A Cultural Revolution has taken place in the last three years. When I arrived in Rwandan, youth listened exclusively to western music.
The sounds of western artists dominated the airwaves, but now they have their own stars. This young crop of Rwandan musicians chose to copy the synthetic pop sounds of the West but kept a Rwandese core.
At first hearing, the artists all sound the same; this is due to limited production skills but if you listen closely they are timeless songs.
Beneath the pop beats always lay a great song; the kind of song that your grandmother would adore, the kind of song that appeals to timeless values.
The lyrics are very intelligent for people so young, somebody explained the meaning of “Akaramata” a song by Meddy and I was astounded. It means a solemn blood oath that binds forever. ‘Ndacyagukunda’ by Tom Close is one of the best songs I have ever heard, it can translate into any language.
Our current crop is the most talented crop of young artistes in East Africa but they earn the least when compared to less talented regional artistes.
At recent concerts they ended up becoming the opening acts for Ugandan and Kenyan acts when the crowd has really come to see them.
Rwanda is such a young nation, so our cultural development is extremely important for the future of our nation.
It is important that Rwandan youngsters listen to music that understands their situation in words and contexts they understand. “Naratomboye” by King James is such an example – “I hit the jackpot” is about a beautiful girl who is too good for him.
In hip hop, there is a similar cultural ignition taking place. Where most Western rappers rap about cars and loose women, Rwandan rappers talk about social and cultural changes in society from sugar-mummies, prison conditions, poverty, ignorance, gender violence, child defilement and so many important issues.
These talented youngsters like Diplomat, K8, Pacson and various other rappers are more socially and politically aware on a ground level.
Talking about street children and the social implications of a neglected generation “Abana bo kumuhanda” is a social call to help “mayibobo’s” and not ignore them.
The first thing we need to do is give these artistes support, like studios, venues and shows. We need professional managers, agents, producers, artiste and repertoire managers, choreographers, voice coaches, and more fans. These guys are getting by on sheer energy and will. Imagine if they had professional support.
The next step is to export our music and culture regionally; we can have our own “Potential”, a hit that topped the region’s chart.
Most of our best songs can be translated into English or Swahili, and can therefore be understood regionally. The world needs to hear our music.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator