Mighty Popo thrills traditional music lovers

It was a homecoming of sorts for the Canadian-Rwandan singer, songwriter and adept guitarist Popo Murigande..  Although the renowned Rwandan musician – also known as Mighty Popo – has been in Kigali since August to launch KigaliUp! Festival, Sunday evening was his first solo performance in the country.
Ottawa-based Rwandan musician Mighty Popo (C) entertains his fans with traditional Rwandan music. Photos / David Nkurunziza.
Ottawa-based Rwandan musician Mighty Popo (C) entertains his fans with traditional Rwandan music. Photos / David Nkurunziza.

It was a homecoming of sorts for the Canadian-Rwandan singer, songwriter and adept guitarist Popo Murigande..

Although the renowned Rwandan musician – also known as Mighty Popo – has been in Kigali since August to launch KigaliUp! Festival, Sunday evening was his first solo performance in the country.

For concert attendees, it was well worth the wait. The award-winning artiste treated the enthralled audience at Ishyo Arts Centre in Kacyiru, Kigali to an evening of traditional Rwandan music and dance.

Mighty Popo opened the show with a heart-felt rendition of Gakondo, that denotes the origin of his family.

The song is the title track for his 2010 album, Gakondo, which was nominated for the 2011 Canadian Juno Award in the category “World Music Album of the Year”.

Mighty Popo was later joined on stage by local musicians and dancers such as Jules Sentore, Mani Martin, Jean-Claude, Michel Ngabo, and Cyusa.

In addition to playing his own hand-crafted guitar, he was accompanied on the Inanga (trough-zither) by Daniel, on percussion by Karim, and Kiri on the guitar.

Other show highlights included the song Nibarize, which Mighty Popo sang in keeping with the traditional Rwandan whispering practice, coupled with his lively rendition of Muhazi, the title track from his 2007 album that won the “Best World Artist-Group” at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Revellers could not keep to their seats, many of them spontaneously dancing to the front of the auditorium to sway in time to the music.

“It was my second show in Rwanda – the first time was at KigaliUp! Festival”, Mighty Popo observed after the show.

“It felt great. But it’s not about me, it’s about how the audience feels about it. It showed that this type of music can be done and appreciated here – that traditional folkloric Rwandan music can be presented in a way that’s internationally recognised,” he added.

“Someone said to me that at the show they felt like they were experiencing history”, Popo continued. “That summed up what I was trying to present”.

Nadia Nkwaya, the Project Manager at Ishyo Arts Centre, said: “I loved the fact that it was truly traditional and yet also contemporary. Seeing young people mastering our traditions was fantastic – especially as it’s not an easy thing to do”.

Indeed, many young artistes, inspired by the richness of Mighty Popo’s music and his international success, have become interested in traditional Rwandese music and dance.

“I was impressed to find out that young people were playing Inanga,” Popo said. “There are a few but it’s still a great sign. It means that the new generation is learning and the tradition is not dying, that there’s a succession”.

He said: “What I’m trying to make young people realise is that tradition is not a temporary thing but it’s the heart – it’s yours. You live with it and have to keep it strong. It will be good for the home, the neighbourhood, the province, and ultimately the country, the region, and the world”. 

Mighty Popo’s latest album, Gakondo, is currently riding high on the folk album charts. In addition to touring Canada in the New Year, Mighty Popo will also be busy planning the second annual KigaliUp! Music Festival.

“We’re hoping for July 2012”, he said. “Get ready for it, because we’re coming!  Again, we’re hoping to elevate and showcase Rwandan talents. We want to vibe up the city”.

The KigaliUp! Festival, which brought together local and international artistes, took place on September 10, at Kimihurura roundabout, the first of its kind in the country.

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