Pushing Rwandan music beyond borders

At the close of the four-day ONGEA Eastern Africa Music Summit in Nairobi last week, Rwandan disc jockey and events broker Eric Soul had a few sentiments to share with organizers:
L-R: DJ Eric Soul, Deo Munyakazi, Angel Mutoni and a colleague at the ONGEA summit. (Courtesy)
L-R: DJ Eric Soul, Deo Munyakazi, Angel Mutoni and a colleague at the ONGEA summit. (Courtesy)

At the close of the four-day ONGEA Eastern Africa Music Summit in Nairobi last week, Rwandan disc jockey and events broker Eric Soul had a few sentiments to share with organizers:

“How about franchising the event to the rest of the region?” he pitched; “so that we can have ONGEA Kigali and ONGEA Kampala etc … to continue this conversation. I think it would be good to keep the same brand name for brand identity and consistency so that people do not get confused. We can take this brand and make it as big as possible by collaborating rather than by competing.”

In its second edition now, this year’s summit took place between February 16thand 19th at the Sarit Centre Expo in Westlands, Nairobi. Ongea is Swahili for ‘talk’. It was four days of spirited performances, recordings, discussions, and business exchanges. In attendance were artists, associations, booking agents, collective management organizations, digital distributors, educational institutions, media houses, record labels, regulators, technical suppliers, and music fans, among others.

The summit seeks to create synergies and linkages between industry players by exploring new markets, new opportunities and emerging trends

Participants were drawn from the larger Eastern Africa bloc; Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius,  the Seychelles, Somalia and South Sudan, among others.

Rwanda was represented by DJ Eric Soul, inanga musician Deo Munyakazi, and the rapper and Spoken Word artist Angel Mutoni.

Eric Soul made it to the summit in three different capacities; as a panelist on the panel discussion; How to get booked for a festival”, and as a performing artist, to present a preview of #Components Rwanda, work in progress, a project supported by the British Council through its New Art, New Audience East African Arts Program.

Deo Munyakazi plays inanga - traditional guitar. (Faustin Niyigena)

Soul is also the brains behind Afrogroov, a Kigali-based creative network that links artists and creative people from Europe and Africa. Away from spinning discs, he is also into organizing events, festivals, and concerts, all these with a twist of social activism.

New Art, New Audiences is a new grant scheme by the British Council that engages artists, musicians, filmmakers and cultural institutions from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and the UK to create new art for showcase to audiences in East Africa and the UK. The project aims to provide a platform for the diversity of ideas and creative expression from East Africa’s vibrant arts scene.

“ONGEA Summit is a good platform because this is exactly what needs to happen; we need to have these kinds of discussions to talk about music and culture and creativity with professionals who understand the administrative, legal, economic and technical aspects, and the economic impact that nurturing music, art and creativity has on the economy and development of a country,” Eric Soul explained.

“So it’s very important to bring the best people together to have that organic platform and physically talk to each other and exchange ideas. It’s a wonderful blueprint and it’s how the prosperous music industry in the West has thrived and maintained itself for several decades and I think that as Africans we need to do the same thing,” he told fellow summit-goers. 

Deo Munyakazi, who wowed the audience with his skills on the inanga could not hide his excitement after the summit;

“I met with many artists and we shared ideas on how they do their music and I learnt a lot from their performances and their music. I learnt something from every artist. I learnt how I can spread my music passion all over the world.”

Munyakazi, Mutoni and DJ Eric Soul. (Courtesy)

About the inanga he said; “People really appreciated it, especially how this traditional instrument teams with DJ mixing and electronic music. I was amazed that most of the people didn’t know inanga at all but they appreciate the sound.”

Eric Soul made the introductory remarks during the Rwandan Showcase performance;

“We’re going to go through the ancient times to represent and demonstrate how people in my country express themselves, how they play music, how they dance, how their souls shine to the world. Part of the performances is untouched, travelling for decades and centuries to be here with you. I’ve got here Deo Munyakazi, and the way I like to describe him is that he’s got a spirit of 150 years old.”

Deo then proceeded to belt out some inanga songs, with Angel Mutoni providing backup vocals.

Thereafter, Mutoni took the microphone for a Rwandan fusion showcase performance, with Munyakazi strumming the inanga and DJ Eric Soul pinning the discs simultaneously. She wowed the crowd with her vocal dexterity, delivering her fast-paced rap lines in a mix of Kinyarwanda, English and French.

Trade, Learn, Showcase

The ONGEA Eastern Africa Music Summit was born last year, having evolved out of the Kenya Music Week, which had run for ten years.

“Since Kenya Music Week had achieved its objectives for the Kenya music industry, over that decade, we decided to broaden the scope of the event; 
whose three Pillars still remain: Trade, Learn and Showcase,” explained Mike Strano, the founder of ONGEA.

“I founded ONGEA in 2014 after ten years of Kenya Music Week which I co-founded with a Kenyan partner. ONGEA is basically a forum to help develop the industry into one that’s professional, transparent and profitable for all,” he explained.

This year’s festival sought to spark new innovations and content through discussions, networking and new funding deals. Panel discussions tackled relevant industry topics such as how to be booked for festivals, intellectual property rights, the financial viability of digital distribution, the gaps in sound engineering, and the production of live performances as well as the impact of music on culture, development and advocacy.

The summit featured a total of 57 exhibition stands, eight industry panels (two per day), and about 50 experts from across the region and the world. Each session had about 300 participants.

There were 29 showcase performances, and organizers flew in four festival bookers –from Rwanda (DJ Eric Soul), Mozambique, Uganda, and South Africa. As festival booker, Eric Soul represented three home-grown music festivals; Isaano, Kigali!Up, and and “I am Kigali”, his brainchild.

Deo Munyakazi (left) and the Kora

“They took up the ONGEA deal –we flew them in, covered their expenses, gave them a working holiday, and in exchange they get to take at least one of our acts to their respective festivals under a commercial deal. The objective is to begin exporting music from the East African region,” explained Strano, the ONGEA Summit founder:

“ONGEA is about business-to-business, and also business-to-consumer because obviously consumers are very important in the echo system.  There are very few forums where stakeholders can get together and discuss issues important to the industry. We discussed a lot of policy with the Communications Authority of Kenya, Kenya Copyright Board, Music Copyright Society of Kenya, Performance Rights Society of Kenya, and the Kenya Association of Music Producers.

The biggest challenge our industry has right now is working capital. We don’t have enough working capital and that’s because it is held by the users of music. When the users of music begin paying royalties at the right international rates, our industry will blossom,” he added. 

The next ONGEA Eastern Africa Music Summit will take place in February 2018.

“We are trying to do a lot of partnerships with other festivals and music markets in Africa to bring us closer together so that we realize a lot of synergies for the growth of our individual industries,” Strano concluded.


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