by Anne Mazimhaka
Few things capture the essence of a people and a culture more than the arts. Through the arts the voices of the voiceless are amplified, stories are told, fantasies come alive, and creativity and innovation are given the space to thrive.
Rwanda has given birth to artists as diverse and as multifaceted as her people. Inspired by my previous post on Rwandan Musicians You Should Know, here is an introduction to 10 Rwandan Creatives whose work ranges from film to fashion to music to the visual and performing arts. Some are veterans in their field and have already made a splash internationally, others are newcomers attempting to do the same. Some are rule-breakers, others are pioneers, but all are bright lights illuminating Rwanda’s arts scene.
1. THE WRITER: DAVGIL RWABIGWI
There seems to be a general misconception floating around that Rwanda doesn’t have a reading culture; Davgil Rwabigwi and his counterparts have set out to prove that this is not the case.
Davgil is the founder of the High School Review, which aims to promote the English language and the culture of reading and writing among the youth in Rwanda. The Review’s main audience is Rwandan teenagers and the site provides the opportunity for young creatives to express themselves and exchange ideas.
Davgil is also the author of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Collection of Poetry on Genocide. Definitely one to watch.
2. THE PHOTOGRAPHER: GAËL RUBONEKA VANDE WEGHE
Gaël Ruboneka Vande weghe is a biologist whose love for photography has grown from a hobby to a profession and an art form. He spent his childhood in Akagera National Park in Rwanda where he developed a passion for nature and became passionate about nature. He spent 10 years as a researcher in Gabon, studying biodiversity richness of the country’s extensive rain forests. His first book Butterflies of Gabon was published in 2010, and his second book on Birds of Rwanda (co-authored) is expected out in July 2011.
His work ranges from nature photography (take a look at this!) to portraits, concert and event photography, and conceptual photography.
In addition to his expertise in the environment and in biodiversity, Gaël has a passion for arts, culture and design, and has therefore moved back to Rwanda where he is the co-founder and Managing Director of Illume Creative Studio. His first exhibition is currently on display in Kigali through the month of July.
3. THE ELECTRO-POP DIVA: BARBARA PANTHER
Barbara is an electro-pop vocalist whose look and sound have been described as a perfect blend of Bjork and Grace Jones.
Born in Rwanda and Raised in Belgium by adoptive parents, Barbara is a Berlin-based artist whose artistry is evident in everything she does, from her personal style to her live performances to the ethereal feel of her videos. Her music is a refreshing departure from the mainstream and her latest album Barbara Panther was released in May 2011.
See also Barbara Panther’s journey from Rwandan refugee to Berlin electro diva (The Guardian, UK)
4. HOT IN THE STREETS: TOM CLOSE
The streets of Kigali are currently abuzz with the excitement of an ongoing singing competition in which current Rwandan musicians compete with each other for an opportunity to record a single with Jamaican pop sensation Sean Kingston. One of the frontrunners in the competition is 24-year-old Thomas Muyombo — aka Tom Close — who isn’t only an aspiring actor, writer and musician, but is also — rather impressively — simultaneously pursuing his dream of becoming a medical doctor.
Having recorded his first single, Mbwira in 2007, Close is one of Rwanda’s hottest pop stars at the moment and has been recording and performing in the country and in the region. He cites Usher as one of his major influences and his music — in Kinyarwanda — has a distinct Pop/R&B feel.
He released his first album, KUKI in 2008 (see his albums page) and launched his latest album Ntibanyurwa on Liberation Day, July 4th 2011.
5. THE TRAILBLAZER: SOPHIE NZAYISENGA
Not only is Sophie a gifted musician, she is also a trailblazer in Rwandan traditional music. The Inanga is a traditional Rwandan string instrument that has always been played only by men. Coming from a long line of Inanga players, Sophie became enamoured with the instrument as a child, and her father — upon noticing her natural talent — decided to pass on his gift. Now 31, Sophie is the premier Inanga player in the country and is signed to Rafiki Records, which has provided her with the opportunity to record with other Rwandan artists and to make her music available online. Her riveting live performances effortlessly combine traditional Rwandan sounds with reggae, pop, poetry and jazz to create a uniquely modern twist on an ancient art.
