Entre 2 Album Review: Apprenti_Sage

Track 1: Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning”)

Apprenti_Sage is the album’s opening track. Drawing on the Rwandan tradition of Kwivuga, which literally means bragging, 1key introduces and asserts himself as a poet and as an artist, who terrorizes his enemies! Within the tradition of Rwandan praise poetry there are numerous specialist sub-genres, including the poetry of dynasty, the poetry of farmers, and amahamba (“the praising of cows”). According to 1key: “Kwivuga was everybody’s poetry”. Created and performed by men and boys, kwivuga is about lineage and ego: “it’s about knowing who you are and ensuring that others know too” (1Key). In this case, 1Key identifies himself as the son of his personal hero, his late Grandfather Ngangare Rugambwa.

Kigali, Rwanda. 2016. 1Key performing Apprenti_Sage on the #Expericment. [Courtesy of Innovation Village]
Historically, males would learn kwivuga at initiation camps called Itorero, a Kinyarwanda word meaning “the place where you select”. At Itorero, pubescent boys were taught how to protect their country, to shoot arrows, to perform kwivuga, and traditional dancing. After initiation, boys would return home transformed, “as men with responsibilities” (1Key) also referred to as Intore (the chosen ones). In the Icyivugo performance, the performer may drop down to one knee, or throw his stick to the floor (as if to “drop the mic”), while boasting to the crowd about who he is and what he has achieved. Indeed, Icyivugo literally means “a self-introductory poem.” 1key’s Icyivugo, the final section of Apprenti_Sage, concludes with confidence. The wordsmith cements his artistic identity with his final Kinyarwanda line, which he delivers with impressive speed, and which translates as:

“I am the only key that opens the doors of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.” 

Introducing 1Key, the wise apprentice!

Musanze, Rwanda. 2015. Intore dancers performing at Kwita Izina (Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony). [Courtesy of the author]
In Apprenti_Sage, we are transported into the world of traditional Rwandese melodies. The introduction is dedicated to the bare boned and unproduced sound of the Inanga, the Rwandese instrument of storytelling. After 20 seconds, 1Key penetrates the piece with his carefully constructed poetry, while the beautifully springy sound of the Inanga persists until the end. The delicate pulse of 1key’s French lyrics are spoken with rhythm and purpose, before transforming boldly into Kinyarwanda for his compelling Icyivugo: “Yeeeee…!” (Final section)

Nyundo Art and Music School, Rwanda, 2015. Inanga. [Courtesy of the author]
Throughout his experimental and playful album, 1key creatively explores his most important, ever-present theme: Entre Deux, or “Between Two”, which his album is named after. In Apprenti_Sage, 1Key expresses tensions between two languages: Kinyarwanda, the native language of almost all Rwandans and the carrier of Rwandan identity and culture, and French, the language “brought [to Rwanda] on boats” and enforced on the population by Belgian colonisers. Is it possible to perform Rwandan culture and identity in French? In the third stanza, 1Key apologises to his ancestors for delivering his words in French. He expresses his regret and disgust at being imprisoned within an unequal system of globalisation, where the mastering of European languages is required to earn a living, and where “Rwandan culture” is treated as subordinate.

1Key bridges the gap between today and yesterday; between himself as a modern day resident of Kigali and his ancestors as he imagines them. As a multi-lingual poet and recording artist, 1key interweaves Rwandese oral traditions with modern digital technologies, creating a unique contemporary sound which is rooted in tradition. Inspired by the echo of his ancestors’ voices, 1Key aspires to write his life, to describe his view, and to fearlessly leave a message. He tells us: Je suis le message (“I am the message”). We are captivated, intrigued and excited to hear more…




Song lyrics and translations

Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning” [Track 1 on  Entre 2 album])  

Prod. Barick (Kigali). Vocals: Yego Studio (Kampala); French, Kinyarwanda.

