rwandan spirit, shown earlier in the day during “Umuganda” had once again prevailed and triumphed.