I’m not your regular concert person, but this is not to say that I shun music concerts and other such social events. I do go to them but not in the usual way. I want to get the whole package so I like to embed myself with the artistes slated to perform before the concert.
At the concert you will find me backstage because it’s the vibe I like and also because I understand and appreciate the struggles of musicians, especially the not-yet-well-established ones.
So it was for Bob Marley’s anniversary celebrations on Wednesday night. Marley fans and the world reggae fraternity were marking 35 years since the death of “The Gong”.
Marley breathed his last on May 11, 1981 (and that’s one year before I was even born)!
I attended for a number of reasons:
So that I could write this story; because I love the cause the singer stood for; because my friends put me under pressure to be there; because I love to honor a life well spent; because it was the opening night of WEF-Africa, a historical feat which the country just pulled off and that wound up on Friday.
Unlike previously, this year’s celebration was dubbed Bob Marley Festival, and lasted not one, but three days (11-13 May).
There were fliers that read “Bob Marley Festival” on the one hand, while others read “Rebirth of Lion Story Bob Marley 35”.
I went to One Love on Monday midmorning, two days to the concert. My mission was to meet and interview members of Lion Story, the Burundian reggae act that was to headline the performances.
The 10-piece live act has been in existence for seventeen years now.
Due to the political turmoil back home, the band has found temporary abode in Kampala, Uganda, from where they travelled to Kigali.
The members came together in Gitega, the second biggest town of Burundi. Two of the members initially came together while still in high school, and the rest joined gradually.
“There was no reggae band in Burundi before us. We chose reggae because it’s the music for the people, it’s music which speaks about life and whatever we are going through. We had something to express and we knew that it would be possible through reggae music. Reggae music is music created by rasta people and it is everlasting. It’s not music which comes today and dies tomorrow. Also majority of people in Burundi do not know how to read and write so music was the best medium to reach them,” explained Igirukwigomba Patience aka Passy, the band’s lead vocalist and percussionist.
Gradually band members started drifting to Kigali, some in search of job opportunities, and others to further their education.
At One Love, Lion Story came all out to speak for who they are; Burundians.
From the start, their performance was peppered with messages urging peace and an end to the political turmoil in Burundi.
“When the Babylon system caused genocide in Rwanda in 1994, they thought that all the Tutsi people would die, but that did not happen,” chanted Passy, the band’s lead vocalist shortly after he took to the microphone, drawing a wild chorus of ululations.
He then moved to his own home–Burundi, condemning the current political impasse, and urging fellow Burundians in the crowd to not despair as this too would come to an end.
For a band that was forced to take temporary refuge in Kampala for similar reasons, the performance was poignant, to say the least.
This five member family reggae band that hails from Biryogo in Nyamirambo performed as guest artistes for their Burundian counterparts.
Before the concert, Dusabimana Heritier, the band leader had popped up on our table as I wound up the interview with the Burundian band.
He too had come for rehearsals. We sat down for a chat. However he kept excusing himself to answer calls on his mobile phone.
Soon, he explained that he had to leave quickly to attend to a client in Kiyovu. Heritier is an Electrical Engineer by training, and earns part of his bread from fixing things like electronic gates and generators.
He however insists to me that music is his first love.
Heritier, Nteziryayo Patrick, Niyigena Pacifique, Uwace Carine, and Uwimana Rachel make up Strong Voice.
When I visited the band at their home for an interview in July last year, I found that the siblings live together with their parents, who are their number one fans.
That night, the family brought out the band’s live music set and put up a one hour live demo performance for me.
After that we ate food and drank beer.
Strong Voice started out in 2006, as a children’s band - Kidz Voice. The idea came from their father, who used to, and still plays music himself (he plays the acoustic guitar). Indeed on the night I visited, their father played his favorite instrument as his children sung.
Even as a children’s band, the siblings chose to have a unique identity – reggae.
In 2011, the kids wrote 14 songs and recorded them at Dreamland Studios in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Titled African Child, the album was released on July 4, 2011 in Bujumbura.
At One Love, Heritier told me that the band now had its own in-house recording studio, something that was still a pipe dream when we first met.
In May last year, the siblings performed at the DOADOA International Music Festival in Jinja, Uganda.
What made that particular tour special to the band is that their father, Kamere Antoine accompanied his children to the festival.
At One Love, they were accompanied by the mother, Tuyisenge Jacqueline, who stood backstage right through the performances.
One Leg, One Love
As a venue, the Mulindi Japan One Love Project in Kimihurura is synonymous with Bob Marley anniversary celebrations. It is the only venue that has been known to officially and consistently host the event in Rwanda since its inception a few years ago.
But no talk about this place can be complete without mention of its founder and face - Emmanuel Gatera Rudasingwa, better known to most people as Rasta Gatera.
It is the reason the taxi motor or cab will look lost when you ask them to drop you off at Mulindi Japan One Love Project. Shortening the name to simply One Love also won’t help.
Just say kwa Rasta.
Gatera is physically disabled, having succumbed to Polio at a young age.
He needs a pair of crutches just to move.
But Gatera is a living testimony to the adage; disability is not inability.
Far from being a weakling, Gatera is tough like Nigerian hair. He is strong like cow hoof . He is hard like gorilla.
How do I know that Gatera is tough like Kevlar? Because I have eyes.
Secondly, his wife, Mummy Rudasigwa said so. She made the revelation in One Leg, One Love, one of the best documentary films I’ve watched out of the Hillywood stable so far.
When I arrived shortly after 7:00 pm, Gatera and his wife were inside the main service counter in the restaurant doing what they do on a daily basis –serving customers.
Gatera and his wife founded the not-for-profit Mulindi Japan One Love Project in 1992, and its implementation started in 1995, a year after the genocide against the Tutsi had been stopped by the Rwanda Patriotic Force.
The project manufactures artificial limbs for persons with disabilities, and some of the first beneficiaries were casualties of the genocide as well victims of Polio.
The project receives financial and material support both from government and partner non-profit donor entities, and has also expanded to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, where it runs a workshop.
Against this background, one would then understand why there were a lot of Persons With Disabilities at the Bob Marley Festival.
Indeed, the Mulindi Japan One Love Project is to most PWDs in Kigali and in the country, what Mecca is to Muslims and Rome to Catholics.
And they were some of the most lively patrons of the night, pitching camp right in front of the stage and dancing and chanting Rastafarian slogans away.