You can listen to download more of Sophie’s music HERE.
6. THE FASHIONISTA: NALELI RUGEGE
Having earned a diploma in Fashion Design from the Durban University of Technology in South Africa, 24-year-old Naleli Rugege is a talented designer whose work ranges from bridal wear to costume design to styling for national campaigns. A newcomer to an industry that is just beginning to flourish, Naleli is determined to stay true to her roots and her inspiration by approaching design with an eccentric mix of traditional fabrics with African prints. A beautiful free-spirit who is also an amazing spoken-word poet —she encourages all to “map your voyage and be on the frontier of your own dreams”. She is a breath of fresh air and I look forward to watching her grow and shine.
7. THE ONE-MAN SHOW: DORCY RUGAMBA
Dorcy is an actor, director and producer who — as a young man — survived the 1994 Genocide that claimed his parents and six of his siblings. After relocating to Belgium, Dorcy discovered the therapeutic benefits of theatre as well its use for reconnecting with his past and telling the story of what happened in Rwanda in 1994.
In 1999 he premiered a six-hour piece in France called Rwanda 94 and proceeded to tour in Europe, North America and, eventually, Rwanda. He followed this by forming Urwintore, a collective in Rwanda that conducts training and research in the performing arts.
Rugamba has since continued to star in and direct theatre productions all over the world, most notably in a production of Peter Weiss’ The Investigation, which explores war crime trials and draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. Rugamba continues to act, direct and teach theatre, and is establishing an Academy of Performing Arts in Rwanda.
Preview of The Investigation
8. THE VISUAL ARTIST: COLIN SEKAJUGO
As the director of Ivuka Arts Kigali, Collin Sekajugo has created a forum and an opportunity for young artists to practice their skill, exhibit their work and generate an income. Artists mentored and coached by Collin learn new techniques, hone their talents and learn how to network and market their art both within Rwanda and externally.
Through Ivuka, Collin also formed a children’s dance troupe called Rwa Makondera to promote education and cultural awareness through traditional Rwandan drumming and dancing.
Through Ivuka and Rwa Makondera, Collin is helping those who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to discover and cultivate their talent to develop a sense of value and self-worth.
He continues to generate interest in the arts in Rwanda and Uganda [www.ivukaartsuganda.com] through his promotion company RwanEnt, which seeks to introduce Rwandan artists to a global audience.
9. THE FILMMAKER: KIVU RUHORAHOZA
Kivu is an actor and filmmaker based in Kigali who made a splash at the Tribeca Film Festival just a couple of months ago when his first feature filmGrey Matter walked away with two awards. It is actually the first feature film written, directed and shot in Rwanda by a Rwandan.
The film mirrors Kivu’s life as it follows the journey of a filmmaker attempting to make a film about the horrors of the 1994 Genocide. As someone who was in Rwanda at the time, but was separated from his family during the killings, Kivu is a survivor who struggles continuously with the fact that his family lived through the attacks and he did not have to. The experience has turned him into a prolific storyteller and this film is just the beginning of this leg of his journey.
Read more about the film in this New York Times Art Beat Q. & A.: Filmmaker’s Path From Rwanda to Tribeca.
10. THE FRESH FACE IN MUSIC: JALI
Singer/songwriter Jali is a Rwandan-born Belgian-based artist who recently signed to Universal Records France and has just released his first single, Espanola.
The 22-year-old is a folk music artist and describes his sound as a round trip between the continent on which he was born and the one in which he was raised. On the basis of his engaging live performances and this first single it is quite obvious that his star is on the rise.
Written by Anne Mazimhaka