Today was fairly productive. I went by the Gisimba orphanage, where I’d performed for children last year. They emailed me to see if I could visit again, but then there were still difficulties getting in touch. Showing up in person helped out though, and it looks like I will perform for the kids next week.
I also visited a place called the Kimisagara Youth Center, where there is a soccer field, a computer room, and a performance space, among other things. They are interested in having me present my musical slideshow, which I’d mentioned before in this blog. It basically consists of me playing sax/clarinet, and showing photos of my street performances in Rwanda, and taking questions. This might happen on Tues, but we are still working on it. In general, most of the daytime today was spent running around planning things. I can do my best to follow through on plans, but a lot of it depends on others too.
In the evening, I had to swing by the Goethe Institute here. I got lost trying to get there, and a kind stranger walked with me about twenty minutes out of her way to get me there. Along our way, someone pulled over in a car to say hello to her, and it turned out he’d seen me play before, and he drove us part of the way. I tried to pay her a few dollars when we got to the Goethe Institute, but she insisted against it.
The Goethe Institute is a German funded cultural center with locations all over the world. Last year, they helped out with funding for the film I made, and also hosted a concert for me. It was fairly complicated, because I am not German, but there is no equivalent institution run by the USA (which is very unfortunate.) So many cultural events here take place at Goethe, and they even help German artists and performers to come here. I can’t help but think a lot about how much easier my life would be if the USA had a similar institution.
The Goethe Institute is planning to screen my film Rwanda 15 for the first time in this country, but unfortunately they cannot schedule it while I (or even the director Ruhorahoza) are in town. So it will have to happen without me. I look forward to hearing about it!
Later in the evening, I had a radio interview with a station called Contact FM. They had me play some music, talk about the saxophone, and of course I told about how the Genocide against the Tutsi inspired me to play here. In between having me play and asking questions, they played Reggaeton music. They want to have me on the show again sometime, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to fit it in while I’m still in town. Hopefully, we can.
Finally, I ended the evening performing at the Planet Night Club. I played with Rwandan musicians, doing American and Congolese hits. We were also joined by a fellow New Yorker, named Ted Mason who’d been with a band called Modern English. It was a fun gig.
Today I was playing on the street in Gisozi (the neighborhood where I’m staying,) and a couple young men motioned for me to follow them. They led me down a hill, where a few hundred people had congregated in a field. There was a drumset, a keyboard, and in the middle of everything people were singing and dancing, including some who were clutching bibles. Someone held a microphone to my saxophone, and I went ahead and played right along. I didn’t really have any idea what was going on, but there was a sense in which they had no idea what was going on with me and why I was there. So in a way we were equal. We went for a really long time, and when it was over, they started singing a slower ballad. I was motioned to take a seat, and one of the worship leaders asked if I had some special song I’d like to play, and I said no problem.
When they finished their ballad, a preacher started to speak, sprinkled with hallelujahs and amens. Though he was preaching in Kinyarwanda, I could tell that, at moments, he was talking about me. He went on preaching for several or maybe even twenty minutes, then I was finally called to the pulpit (which was basically a piece of wood laying on the grass.)
For my “special song,” I decided to play “Ghosts” by Albert Ayler. I introduced it to the people, by explaining that I was originally drawn to Rwanda because of the genocide, and that I myself have family who suffered from genocide. So a song about Ghosts seemed very appropriate. I played the melody and improvised a bit, and the congregation applauded at seemingly random moments.
When I finished the tune, another preacher came up and decided to riff on the genocide. He was speaking Kinyarwanda, but his oratory was sprinkled with the words, “Genocide: Never Again!” He was a followed by a singer, who was obviously lip-syncing to a recording. After his song was finished, someone made an announcement he was far from home and needed money to go back. People from the congregation rushed to put money in his hands and in his pockets. I imagine that they had him lip-sync, so he could in some way serve the congregation for his money. Then there was yet another preacher. There was no telling how long this would go on, and I felt it was time to leave. As I got up to go, the preacher noticed me leaving, and started saying in English, “I see that Jeremy is now leaving the grounds, I see that Jeremy is now leaving the grounds!” I graciously waved goodbye, and went back home.
