Telling Rwandan stories through theater at WEF-Africa

For the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) 2016 meetings held in Kigali between May 11-13, Mashirika’s brief was clear-cut; to tell the story of Rwanda to the thousands of delegates in attendance, among them heads of state, cabinet ministers, global entrepreneurs, and captains of industry.
Mashirika actors perform 'Rwanda Nziza'. (Courtesy).
Mashirika actors perform 'Rwanda Nziza'. (Courtesy).

The process was extremely difficult,
The act in the moment was a time stopper.
The impact is a lifetime reward.
Can’t thank enough all the geniuses on-board whose mission was to wrap a gift of artistic excellence,” wrote Hope Azeda, the founder and artistic director of the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company on her Facebook page shortly after successfully pulling another artistic fete off.

For the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) 2016 meetings held in Kigali between May 11-13, Mashirika’s brief was clear-cut; to tell the story of Rwanda to the thousands of delegates in attendance, among them heads of state, cabinet ministers, global entrepreneurs, and captains of industry.  

One would say that the task that lay before Azeda and her Mashirika team was that of branding Rwanda to an international audience. 

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(Courtesy)

So she toyed with a few themes she thought would resonate well with the task at hand; Rwandan traditional dance, Umuganda, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and technology, among others.

Showcasing Rwanda, then and now

Mashirika staged a jaw-dropping 15-minute performance entitled Rwanda Rwiza, which was basically a fusion of traditional and contemporary forms of dance.

“That’s what the piece was about and we embraced traditional forms of dance and music, and then we went to where Africa is today, because our main mission was one; We wanted to portray Africa and how it’s moving very fast on its socio-economic trajectory, and we used more of youthful energy because young people today are as fast as technology and you just can’t stop them,” Azeda explained.

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The piece makes use of the image of a web, with Africa trying to be a part of this web of technology. A little girl is used in the piece to symbolize Africa and the boundlessness of opportunities that it represents.

A poem by Natasha Muhoza which accompanied the piece made the mood more emotive.

“What we were saying is that African transformation is really about bridging countries, bridging knowledge and networking,” Azeda further elaborated.  

The piece’s two main images were actually a web and a bridge, and in the bridge scene which seemed to excite delegates the most, the little girl steps on this human bridge created by the dancers, then walks across as the Mashirika cast sing Africa Rise as the climax song.

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The set design

Matt Deely, a professional set designer from the UK rigged the set design for Mashirika’s masterpiece.

He used traditional art and some suspended fabrics to create a 3D projection, such that people stood all around the set up, such that when you walked on stage the first thing you saw was this thing, projecting different images depicting what Rwanda is all about.

Apart from the prominent place of the Intore dance in the piece (there were ten dancers from the Rwanda National Ballet), Mashirika also brought in ancient art and earth colours, royal art like the king’s hut, and the imigongo patterns, among other indigenous art forms.

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To depict the country’s immense strides in technological transformation, an assortment of smart digital gadgets were on showcase.

“So the art that was being projected of Rwanda Rwiza which was what you would find in the National Museum became a new museum which is technology, innovation, kinetics and all that, and all these were projected in the performance,” noted Azeda.

Cultural soiree:

Mashirika’s 15-minute piece was followed by a cultural evening featuring different local bands and musicians like Hope Irakoze and his Hope Band, Gakondo, Charly and Nina, Mani Martin and his Kesho Band, and Mike Kayihura.

“The evening was supposed to last only three hours but it was so nice that people didn’t want to go home, so it ended at about 1:00 am,” Azeda recalled proudly.

She also facilitated a panel discussion on the power of play, but was rather disappointed that out of over 60 participants in attendance, none of them was Rwandan.

“We were trying to explore the power of play, and how it can be introduced in different organizations because a lot of organizations are fond of following set processes so they never get time to play in terms of diversifying to do other things outside work. Today’s leadership needs divergent thinking. People need to go off and become more creative. People are not given space to create because their brains have been conditioned like a robot. So I did this but unfortunately there was no local participant.”

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There was another panel discussion titled Creative Industries & African Markets, and again, she was the only Rwandan on the panel, while the only participant from Rwanda was the Minister for Sports and Culture, Julienne Uwacu.

The reason Azeda exclaims that for her, “it was some sort of marathon.”

Clinching the deal

The Mashirika team was first approached by the advance team of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which visited the country in January on a fact-finding mission.

“They wanted something very light for the evening, but something also that portrayed Africa as an Africa that is growing –something that would go beyond just skins and spears. Maybe they had read about us because all I got was a phone call and the next thing I knew I was at the Kigali Serena Hotel meeting the team. I was like what am I supposed to be doing with these people – because we had some talking about security, others protocol, others food, and here I was talking about dance.”

Almost immediately, Mashirika embarked on developing relevant scripts, and the scripts simply kept growing.

“I liked the fact that this conference also embraced arts and culture, which you don’t find in many other such forums, and I liked the fact that there were even some arts and culture panel discussions on the sidelines.”

Lessons learnt

“The lesson that I picked from this experience is that we can do it. We can achieve artistic excellence if there’s the will to embrace creativity, the will to embrace process, because process for an artiste is very important. Process means that you tell me something and I see it in my head, then I start to process it, before I put it on paper. But as a client it might be very difficult to see what I’m seeing, because there is a process and a journey behind creativity.”

 

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