Encounter with The Culture

Growing up poor in the 80’s in a small village with no electricity somewhere at the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaïre then), I didn’t know what television was till I was about eight or nine years old. My grandfather’s small radio operating with batteries, which I pounded gently and exposed to sun rays for recharge (miracles of science!), was my only source of music entertainment. I remember the distorted sounds of soucousse, rumba, zouk machine, reggae, funk, and pop due to bad reception when my granddad wasn’t listening to the News about wars ravaging almost every part of Africa. I don’t recall listening to any Hip Hop music back then. My most memorable encounter with Hip Hop was right after the end of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when I moved to Brazzaville, the capital city of the other Congo. For the first time, we had a TV set at home. I was finally able to put faces to some of the familiar vocals that rocked my eardrums. I began to connect the pieces. For instance, watching Michael Jackson’s play with his zipper in his dance routines answered the question “Who’s bad?” The more I paid attention to details in the music videos, the more I realized the influence of television on my surrounding.

For the couple of years that I attended a private school in Brazzavile, somehow I ended up in the circle of cool kids. Cool kids are those who want to look like stars on TV and who other kids want to emulate, you know! I didn’t grow up with what they had. They wore t-shirts with Hip Hop legends on them, didn’t button their shirts, sagged their pants, wore boots or fresh sneakers on the regular. Some of them would clip fake earrings on their lobes and put on a US flag bandanna to look exactly like their idols. Those kids were also called branchés (plugged in or connected). They read comic books, magazines on music, sports, played basketball in the streets and talked a lot about rap and movies. They had interests. I did not have much. I was a shabby boy from the village who couldn’t speak their language. Some of them sang along to French rap songs. I could barely articulate my needs to go to the bathroom in class. On the other hand, my English was almost nonexistent. It’s only recently that I realized Dr. Dre didn’t say “wawawess” in California Love but “Wild Wild West”. But I didn’t care. Nobody cared. And that’s exactly what I loved about this art form. The I-don’t-give-a-fuck-as-long-as-it-feels-good attitude.

With time I developed a certain thirst about the content of the music. I needed to know why black people were angry and why they used more words on a standard song than anybody else. I had to learn the language. I studied over time, used TV and radio as more as learning tools than entertainment sources. Beyond speaking French, and English later, I wanted to understand the lyrical content of rap songs. Luckily some music magazines included posters of celebrities with lyrics of their hit songs in their issues. But again, I did not have the level to comprehend. I could only grasp a few words after cross-checking with my pocket dictionary. For the slang, I had to wait till the early 2000’s with the availability of the Internet in Rwanda to do my own researches about the meaning of some songs. That helped me a lot improve my English as well. Soon, I was hooked and started writing to myself in a journal format. Then somehow I stumbled upon rhymes, today they call me a Hip Hop Poet.

I have consumed more Hip Hop culture than any of my African cultures without moving from the continent and I have come to realize that Hip Hop goes beyond the beat, the dance, the graffiti, the dressing, the hair styles, the gestures, the slang… it is the most influential culture of our time. It’s too present, too loud, too bright and so versatile it can’t be contained. Right now somewhere in a deep villages, kids with no shoes on are rhyming on a bucket beat.
Africa has thousands of Hip Hop heads, MC’s, producers, dancers, etc who have been influenced by The Culture and are now redefining their continent with the same fire the pioneers started with. I am happy to know that many are doing it justice.
Hip Hop is alive.
Peace

~1key

Powa 254 - 1key
Iyadede Sabrina (on the guitar) & 1key jamming at Pawa254, Nairobi, Kenya.

1keynote on #YourMusicYourVoice

Before the Event

About a month ago, when I received an email from the Goethe Institute in Rwanda to participate in a workshop/concert project in Kampala, Uganda, scheduled from 1st-5th October under the theme #YourMusicYourVoice on which Megaloh & Ghanain Stallion, who were on an African tour, would perform, I thought “Who are these guys?” So I looked them up and damn they were hot! I don’t speak German but music has no language. It is the language of the universe. I felt the anger, the protest in their Hip Hop. That’s when I felt the hell-let’s-do-this vibe in my guts. So I emailed back Goethe with a yes. A few days before the event, when Goethe Zentrum Kampala asked me to send a short bio with details about how I use social media to address social injustices, I thought “Okay, it’s serious! Let’s do this!” When the poster was out and I was officially representing my country in such a noble cause, I thought “This is awesome!”