[Verse 1] [Verse 1]
Les pouces sur mon phone comme sur une manette I’ve got thumbs on my phone as a controller  
Je joue avec des lettres, je griffonne des textes Playing with letters, I’m scribbling lyrics
En fait, depuis que je les pose sur des pages net In fact, ever since I put them on Internet pages
Et que j’expose mon âme entre les lignes de mes rimes And exposed my soul between the lines of my rhymes
On m’appelle poète; mais est-ce que je mérite ce titre? They call me a poet; but do I deserve this title?
Pour être honnête, je préfère quand on m’appelle artiste To be honest, I prefer to call myself an artist
Au fond je ne suis qu’un esprit qui cherche sa forme I am just a spirit seeking its form
Je suis brut, sans filtre, mes pensées résonnent I’m raw, unfiltered, my thoughts resonate
Dans mes écrits, comme sur du papier carbone In my writings, like carbon paper
Avant la plume, je les calquais à la mine de graphite Before the pen, I used to express my thoughts with a pencil
Qui aurait predit qu’un jour mes ébauches auraient un bon accueil au public? Who knew that one day my drafts would be well received by the public?
C’est incroyable mais il y a deux décennies It’s unbelievable that two decades ago,
On aurait juré que j’étais dyslexique à force de juger mon lexique sur base des dicos amenés en bateaux One could have sworn that I was dyslexic, judging by my lexicon based on dictionaries brought on boats
L’apprentissage n’a pas été du gateau Learning was not a piece of cake
Apprenti-sage je suis devenu pour éviter les coups de batons Wise apprentice I had to become to avoid the blow of the cane
Que mes aïeux m’excusent pour ma forme sur ce fond May my ancestors forgive my voice over this background music
Si je m’exprime mieux dans la langue du colon If I express myself better in the colonisers’ language
C’est parce que c’est devenu une culture de survie It is because it has become a way of survival
Elle évolue au dépens de la nôtre et on suit, asservis It evolves at the expense of ours and we follow, enslaved
Aujourd’hui on se moque des nôtres Today we make fun of our people
Quand ils commettent des fautes dans ces langues étrangères when we make mistakes in these foreign languages
Et ça me révolte! And that disgusts me!
Laissez-moi être mélancolique sur ce sample de cithare Let me be sad on this sample of cithare
Laissez-moi me noyer dans ce pot de slam,  Let me drown in this pot of slam poetry
Cet art oratoire de mes ancêtres, c’est tout ce qui me reste This oral art of my ancestors, that’s all I have left
Leurs doigts grattent des cordes, les miens gravent des textes Their fingers strum the strings, mine type lyrics
Dans leurs notes et les miennes, tu peux lire l’envie de transmettre In their notes and mine, you can read the urge to pass on
C’est l’écho de leurs voix que j’entend quand les vallées respirent It is the echo of their voices that I hear when valleys breathe
Et peut-être pourquoi j’adore écrire le soir, leur mélodie m’inspire And perhaps why I love writing at night, their melody inspires me
A écrire ma vie, à décrire ma vue, à conter mon parcours sans peur to write my life, describe my view, and tell story fearlessly
Je sais qu’on ne vit pas pour toujours et tout comme eux I know we do not live forever and just like them
Je veux laisser un message… I want to leave a message…
Je suis le message I am the message
Qui vivra, entendra cette voix venue de nulle part Whoever lives will hear this voice coming out of nowhere
Portée par le vent d’un écho ancestral Carried by an ancestral echo
[Icyivugo] [Icyivugo]
Yeeeeee ndi ingangare ku rugamba Yes! Here I am, I am the strongest in battle
Mwene Rugambwa simpangarwa ndahangara Son of Rugambwa, none can challenge me, I challenge them first
Dore nje mu rukerera nk’igiteroshuma I attack at dawn as if it’s an ambush
Sinikanga, sinikinga I am not intimidated, I do not hide
Ikaramu narazwe na data ni yo ngabo y’amahina amakuza atagwabizwa The pen I inherited from my father is my unbreakable shield, my spear
Iyo mfoye simpusha ababisha bashahurwa n’ubwoba ntaranabegera I’m a sharp shooter, I don’t miss. My enemies tremble with fear before I even get to them
Abaswa banyumva nk’amahamba The small-minded don’t understand the intricacies of my poetry
Ndasiga nkisiga bagasigara basiganuza When I write I paint stories and leave them speculating about
Uko mbambura imizingo imirongo igahinduka amashusho How I can write this much and this good, how my lines become vivid pictures
Umushyitsi ukabataha mu nda bagahitamo kunyita umunyabufindo Afraid of my powers, they choose to call me a “magician”
Ndi urufunguzo rumwe rukumbi rurangaza amarembo y’amayobera maze agatahurwa n’inyamibwa mu ndatwa.  I am the only key that opens the doors of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.

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