Today I paid a visit to the Gisimba Orphanage, where last year I’d had a lot of fun performing for the children, and they’d also sang some songs for me. I fully expected to just show up and play, but instead the management wanted to have a meeting with me and schedule another time when I could perform for the kids. The Gisimba Orphanage is experiencing deep shortages of money and supplies, even including food, and the director expressed a desire for me to relay this message. The government gives them funding only for the residents’ education, so they are dependent on donors for food, clothes, and other supplies. Sometimes they even need to take money from the food fund to pay operational costs.
I asked if they had any way of perhaps selling the kids’ arts and crafts projects to help out. They have tried this, but it has not earned substantial income for them. My feeling is that, with the proper network, training ,and guidance, a project like this could become more productive than it has been.
If anyone is interested in trying to help out the Gisimba Orphanage, I can make the introductions. In the meantime, I look forward to performing for the children!
Today I gave a musical slideshow/presentation at the Kimisagara Youth Center. There were unfortunate technical difficulties, and by the time we had everything set up, most of the children had left. Another problem was that the topics I discuss are not the best for very young children. I’d discussed this with the management, but there were still mostly very little kids in the audience, and just a few who were mature enough to grasp the themes.
In the presentation, I start out by playing a song I composed during my birthday parade in 2009, then discuss how my birthday parade led to the Parade of One project in Rwanda. I then show photos of my street performances here, perform a klezmer song that was inspired by a visit to the Murambi Genocide memorial, as part of a discussion of the iconography of genocide. Then, I take some questions, and finish with a traditional Rwandan song that I learned here.
Having done this performance/presentation several times in the USA, I was eager to find out what questions I might get here in Rwanda. The very young kids had none, but the older ones were full of questions. They wanted to know why I chose Rwanda instead of other troubled countries, why I didn’t do this with a band, and if I had any advice for aspiring musicians. I wish I had more time to discuss my replies here, but I foresee a blog entry shortly after I return, in which I will adress the many questions I have received during the course of the Parade of One project.
I wish I could schedule more of these presentations while I’m here, but there have been many scheduling difficulties and other problems.
After my presentation, I went to dinner with JP, a friend and local music organizer. We went to a basic Rwandan middle-class style bar/restaurant, and JP suggested that I stand up in the middle of the room and start playing. I played a traditional Rwandan song that I’ve picked up, and when I finished, there were beers (plural) waiting on my table. I guess they liked it!
Today I finally had my recording session with Sophie. She’s a local musician who plays the inanga and sings. The inanga is a ten-stringed, deep toned instrument, the pitch being somewhere between guitar and bass. I have a vague and far-fetched goal of bringing her to perform on the street with me in NYC. It won’t be easy. First, I depend on others to help communicate with her, because she only speaks kinyarwanda (no English or French.) Also it’s never so easy to get someone a visa, and we will need to raise a lot of money! Then, of course, we need some way of helping her get around in NYC (because of the language issue.)
It’s not easy to find a recording studio in Rwanda, but there was one that we’d heard good things about. It was in someone’s house, and there was a chicken in the backyard. When we arrived, all the studio equipment was dismantled and stacked in a bedroom, where someone was sleeping. They told Sophie and I to get out our instruments and rehearse. When they heard us play, they enthusiastically decided they had to put the studio together really quickly. Sophie and I waited patiently for a little over an hour while they did this. Finally we started recording, only using one microphone for voice, inanga, and sax. It was a single room (no isolation booths.) It was risky, because sound easily came in from outside, so a blasting car stereo could mess everything up.
Anyhow, we accomplished our mission of recording three traditional Rwandan songs, fused with jazz sax and clarinet. Tomorrow the engineer will deliver the masters to me, and with a little luck the songs will be available for download soon as a fundraising tool.