Day 1 – Intro

On the night of the 4th of October, I took the bus from Kigali to Kampala and was picked up from the station to the hotel the next morning. The hotel was nice. The best part was the location: less than two-minutes walk to Kisimenti, Goethe, and Kamwokya for Meddy’s chicken (and everything else one may need on this planet). Since some of the international artists/activists had already arrived, we got to share a drink at the barbecue on Goethe’s rooftop. There was even fireworks in the Kampala sky. Not exactly for us but since we were there, we took it as a personal welcome. It was beautiful energy all over.

Day 2 – Presentation

The morning began with a presentation of my work. I focused on my latest projects: The Expericment and La Voi(e)x de la légende because someone said “You are as good as your last work.” A couple of artists/activists, international and Ugandan got to share their journeys as well. The experiences were so enriching and brought to light our African realities into similar perspectives even though we live in different geographical and historical contexts. We easily related to each other’s struggles. Then came the Q&A. It was intense. In a good way. I still cannot get around some of the questions. For instance, how does one answer to;

  • What have you achieved in your country in terms of social justice for your people?
  • How do people react to your music in your country? What about the government?
  • As an artist/activist who criticize your government, are there instances where you have been in trouble because of something that you said? How did you get out of trouble?
  • Are there available legal bodies in your country to defend you in case you get arrested for protesting and voicing certain opinions? If yes, where does the funding come from?
  • How far will you go to defend your ideals?

It’s not like I had never thought about these questions. They are usually part of my work as a conscious artist. It’s just more challenging when you have to answer and sometimes you don’t have the answers. Unless you have the experience of Monza who said “In Mauritania, I have been arrested many times for speaking out against the injustice. The government is the judge. The people are the lawyers.” The irony of life did not miss the rendezvous. As we had these discussions, one of the artists could not freely participate because he was going through a series of intimidation, persecution, arrest and even attempt to murder. Why? Because he was/is using his voice to protest the motion to change the constitution that would allow Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to become another Mugabe.

In the afternoon we visited a studio in Muyenga where NewzBeat is produced. As the word suggests, it’s the news delivered on a beat. Journalists are rappers and they just don’t rap the news, they research and create new ways of engaging with everyday realities. What was even more inspiring was the fact that Xuman, the creator of the new-on-the-beat format known in French as Journal Rappé in Senegal, was there to witness at first hand the ripple effects of his creation.

Left to right: Xuman (Senegal), Monza (Mauritania), Nash emcee (Tanzania), 1key (Rwanda) and Ntare Patience (Burundi). All are Hip-Hop except Patience, who is a reggae man.

A little bit later we visited the Youth Sharing Centre in Nsambya where Abrahamz gives free hip hop dance classes and cyphers regularly, especially to street kids. I felt blessed to be there and learned a couple of moves. So next time you wanna battle me on the dancefloor, there is gonna be some serious poppin’ n lockin’.

Day 3 – Arts And Activism

We kicked off the morning with fresh discussions related to how we do what we do where we come from and what are the receptions/perceptions in regards to our opinions. I felt blessed to be on the same platform with artists and social activists who make moves that influence change in their societies. It was great to be surrounded with people who have the same ideals as mine and who have been living up to them. Some of the topics that were unearthed surfaced were related to identity, home, the role of the artist in the society, North-South relations, colonization, decolonization, democracy, freedom, free speech, poverty, corruption, justice, equality etc. Check out some of the quotes on Twitter #ArtsnActivismUG

Outspoken talking about his struggle as a social activist in Zimbabwe. Right to Left: Patience (Burundi, Outspoken (Zimbabwe), the moderator, Nash emcee (Tanzania), 1key (Rwanda), Xuman (Senegal) and Monza (Mauritania)
Bobi Wine (Far left) courageously joined the panel a bit late after his house had been subject of grenade explosions. Later on that day, he was taken to jail.

After the talks, there was more talks. This time live on NTV with Douglass on his show The Beat where we got to share a bit of our arts and what to expect at the concert.

Left to right: Juma (Kenya) talking about how he uses music to for refugees plight. I’m paying attention just like Megaloh and Douglas, the host of The Beat.

Day 4 – #YourMusicYourVoice Concert

It was a pretty chilled-out day as we all needed to be fresh for the evening concert. By 1pm we were at Design Hub for sound check (and work on a paper costume for some of us, you know 😉 As for the rest of the show, it was legendary! You are definitely going to hear about #YourMusicYourVoice for a minute. On top of the concert, we did two songs and two videos featuring all the artists on the poster and more legends from Uganda. Meanwhile here’s how my performance looked like…

 

I had so much fun, I learned a lot, I met amazing people, I ate delicious food… I can’t ask for more. It’s been enriching in every sense and I am grateful to Katherina for thinking highly of me, to Anja for treating me with such respect and consideration, to Lara & Flora for making shit happen, to Anne Whitehead for the “positive vibes”… it was well organized. Thank you!

