The return of live bands

Kigali’s social scene is more dynamic than it used to be a couple of years ago. There is a state of the art movie cinema offering 3D and 5D experiences, perhaps the first 5D cinema in East Africa but what more could be cropping up in our bustling city?
Abdoul Makanyaga takes to the stage during a past performance. Net photo.
Abdoul Makanyaga takes to the stage during a past performance. Net photo.

Kigali’s social scene is more dynamic than it used to be a couple of years ago. There is a state of the art movie cinema offering 3D and 5D experiences, perhaps the first 5D cinema in East Africa but what more could be cropping up in our bustling city?

Well, for starters, hotels, bars and restaurants in Kigali are becoming more creative in a bid to retain clients as the competition in entertainment industry continues to be on the up.

One way which these establishments are using to charm customers to remain in their seats has been the introduction of live-band perfomances, locally known as ‘Igisope’.

There was a time when city dwellers would use all types of excuses to get out of town on weekends, the most common excuse being  that Kigali was short of entertainment options.

So on weekends city folks, mostly the youth, would hop onto the nearest bus and off to neighbouring countries like Uganda or Burundi just to have fun but that is now fast changing.

Kigali now boasts high end bars and clubs like K-Club in Gaculiro, New Papyrus in Kimihurura, Le Must in Kiyovu, the all new Club Next in Muhima, Executive Car Wash among others.  

While these high end bars normally spew out modern hip hop songs, rock n roll and afrobeat songs throughout the week, the average bars have cut out a niche, going for live band perfomances by different orchestras that are cropping up.

The culture of live bands, preferably referred to locally as ‘Orchestras’, is not new to Rwanda. Through the 80’s until 1994, any hangout that did not have an orchestra playing out risked losing its clientele.

Kigali today is experiencing the re-emergence of live bands, including those from back in the day such as Ingenzi and Impala. Even the new ones that have come up prefer playing classic songs of the old orchestras like Orchestra Impala, Abamararungu, Ingeri and Nyampinga.

Last Friday I decided to go to a bar to wet my dry throat. A friend I was hanging out with for the night suggested that we go to a bar near Amahoro stadium which is commonly known as ‘Kwa Bazivamo’.

Here, a live-band was entertaining the patrons, mainly singing songs by Orchestra Impala. I should say it was a brilliant show. The first single the band perfomed was ‘Semu’, a song by Impala members in tribute to their deceased friend and band mate Jean Semu.

The band wrapped up the evening performance with songs by Cecile Kayirebwa and Minani Rwema.

This is something I had not experienced in all my nocturnal escapades in Kigali. The audience consisted of mostly gray haired men and women, perhaps enjoying their pension benefits. Their taste in music is certainly much different from that of the younger generation who prefer Hip Hop and Rock n Roll.

These live perfomances mushrooming around the city appeal mostly to the old generation and I overheard one old gentleman complain that these days musicians compose songs which have no message.

He said most songs today cannot stand the test of time which is quite contrary to those by musicians like Minani Rwema, Andre Sebanani, Soso Mado (Jean Felix Gasasira) Cyprian Rugamba and the legendary Abdoul Makanyaga.

Other favourite hangouts in Kigali which have live music include Black & White bar at Alpha Palace in Remera, St Leopold in Kanombe, Michas at Muhima as well as many bars in Gikondo and Nyamirambo.

Other economy bars like Le Goblet and Stone House in Kicukiro have also embraced live bands. Then you have Kigali Serena Hotel, Hotel Des Mille Collines, Chez Robert, etc.

The live bands here are not limited to old Rwanda classics. They also venture into other music genres like jazz, afrobeat and reggae.

As Kigali continues to build a name as a tourist destination, bar proprietors are looking for new ways to appeal to their growing number of customers, mainly from outside Rwanda, so they usually hold live band music featuring local musical talents particularly upcoming ones.

However, there has been a growing concern that the new upcoming orchestras are taking advantage of their older colleagues such as Orchestra.

For example Francois ‘Chouchou’ Mihigo of Ingenzi band and the surviving members of Orchestra Impala recently said that they do not want their music to be played by these new orchestras because as they say ‘we do not benefit from it’.

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