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“Kigali in Paris”: the Africapitales festival highlights the emerging Rwandan artistic scene


“In Rwanda, we young people are subject to a permanent injunction: be a man. But how to become a man when you grew up without landmarks? », wonders Jules César Niyonkuru, 25 years old. Moved, he has just presented for the first time Devil’s Gold, a play featuring a man trapped in a sulfur mine, summoned to become an adult. We are at the Lavoir Moderne Parisien (LMP), in the cosmopolitan district of Goutte-d’Or in Paris.

“I question mourning, rites of passage”says the director, dressed in a loose tunic with traditional Rwandan motifs. “I never dared ask my parents how three of my grandparents died. This time, it’s decided, when I return to Kigali, I ask them the question”, he affirms, determined, as if the space of creation shared with the Parisian public had been a trigger, a necessary prerequisite for the liberation of speech in the intimate sphere. Talking about the genocide that claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 people in 1994 is still taboo at home.

Like Jules César Niyonkuru, most of the artists present, from March 3 to 26 in Paris for the Africapitales festival, were not born in 1994 or too young to understand what was happening. Nearly thirty years later, all the creators we met claim to be doing well in a country “who is fine”. All praise the dazzling economic success of Rwanda. But all of them recount recurring nightmares and how the silenced suffering irrigates their works.

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“We no longer live with fear”

Perhaps to compensate for this absence of words, the young artists of Kigali testify to limitless creativity, exploring all artistic disciplines, moving with ease from music to dance, from acting to staging, passing through fashion, questioning identity, memory and everyone’s place in a country undergoing reconstruction.

“We walked on eggshells to develop this program. When we talked about the project in Rwanda, we avoided talking about genocide. It was not easy for us to know what story we wanted to tell. But the vitality of these young artists is phenomenal, they are inventing a new narrative says enthusiastically Khalid Tamer, director of the company Graines de Soleil, who designed this edition of the Africapitales festival, entitled “Kigali in Paris”, with the NGO Rwanda Arts Initiative (RAI).

Word “heal” (” heal “), always pronounced in English by young Rwandan artists, as if it had no real equivalent in the French language, is the one they always use to describe the effects of their art. VSas if their mission was to heal the living, as if the explosions of this painful history were endless. Musicians regularly address their dead.

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“Mbese muraho” (” Good morning “), sings Samuel Kamanzi softly, accompanied by his guitar. “Me, I chose to forgive, to be well. » At just 40 years old, the one who sang with the writer and singer Gaël Faye a Love story in 2020, look to the future with optimism. “We no longer live with the fear that killings will start again because all this work has been done. We’re trying to invent a new story.” welcomes the musician, the look soft and deep.

Stylist Abdoul Mujyambere, vibrant, also a dancer, photographer and visual artist defines himself as a “activist artist » “All my art, in its different expressions, speaks of the same thing: the strength of Africa and Rwanda, of African identity”, he says, beaming. In her first collection produced in full confinement, “Pink Kigali”, her models were dressed in pink, “the color of the clothes of prisoners in Rwanda but also that of hope and the future”. Since then, he has been highlighting the heroes of African independence. He exhibits his photos until the end of the festival at the LMP.

A magnified country

The diasporas play an important role in this artistic bubbling. They have brought flavors and cultural influences to Rwanda, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi or Europe. The majority of young artists, born of parents who were in exile during the genocide, grew up with the image of a magnified country, with its hills and its nourishing land, its fables, its traditions. Franco-Rwandan designer Elodie Fromenteau, who returned to live in Kigali in 2020, was inspired by the warrior Ndabaga who became queen in the 18th century.e century after mutilating herself to look like a man and save her father. His brand, Izubaa (“sun” in Kinyarwanda), is intended to be unisex.

She likes to dress the active women of Rwanda today with men’s suits, a mix of classic textiles and Rwandan prints taking up the traditional pattern ofibaba, the wing of a bird in Kinyarwanda. ” THE Rwanda is the only country in the world to have 63% women in parliament. This paved the way for female artists. There are more and more of them in all areas, including DJs,” she rejoices.

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Finally, Michael Makembe, 25, who will close the festival, is one of the most captivating artists of his generation. His music is a fusion of traditional and modern sounds, a journey in itself. Born in 1998 in Kigali, he collects the noises and songs of the elders, fishermen, peasants, traditional musicians and their string or wind instruments such as the inanga, the ingoma and the amakondera. He dreams of opening a sound museum. ” I want future generations to be able to connect to their roots and traditions. The past must be present tomorrow,” he explains. One way of considering that keeping traces for future generations is the best bulwark against disappearance and a tribute to life.