Some street Performances in Rwanda (Getting Warmed up for the Election)

7/23/10

Three performances today! The first was at the Nyabugogo bus station, a bustling little area full of shops and street vendors. As usual a crowd gathered around, which is something I’m getting used to. This particular audience was very shy though, and they never asked why I was playing or what I was doing. When I was ready to go, I just quietly left, and they softly applauded! Minutes after I’d packed up my horn, President Kagame’s motorcade drove by, and people gathered at the side of the street, with some individuals cheering madly. I bet episodes like this will become more and more common as the election gets closer…

In the afternoon, I took my saxophone and started strolling through the footpaths in one of Kigali’s valleys. There are three different types of roads here: paved, unpaved, and the footpaths. These little trails mostly wind through the valleys where many of the city’s poor live and even have farms. As I wandered around, I saw little plots of crops and even cows (in the middle of Rwanda’s capital!) I picked a secluded little spot to start playing, with the objective of seeing how long it would take for people to magically appear. Not long! And what followed, turned out to be one of the more awkward social encounters I’ve had here. Some teenagers, a few younger kids, and a couple adult men showed up, and they didn’t speak English. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem; usually, we can communicate effectively anyway. But I suppose that what I was doing, in particular the obscurity of the location I chose, was so weird that it was incomprehensible that I could be playing there for any reason. Why would someone play music for nobody? They probably had a good point there. Also, I think one of the guys was trying to sell or offer me marijuana, but he could’ve just as easily been asking if I had a cigarette. In general, little or no communication happened, and I simply left the scene.

In the evening, I played near the market in Gisozi, the neighborhood where I’m living. Playing on the street is a great way to introduce yourself when your new in town. It was much appreciated, and some of my neighbors introduced themselves. When I finished playing, one young gentleman brushed the dust off of my saxophone case for me, and for some reason people laughed hysterically at that. I’m not sure why. I’d say the first two performances of the day were a warm-up for this one. I’m still getting into the swing of how this will work, and hoping that I can find ways to “take it to the next level” from where the Parade of One was last summer. This might involve trial and error, thus a confusing performance for no one earlier today, in the middle of an almost deserted valley.

7/24/10

I have had a brief written correspondence with a local journalist named Apollo, and today we met in person for the first time. His articles are concerned with subjects of how people’s minds can change and how people can part with old and destructive ways of thinking. One particularly interesting article he wrote is about the stigmatization of reading and writing in Rwanda. He critisizes that highly literate people are not more respected here, and sometimes even viewed with envy and scorn.

Today, Apollo joined me for a street performance outside of Kimironko market. It was one of my favorite places to play last summer, and sure enough the people there remembered me! As soon as I showed up, I was greeted with handshakes and high fives. The audience at Kimironko was as usual very gracious and responsive. I played for probably half an hour, and also discussed the kind of music I was making. I have mentioned before that many Rwandans are dumbfounded by instrumental music, so they demand either lyrics or an explanation afterwards of what the music is “about.” I explained that I am performing out of solidarity for the cause of reconciliation among Rwandans.

Kimironko was the first place I ever played in Rwanda, the day after I arrived in 2009. It is dumb luck that I happened to choose such a perfect location with such a great audience. Other locations might have been more discouraging. I feel it is important to remember this element of luck. One day I might have worse luck, but since so much is dependent on chance, it is always worth trying something again, if in a slightly different way.

Pausing at Kimironko Market

7/25/10

Took a day off from the streets today, and joined some people for a short hike on a mountain outside of Kigali, appropriately called Mount Kigali. It was quite scenic, and we caught a little glimpse of village life. We had two pet dogs with us, and many people were scared of them, as dogs are more commonly used for security around here. I also saw a young boy herding a cow, and ate some sugar cane. Sugar cane looks like bamboo and you eat it by tearing away the bark and then sucking out the juice with your teeth.

7/26/10

Today I had a meeting with the Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy. They plan to facilitate some educational programming. I have a musical presentation about the Parade of One project that has been very well received by schools, universities, and other community groups in the USA. Basically, I show slides, play some music, discuss my experiences in Rwanda, and take questions. The embassy would like for me to deliver this presentation/performance at universities here, in particular for something they are calling “genocide clubs,” which are student groups dedicated to discussing Rwanda’s dark past and promoting reconciliation. They also want me to deliver this presentation at the drama dept. of the National University, which is the only arts program in a Rwandan university. With a little luck, we’ll get some of these scheduled. I am very curious about what types of questions I might face from a Rwandan audience.

