It has evolved into a coat of many colors representing all races and cultures across the world. Indeed, at this year’s edition of Ubumuntu Arts Festival, over 14 countries were represented.
The recently concluded three day festival featured several free stage performances, panel discussions and workshops by theater and performance troupes from fourteen countries. Poetry, art, drama, music, and dance interacted on the festival stage at the amphitheater of the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi.
This year, a special focus was placed on performances by children, and persons with disabilities.
After their début appearance on the festival stage last year, students from the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village returned this year with a play titled Have Mercy.
“The play is about humanity and how people can have humanity,” explained Mediatrice Kayitesi, a master trainer at the youth village where she teaches different art forms like theater, painting and drawing.
“Agahozo Shalom is a place where children have a chance to be healed. Many of them come with so much psychological wounds and we try to help them to have a normal childhood. We give them therapy through different means like art, theatre, music, and dance.”
18-year-old Ruth Bahali from Agahozo was one of the 28 member cast for Have Mercy, and it was her second time on a big stage:
“This is my second time at the festival. The first time was in 2015 and I was very nervous because that was my first big stage. At school we always perform but it’s for fellow students that you’re always with but to come and perform for an international audience and they feel happy and clap for you is something very hard.”
All the way from Belgium, Jessa Wildemeersch came to the festival to act in a piece titled Waiting, by the Iraqi film director Mokhallad Rasem. It was her first time in Rwanda:
“I came to this country in a way biased. I didn’t come as a neutral visitor. I came with a background and a past, but I mostly came to learn, because I feel I’m still very ignorant about the situation here so I also came to connect with people.”
Asked what value such a festival holds she explained:
“I think it’s not just important, I think we can’t do without festivals like this. If you don’t have enough air you suffocate. You need air to breathe, so I think a festival like this is almost like breath. It’s absolutely necessary. It gives breath, new thoughts, new ideas, and enhances exchange. A festival like this is breath and blood because it gives life to the society.”
Actor and dancer Munyeshuri Innocent has been with the festival since its inception in 2015. He was part of the cast of My Body is Looking for a New Reality, a collaboration between theater troupes from Rwanda, Belgium and Iraq that was staged on day one of the festival.
“It’s been such a great opportunity for me to be a part of this. I’m learning a lot and getting to know new people and new forms of art. Our piece was about the human body and how it reacts to whatever happens to it –the challenges, the people, the life itself; how do we deal with life? As an artist it has taken my performance skills to another level because I’m working with an international director.”
Meg Otanwa was part of the Nigerian cast for CHIBOK Girls, a play that highlights the plight of the over 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram militia in Nigeria in April 2014.
“It’s unfortunate that most Africans don’t get to explore other African countries. It’s my first time in Rwanda but it shouldn’t be because I’m an African and Nigeria is not far from here. We get closer and get to know ourselves and our cultures and our languages better. So I’m glad that I got the opportunity to come here and meet the beautiful people of Rwanda and the clean city.