On Monday, during the official opening of the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at the Amahoro National Stadium, artistes got on stage in front of a mammoth crowd that included President Paul Kagame and the First Lady, Jeannette, as well as visiting current and former heads of state and government, and so many other dignitaries from around the world.
The artistes made several performances including a play, Shadows of Memory, that took the audience through the history of Rwanda in the years preceding and following the Genocide, as well as music performances.
Among the artistes who delivered performances include Mani Martin, Diane Teta, Arthur Nkusi, Kennedy Mazimpaka, Liza Kamikazi, Maria Yohana Mukankuranga, Patrick Nyamitari (former TPF6 contestant), and Franco-Rwandan MC and rap artiste Gaël Faye.
The performances came off as a show of solidarity with those who bore the worst brunt of the Genocide and a demonstration of patriotism.
The main attraction of the day was the play, Shadows of Memory, written and directed by Hope Azeda of Mashirika troupe.
She may be a down-to-earth personality who is reluctant to take credit for the skit but Azeda ensured that the play, featuring about 850 actors, went on flawlessly and had an impact on those watching it.
“The purpose was to tell the Rwandan story from the pre-colonial period. It was designed to connect with the audience, to resonate with their feelings and emotions. At times there were questions deep down on whether we will be able to do justice to the story. We cannot ignore or look away from our history,” explained Azeda.
She added: “We needed to tell the story any way we could. We worked with world renowned directors and choreographers and several talented actors.”
“Through this whole experience I learnt that you cannot lead without love and understanding, you would think that to direct that kind of thing you need to be tough and bully people around. You need love and you need to be equal with everybody, you need to listen to everyone you are working with or else you will not deliver”.
Nkusi, who featured in the play, said it was a chance to use art in a positive way to counter how it had been previously used to spread a negative ideology. “As an artist, I see art as a very sensitive agent; people used art in its various forms in the past to spread genocide ideology. It is a delicate tool; we can use it in a good way to show what happened and what should be done.”
Kamikazi, who also featured in Shadows of Memory and was the writer of the soundtrack to the play, Humura, said that Rwandans can now look into the future with optimism.
“As we commemorate our loved ones, let’s also look ahead, the past may not have been very kind but it is time we look forward, nurture our ambitions and pursue our dreams,” says Kamikazi.
Mani Martin, who also played a role in the skit besides performing a commemoration song, said: “Rather than look at our diversity as a weakness and a source of conflict, we should look at it as a source of our strength.”
Teta, who delivered her composition, said: “It was the first time I was performing the song, even as I wrote it back in 2011”. Her song, Ndaje, urges strength during difficult times.
The message in it is “here I come to wash away all the tears and share hope for the future. It is not just a Genocide commemoration song; it carries a message of hope.”
She said: “I had spent the previous week in rehearsals. It meant a lot to me knowing that the whole world was watching and there were many VIPs around. I felt I needed to put the message across that Genocide should never happen anywhere in the world again.”
The Undi munsi star added: “We can use art to achieve peace and nurture hope.”
“Like the President has told us before, we can’t reverse the clock, we can’t change history, but we should not waste the tragedy, it is our history, whether good or bad, we should draw lessons from it and build a better country and ensure that genocide does not happen again,” added Teta.