When sounds of Ingoma Nshya reverbarated in England

Although there wasn’t the most famous name in the room, IngomaNshya, Rwanda’s women drummers, stole the evening. The lights dimmed, the world’s top thinkers and social entrepreneurs settled into their seats at Oxford’s packed New Theatre, and five women from Ingoma Nshya strode onstage, beating their drums straight into everyone’s heart.
Ingoma Nshya dummers thrilled Rwandan music lovers in UK. The New Times/ Andrea Grant.
Ingoma Nshya dummers thrilled Rwandan music lovers in UK. The New Times/ Andrea Grant.

Although there wasn’t the most famous name in the room, IngomaNshya, Rwanda’s women drummers, stole the evening. The lights dimmed, the world’s top thinkers and social entrepreneurs settled into their seats at Oxford’s packed New Theatre, and five women from Ingoma Nshya strode onstage, beating their drums straight into everyone’s heart.

The women – Thérèse, Noella, Regine, Rose, and Chantal, along with the group’s founder, OdileGakireKatese – were in Oxford to open the 10thSkoll World Forum, a three-day conference that brought together global leaders and innovators in the field of social entrepreneurship.

More than a thousand delegates from nearly 65 countries convened in the small university cityfrom April 10 to 12to share and discuss new strategies to address the world’s most pressing issues from poverty and youth unemployment to access to water and energy. Past participants include Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, and Queen Rania of Jordan, and this year’s line-up was just as impressive with speakers such as Kofi Annan, Annie Lennox, and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who received the Global Treasure Award.

Rwanda claimed a special spot on the programme. “Can it be replicated? A look at Rwanda’s development gains in context”saw Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, Dale Dawson of Bridge2 Rwanda, and Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, debate the country’s success and challenges.

Yet despite the world-class delegates and thought-provoking panels, the highlight for many was IngomaNshya. “They were inspiring. Amazing!” gushed Kristin Gilliss, a member of the Skoll Foundation team. “Their spirit really came through. I felt so lucky that I saw them and didn’t just hear them because for me a big part of their message was their smiles and eyes. Seeing them on stage was a triumph.”

The drummers seemed to enjoy their success, basking in the praise of the many delegates who approached them after their performance to offer thanks and congratulations. Although all five women said that they were very happy to be performing in England, they admitted there was one downside: the notoriously dreary English weather.

“I love England but it’s very cold!” Regine, one of the women drummers, remarked of the low temperatures and rain they encountered upon arriving in the country. “But our performance was great and we’re very happy to be here. Even if we’re not able to talk with people, we can see in their eyes that they appreciate us”.

Rose, another drummer, was impressed by the hospitality the women received. “Everyone welcomed us very well,” she said. “People really seemed to love us – there was a lot of applause after our performance,” she remarked. “And I don’t mind the cold!”

Katese, who founded the group in 2004, is hoping to build on the momentum of the performance to create new opportunities for IngomaNshya in the future. “Being here is a great honour,” she said. “This is a very big event. For all of us, it’s our first time to be in the U.K. and it’s been very good. It’s always great to see people appreciate you. It encourages you to do more. Hopefully Ingoma Nshya will keep travelling. We’ve made great contacts and we really hope to come back”.

One notable contact in the audience was Lisa Fruchtman, the Academy Award-winning editor who produced and directed Sweet Dreams, a documentary about the women drummers and their ice cream shop in Butare called Inzozi Nziza.

The film has screened at a number of festivals around the world, including the Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Maryland, and was also shown at the United Nations headquarters in New York last year for the 18th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis.

It also played at the 2012 Search for Common Ground Awards where Ingoma Nshya won the prestigious Common Ground Award, joining such luminaries as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President Jimmy Carter.

“It was fantastic, it makes me so happy,” Fruchtman commented after seeing the women perform. “We want them to get loads of attention and we’re very excited that they came. We would have loved to have shown the film here so people really knew their story. And we want people to know their story”.

Judging by the audience’s reaction, they are eager to know it too.

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