On September 9, the inaugural KigaliUp! Rwandan music festival was held on the sprawling lawns of Kimihurura Roundabout. Early afternoon rains failed to dampen the vibrant energy of the night, as energy sprung from a collision of North American folk festival culture and the ancient soul of African music.
The festival attracted celebrated international musicians like Shadrach ‘Shad’ Kabango (pictured at the left), a Canadian rapper born to Rwandan parents. Shad has risen to the forefront of Canada’s most respected young artists, winning the esteemed Juno Award for Best Rap Recording earlier this year. At university in London, Ontario, Shad won $17,500 USD on a radio talent competition and self-released his debut single “When This Is Over.” His unique style – rapping smooth narratives to an electric guitar – soon became a Canadian sensation; and one that certainly created a buzz among a crowd of Kigali expatriates, travelers, and local fans.
Emmanuel Nkuranga, a Kigali resident attending the festival, described the significance of the festival as, “something that Rwanda needed, something that brought different artists with different styles coming together and performing with local artists. This will advance the industry’s competiveness because of the interaction between Rwandans and highly acclaimed, highly diverse, international musicians. Rwandan artists will now aim to perform at a higher level.”
A local painter who has helped bring contemporary art to Rwanda, Emmanuel recognizes the powerful role of outside influence in the art community. “This brings positive energy and experience to a talent pool unlimited in its potential,” he cried out over the reggae currently drumming from the loudspeakers.
Mighty Popo hopes that KigaliUp! will provide the international collaboration necessary for local artists to professionalize their careers, and to more importantly become ambassadors for Rwandan music and culture. “Festivals are an anchor,” asserts the festival’s website. “KigaliUp! was borne from a desire to enhance a developing economy, promote Rwanda as a tourist destination and expose Rwandan artists to international audiences.”