How local artists came of age at WEF

“They told me what songs to sing but for me I don’t like those things. I know my job and what kind of songs to sing but they told me to sing particular songs,” explains Hope Irakoze, one of the few local performers lucky to perform for guests at the just-concluded World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 in Kigali.
Mani Martin entertaining guests at WEF. (File)
Mani Martin entertaining guests at WEF. (File)

“They told me what songs to sing but for me I don’t like those things. I know my job and what kind of songs to sing but they told me to sing particular songs,” explains Hope Irakoze, one of the few local performers lucky to perform for guests at the just-concluded World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 in Kigali. 

Irakoze was the main musical act at the cultural soiree organised for delegates by the host –the Government of Rwanda on Thursday, May 12, the second day of WEF.

Other performers on the night were; Mani Martin and his Kesho Band, the Gakondo Family, Charly and Nina, and Mark Kayihura, while the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company performed a 15-minute theatrical piece titled Rwanda Rwiza. 

All the local artists that performed for the WEF delegates and that I talked to admitted it was the biggest gig they had handled on Rwandan soil. 

“Up to now I can’t even imagine that I could be a part of it. It was a real pleasure to participate in the World Economic Forum. My part was linked to the Creative industry,” explained Kanobana R. Judo, the founder and Production Manager of Isaano Positive Productions. 

Judo had been tasked by government to bring together artists, designers, dancers, dramatists, and the technical aspects like sound, stage and good lighting for the soiree.

Women dancing to tradition songs. (Courtesy)

In town there were other activities linked to WEF, like fashion shows and a mini expo at places like the Car Free Zone, Hotel des Mille Collines, and the Innovation Village, and Judo’s work jurisdiction extended to these as well.

The government contacted me through our usual partners like RDB and the Ministry of Sports and Culture. As Events organizers, we have some good contacts on the international scene so they contacted me as well to help out. We have a network in South Africa, in Nairobi, in Europe and in America so when people come to Rwanda they need equipment, information and technical hands and so on, and we’re always very glad to help out those colleagues,” Judo further explained. 

Asked what criteria was used to select the artistes he explains:

“It was very easy as we have been in the field more than ten years, and the good thing is that the government followed closely every step of the organization. We were very well supported in everything to make this a national success.” 

Kanobana considers himself “lucky” to have attended WEF:

“It was a chance to add my small contribution to my country even if I don’t know if what I did was even 0.001 percent of what was needed. It was a very big event, with so many professionals and so many skilled people so we learnt a lot, not only in terms of performances on stage but also in terms of history, networking, discussions, and the tomorrow thing of Africa is the future in every domain,” he concluded. 

Judo is a good friend of mine and he called me a few days before the forum asking if I would be available on May 12th so that I could perform for presidents,” explains Hope Irakoze, who was the night’s main musical act. 

According to the schedule, Irakoze was supposed to sing three songs; Happy People, by R Kelly; Oh what a night, by The Four Seasons, and a Swahili song called Harambee. 

“When I started singing Happy People everyone stood up even Mani Martin, Jules Sentore, Charly and Nina came on stage, even the First Lady stood up and I was like wow! What next now?,” Irakoze recalls. 

“In the end I performed over ten songs and I was the last person to perform after the president’s speech I was supposed to go on stage and finish the show till the DJ comes in. I was somehow scared, not knowing how people are going to react. But immediately I opened my mouth everyone stood up and started dancing and even joined me on stage. Even the other musicians all took microphones to sing with me.”

Delegates at WEF. (Courtesy)

The only local song he sung was Uwihogora, an old Rwandan folk song. 

“I didn’t have time to perform my own songs. The way I was briefed, those guests were there to have fun, not to discover some new talent. They were there just to party. 

Given a chance I would have performed Vimba vimba, a song I released recently and it’s in Swahili. It’s a duet with Eric Mucyo.”

From that event alone, Irakoze reveals that he got five gigs, including one for the British Embassy and three big weddings.

“I was invited simply because of my unique style of music. As Judo Kanobana of Positive Productions informed my manager, they needed someone who can take the audience of WEF to the World of Afro fusion and acoustic music styles and he couldn’t think of anyone else other than Mani Martin,” explains Mani Martin, who performed alongside his Kasho Band. 

“I couldn’t believe it at first, I thought they were joking, but finally I believed it and it made me feel so proud of what I do. It also gave me courage to continue being unique in the sounds of my music because uniqueness can take me places.”

The singer describes his experience performing at WEF as a big career boost:

“I found myself singing for all these big personalities from all over the world, most of them are seeing you for the first time, it was a little bit challenging but what I liked most is the fact that every artist had to perform only 15 minutes, but I ended up being requested by the audience to come back and perform more when I had finished my 15 minutes like any other artist in the house, that showed that people were in love with my music and I was the only artist to be requested back on the stage. It was also a big honor to be given a privilege to even perform the welcome song for his excellence President Paul Kagame who was the Guest of honor in the Igitaramo.” 

A local journalist who covered WEF contends that the sizeable number of artists at WEF is a good sign for the local creative industry:

“All these big forums the country has hosted rarely engage the services of local artistes. We rarely showcase the cultural side of the country, we rarely showcase the creative energy of Rwanda. 

Even the tourism aspect used to be limited to the gorillas and animals but Rwandans are now showing that we are rich in culture and our culture is our story through art, through poetry, through music ad through dance. So I think this is the first time that we opened up fully.”

“The fact that all these were artistes who were probably not known by the delegates showed us that we should value our arts especially music the more as it showed that music goes beyond just the words and the language used. Music has no language.”

Mashirika’s Rwanda Rwiza

Hope Azeda, the founder and artistic director of Mashirika had to write three different scripts, and it was only on her fourth attempt that she eventually nailed it, with Rwanda Rwiza:

“The first was the script I thought they needed, which was just an exploration of dance history from the king’s palace up to today. Then I also wrote scripts relating to Umuganda, genocide, and technology,” she explains. 

Matt Deely, the set designer for Mashirika’s dance piece flew in all the way from the UK, which is perhaps a pointer to the critical skills deficit the local creative industry economy still faces. 

It was the same Matt that came last year to rig the stage for the inaugural Ubumuntu Arts Festival staged by the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company at the amphitheater of the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi. 

But one could choose to look at it another way. The coming of people like Matt is skills transfer that Rwandan creative players can, and should tap to hone their own craft. 

Artists performing at the World Economic Forum. It was not just meetings, delegates were entertained too. (Courtesy)

Matt actually has long-term plans for his design work in Rwanda. Already, he is working on the stage design for the second edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival that will be hosted at the Kigali Genocide Memorial amphitheater in July. 

However he will fly to Rwanda about one month in advance to start work on the ground. 

While he did the design sketches himself on his laptop or smart phone, Matt will definitely need a few skilled hands on site.

What’s next?

We hope to continue working with our clients and stakeholders for their various activities, as well work on different tenders. We will help out with some great local initiatives like KigaliUp Music Festival, Rwanda Nziza celebrations, Hobe Rwanda and other events coming up this summer. 

We were in Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast last month for some festivals and events and we plan to continue going to other parts of Africa and the world with artistes representing Rwanda.

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