• Danny Wiser

RWANDA: Rwanda - Cecile Kayirebwa

Updated: Jul 30

Kayirebwa's prophetic message of unity released during the genocide of 1994 includes sounds and rhythms that may remind you of another part of the globe

Despite music often being a source for good and for change, it is hard to quantify what impact, if any, this record had on changing the hearts and minds of the population. Though it may have had an impact on some, on a personal level, the album doesn’t quite speak to me or move me. It is not that I think it is an album of overtly poor quality, but rather simply that I find it somewhat boring and I find myself feeling cold and emotionless when listening to the majority of the album. A classic example of this is Inkindi, a perfectly passable folk song, that, for what can only be described as a question of soul, didn’t quite touch mine. If one tries to analyse the music to detect why at times I felt bored by it, part of the reason for this one might argue may be the monotonous percussive beat which appears numerous times.

“The combination of an ikembe (a Rwandan instrument related to a kalimba/mbira) alongside a bamboo flute-like instrument creates a rather unique sound that one would be most accustomed to in Eastern South Asia namely Bhutan and Nepal.”

Though sometimes the simplicity of a constant rhythm can be meditative and entrancing I didn’t find that to be the case on this album. There were numerous songs that would tease you with an escape from that samey repetitive rhythm around the three-minute mark such as Tarihanda, which briefly explores a soukous sound, and Ndare, which plays around with an almost zamrock like beat, but those sojourns away from the endless percussive cadence were short-lived. The percussion on the album is something I think that I generally had a problem with, its sometimes bellowing sound such as on Kana I felt detracted from her voice, the best thing about the album, and yet when the percussion was overtly soft it felt like it was done so in the wrong places, sucking the energy out of the tracks. The best example of this is on Rubyiriko which kicks off with what sounds like a violin solo one might imagine being played at a regal ceremony before some soft hand drumming that for my money just doesn’t work.


There was, however, one part of the percussive instrumentation that although I wasn’t enamoured by I did find interesting and thus made the album stand out from many of its African counterparts that we have listened to across this journey of musical discovery. The combination of an ikembe (a Rwandan instrument related to a kalimba/mbira) alongside a bamboo flute-like instrument creates a rather unique sound that one would be most accustomed to in Eastern South Asia namely Bhutan and Nepal. This blending of the two quite disparate sonic tones happens on several occasions and particularly on the opening track Rwanamiza and on Mundeke Mbarirmbire reminds the audience of nature. Kayirebwa’s appreciation of nature is apparent on the album, using sounds such as water droplets, birds chirping and much more in Cyusa. In fact, this made for a rather more enjoyable backdrop than some of the instrumentation that was used in my opinion; especially true on Urusamaza in which the instruments are genuinely out of tune.


Yet, for all of my criticisms, I feel that it is worth noting that music so often is a subjective experience and what’s more, this album perhaps wasn’t made for an English guy, who was at the time of release as yet unborn, to enjoy decades later. It seems that the album was made instead for the three closely-related people groups who lived there the Tutsi, Hutu and Twi to realise their similarities and perhaps engage with the lyrics which I am of course unable to do. I did find it interesting that my favourite song, Umunezero, is a song about happiness that was thought to be popular with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a group I didn’t realise I had much in common with, and perhaps this is because unlike all the others it evokes a real sense of hope and is a rather fitting track to end the album with. Overall, although the album is not for me, Kayirebwa’s vocal talents must be applauded, and I feel like with less jarring musical accompaniment her abilities could have been better highlighted.