Recap: The Arthouse Rwanda’s Spring Into Summer

As the title suggests, Spring Into Summer was an event staged by The Arthouse, signaling the changing seasons. While we don’t experience the four seasons distinctly here in Rwanda, the summer months do signal a flurry of concerts, and other social events that pack Kigali’s generally quiet entertainment calendar. As with previous Arthouse events, I hosted alongside Ugandan comedian Daniel Omara.

As The Arthouse becomes more established, patrons know they can expect:

  • A multicultural, multinational lineup, showcasing the depth and breadth of contemporary East African talent
  • A variety of art forms – poetry, dance, rap, singing, instrumentals, painting, jewelry, even culinary skills
  • Room for expression by audience members, and
  • A jam session to end the show

Spring Into Summer met all these expectations, and more.

The rooftop of the Kigali City Tower was the perfect venue to launch a summer of artistic expression. Colorful fabrics danced across the sky throughout the night, having been strategically placed by interior designer, Aela O of Aela O designs.

Kigali City Tower Rooftop the night of Spring Into Summer. Designed by Aela O.

The event opened up with a community drum circle led by Mark Hitter and Liz Kamugisha, facilitators of Kampala’s Ngoma Jam Sessions. As patrons filled the venue, we transitioned into the night’s robust line-up.

Kigali City Tower rooftop Rwanda - arthouse
A section of the early Spring Into Summer crowd.

Performances included:

  •  Songs by Weya Viatora, Mike Kayihura, Angel Mutoni
  • Rap by Derrick Marvin
  • Poetry by Jason Ntaro, Angel Uwamahoro and Paula Ihozo
  • Dance by Nina Harris and Abdoul Mujyambere

My Highlights:

Spring Into Summer. Kigali City Tower.
Eric 1Key joins Jackie Akello and Uncle Water during Jackie’s set at Spring Into Summer.

Jackie Aiello – Singer, Uganda accompanied by Uncle Walter, Dancer, Uganda

Jackie came to the stage with such poise and grace, I felt as if she was performing at a jazz festival in an exotic location, instead of on a rooftop in Kigali. While her charisma and vocal strength were enough to captivate the crowd, she really cemented the quality of her performance but incorporating Uncle Walter’s choreography. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this AfroPop princess.

Check her out on Soundcloud:

Babu – Comedian…turned rapper?, Rwanda

How many of you knew Babu could rap? I was initially confused that his act was musical rather than comedic, then pleasantly surprised that he does, indeed, have BARS. Who knew?

One of the highlights of the night was his freestyle battle with Prime. I think Prime won based on his superior lyrics. The crowd picked Babu, largely, I think, because of his stage presence and overall swagger. Nevertheless, Babu’s competence as a rapper was my surprise of the night.

Kigali rapper, Prime, taking the stage at Spring Into Summer. Kigali City Tower
Kigali rapper, Prime, taking the stage at Spring Into Summer.

Prime & J. Dubb – Rappers, Rwanda

Having watched both  Prime and J.Dubb at the previous Arthouse show, it was clear to me that both had grown in leaps and bounds since then. J Dubb seemed more composed, in command of the stage, and relaxed in his flow. I also loved that he brought merch to the show. If you can get people to pay for a t-shirt with your name on it, you’re doing something right.

Prime also seemed more mature as a performer, and was able to command attention based on his lyrics alone.

It was also great to see them collaborate on stage so organically. I’m looking forward to more good music from these two.

Eric 1 Key – Poet/Rapper, Rwanda

Eric 1Key has had a heck of a year. Earlier in 2016, he announced a radical (by Rwandan standards) project – The Expericment. This was a series of four interactive performances of his work. In Kigali, it’s rare to see an artist holding regular solo performances, and rarer still for those performances to incorporate a live band. Eric has been quite open about the difficulty he has faced getting people to pay for his work, and the subsequent difficulty he has paying performers. However, he is certainly doing well by two metrics – audience familiarity and media attention.

On the night of the show, he was being taped for a feature on CNN, as members of the crowd sang along to his lyrics. Maybe this experi(c)ment will be successful after all.

Check out Eric’s CNN feature below. You can catch a few seconds of Spring Into Summer from the 1:45 mark.

Kaya Free – Rapper, Burundi

Kaya Free is right there with Babu as my surprise of the night. I had never heard of him before seeing his name on the list of performers. He initially accompanied acclaimed Rwandan poet Angel Uwamahoro during her brief set, then came back for an encore at my request.

His potent lyrics and rapidfire delivery made him an immediate crowd favourite. When I asked him for contact information, he said I should just call Angel, so I guess that’s what we’ll have to do if ever we want to feature him again. Ha!

Elie Habimana – Guitarist, Rwanda with Painter Poupoute Tabaro

Elie cemented his status as a guitar god in Kigali during his performance. Many of us were aware of his exceptional skills from his numerous performances with artists such as Eric 1Key and Naleli Rugege, but it’s very rare that we get to see him step forward into the spotlight. Well we were certainly in for a treat at Spring Into Summer when Elie gave us a rock concert-worthy performance, complete with Poupoute applying face paint mid-performance.

p.s. When The Arthouse first started, one of the goals was to get artists to collaborate to create pieces after the shows. Eric1Key used the introduction I gave him at Spring Into Summer as the intro for his recent song  Je Gratte. You can check out the song below, and click through to Soundcloud to see the lyrics (in French).



As always, if you know of any other great artists in Rwanda I should pay attention to, let me know in the comments.


All photos courtesy of The Arthouse/Martin Kharumwa.
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