In the evening, I was invited to play at a jam session with some local musicians and a highly regarded Congolese musician who is visiting. It was quite fun. In fact, it turned into a serious party despite it being Monday, and afterwards I joined my filmmaking partner Daddy Ruhorahoza and some other friends for dancing at a local club. It became late, and on our way out, something very baffling happened. At the entrance of the club, we ran into a friend of Daddy’s and a friend of her’s who were in the middle of a crazy screaming match. We’ll call them J. and M. for now, and M. was very emotional from a fight with her boyfriend. J. was trying to prevent her from entering the night club, being concerned that she’d get drunk and someone would take advantage of her, perhaps even violently. J. had gone so far as to take M’s cellphone and some other of her belongings, thinking that M. would not want to be parted from her things and so wouldn’t go in the nightclub. This infuriated M! Daddy and I tried to help them resolve their argument, but it was getting worse and worse. Finally, M. got her way. J. returned her belongings, and they went into the club together. The whole time I wasn’t exactly sure what the big deal was about M. getting drunk in the nightclub, but Daddy explained to me that in Rwanda, there was a higher risk of her being taken advantage of in this situation than I am probably used to in the USA.

7/27/10

Tonight I had a small parade in a lively neighborhood called Nyamirambo. Within seconds after I started walking down the street playing, someone mysteriously said my name as I went by. I’m not sure who he was, but it’s not surprising since I’m the only one doing this around here. At the end of the parade, I was mobbed by kids who were full of questions. Sometimes it can be hard to explain to people that I cannot teach them saxophone, because I only have one here, and I’m leaving in just a few weeks (while it takes years to learn an instrument.) One of the kids asked me who I favored in the upcoming Rwandan election. I told him that it was none of my business to go to a foreign country and tell people who to vote for (though I do have my personal opinions.) He and a few others were strongly in favor of Kagame, and no one there argued otherwise. Almost on cue, a truck drove by, blasting dance music, advertising for the RPF (Kagame’s party.) So far, I have only seen advertisements for Kagame and the RPF, though there are a couple other candidates who are not expected to be close competition. It seems like the presidential election is becoming more pervasive in the atmosphere of Kigali. I look forward to playing at voting stations on Aug. 9!

Playing Sax in Nyamirambo

7/29/10

Today I had some interesting meetings, particularly with one organization that would like to collaborate with me in the future but cannot fit it in before I leave on this trip. Overall though, today was a day of slight panic and concern about the direction of the Parade of One project in Rwanda. After last summer, I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a blog full of complaints about what I see as problems with the way business is conducted here. In particular, I am speaking of the tendency for people to be very late here and, even worse, the tendency to not follow through on plans. As a Westerner if I fail to follow through on my goals, I feel a sense of dissapointment and even failure. The same goes for if I meet my goals, but don’t surpass the minimum expectations for the quality of the work due to procrastination and difficulties in collaboration. I am not trying to single out people here, and I will admit that there are probably other legitimate perspectives on this matter. But in my discussions with other people here, from countries as diverse as Tunisia and Belgium, there is agreement on this great difficulty of accomplishing professional goals here.

While I am here, I am still hoping to continue partnerships with Rwandan musicians, schools, and organizations related to the pursuit of peace and strengthening social ties. However, it is lucky that the prime focus of the Parade of One project is street performance, the success of which relies on none other than myself and a curious audience!

I have begun to give a lot of thought about how to take the Parade of One project to the next level, and I will dedicate much space on this blog to that when I return to New York. At the moment, I have this feeling which reminds me of the sophomore year of university. It’s not new anymore; there is still so much work to be done; and I am just a little lost in my struggle to further define the shape of the project. I am confident though that this confusion is only temporary.

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4 thoughts on “Some street Performances in Rwanda (Getting Warmed up for the Election)

  1. Thanks for your updates Jeremy that are inspiring to me and I guess to most of your other readers! Best Wishes in your outreach endeavors!

  2. Well, the thing about teaching saxophone is that Rwanda may be starved for music and arts instruction. Although there are nuances that definitely take years to learn, saxophone is a relatively easy instrument to pick up; I taught myself when I was twelve—and I’m not bragging; just saying it’s a pretty intuitive instrument to play.

  3. Jeremy I am as ever very interested and your writing is great. For the first time today I felt very worried for you. In time of election, there are warring parties and this is a country that has known violence. You are an outsider and even when you profess neutrality, with the lack of language and cultural quirks, you are at risk for a meshugenah to find you threatening or be suspicious that you are undercover working for some entity.
    In SA people like you went into the townships to do humanitarian work and became victims.

    I know you are sensible and perhaps you have heard this all before. I hope that all goes well for you, but your experience at the nightclub should be a warning to you. Good intention is not always armor.
    Much luck. Take care, frankie

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