To my sisters Yallah MC, Lady Slyke, and my brothers Monza, Xuman, Outspoken, Juma, Nash Emcee, St Nelly Sade, Sylvester & Abrahamz, HE Bobi Wine, Megaloh & Ghanaian Stallion, Koz n Effekt , Sparrow and everyone that I did not mention, thank you so much for keeping up the spirit of Africa and for making me believe in us more. Let’s keep in touch!

~1key, 1love

Choices

I wish I could live from my art. Seems impossible in this corner of the world. For now. Some day maybe. That’d make me so happy.

I’ve been on survival mode for a while. Lost pretty much every tangible item I owned. No biggie. I was prepared for it.

I lost a lot of weight, lots of blood. I collapsed a couple of times during my trips. Life was testing me. I got through it all. Victorious.

It’s not about any god. It’s having faith (in whatever and) in the process. Once you’re 100% in line with your path, it all comes together.

I have never felt this whole my entire life. I have discovered feelings beyond names. I have met incredible artists, amazing people.
I’ll keep doing the best I can to create, produce, promote beautiful arts. Probably not as much as I have for the last past 1 & half year.

Right now I’ve got to get back to employment full time. I got too many debts. Our economy isn’t steady enough to offer part time jobs.
Thank you so much for keeping up with my crazy mind. For accepting me. For loving me. Sorry for being harsh. I got that tough love.

I’m not quitting the arts. How can I? I ain’t even takin a break. I’m just saying time is gonna be a challenge but I’ll rise above.

Life is about choices so I wrote about them and invited a couple of talented artists with whom I share the journey to help me say it better. Remember their names: Weya Viatora, Nganji Arnaud, Dany Beats.

Expericment 4.0 Finale : Words of Fury

In December last year when Gael Faye organized a charity concert for children at CECYDAR next to Unilak in Kicukiro, I was super excited not only to watch him educate and inspire through his art as he does so well but mostly because he invited me to perform with him. Little did I know that a few hours before the show the legend in person would ask me to write and perform a new version of the hook to M. le président – a powerful track on his fantastic album Pilipili Sur Un Croissant Beurre that speaks out loud against dictatorship and power greed. That happened. Those who were present should tell me what the felt. Too bad I didn’t see any video after so I can share with those who couldn’t witness the power of poetry in motion. To me the most ecstatic part was the jam session. When Gael asked if there were kids in the crowd who could rap, I wasn’t ready for a couple of dozens of young rappers aged between 8 and 16 to fight for the mic and whoever got their hands on it, yo! They delivered! Bars, fam! Bars out of nowhere. My most memorable moment was one of the youngest freestyling from Gael’s shoulders. It was priceless. I wanna feel that way again. I couldn’t believe we had so much unearthed talent around; I wouldn’t use the word “hidden” because it is not. The talent is there, we just haven’t done enough to put it in the light. Paradoxically, we would blindly claim that we are not that creative people. On the contrary, w are. We just do not have the platforms to express that. We need fully equipped theatres! At least two in each province. We need people to believe in us enough to invest in our potential before the brain drain turns into a hemorrhage. We need recreational centres with tools that boost the youth’ artistic sides, we need sports centres, bars with more musical instruments, more interactive games and definitely less Tv screens. If only we dedicated 1/1000th of the time and energy we spend on European football, maybe some of our kids would have their own iconic posters on the walls of this city in the future.

I had given up on doing the expericment finale but then I realized that the series isn’t complete until its job is done- to inspire the young ones. 

That is why the #Expericment (4.0) Finale: Words of Fury is for all the diamonds in the dirt out there. I wish I could share the stage with all the young poets, singers, rappers hungry for the spotlight but I can’t do that in one night. So I made a small selection from my list but promise you, you will see fire. 

I’m planning to have a 4-day workshop with former street kids (mayibobo) aged between 7 and 14 who found home at CECYDAR (Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba), in the presence of the spirit of one the greatest poets Rwanda ever birthed to learn and dream together, and maybe inspire each other.

The show will be in Kinyafranglais, which is the new Kigali language since rare are the people who can hold a 5-minute conversation without mixing Kinyarwanda, French and English.

To attend or support, state your price and pay whatever you want with Mobile Money onto my number: 0788353630

This will be the final show on the #expericment series. If you wanna more about the journey, here’s a little a little bit of it.