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Inshuti-UK - Dorian Haynes

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Dorian HayesDorian Hayes works with Inshuti-UK, an organization dedicated to promoting friendly ties between the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Central African nation of Rwanda. He submitted this account of African music and dance in Rwanda in 2003.

Bouncing along this red road, our jeep's tires kick up a plume of earth the color of sienna, rich and cracked. We are driving through a landscape of rusts and coppers, earthy colors scratched across a palette of greens. Around us on both sides, huge surreal banana plants crowd the road, their massive leaves like the sails of windmills. Up here in the northwest of Rwanda, the countryside is vertiginous: there are fertile plains, marshes, winding rivers; but above all, there are hills. These are the "milles collines " of national legend, countless musozi as far as the eye can see, the mountains, and distant peaks of the Virunga volcano range, which together account for a good deal of Rwanda's national pride. They feature prominently on the bank notes and lend their name to the one truly upscale hotel in the capital, Kigali. It is by these hills, rising like the turrets of a natural fortress, that one may immediately distinguish the landscape of Rwanda from neighboring Uganda.

If the hills are a source of national pride, they have also been the economic mainstay for thousands of family units, or rugo, since well before the colonial era. All over this country, there are apparently un-peopled vistas that, on closer inspection, reveal clusters of men, women, and children, swinging huge farm tools, cutting into this already over-cultivated country. Before the genocide, Rwanda was one of the most densely-populated and heavily-farmed countries in Africa. Even now, away from the towns, everybody seems to be working on some ancestral small-holding, every available acre appears to be in constant steady rotation.

Ballet InganzoWe are heading for Janja, a tiny hill-top village in the district of Gatonde, in the province of Ruhengeri. Our visit to Janja is part of a larger fact-finding mission in Rwanda. As musicians and writers based in South London, myself and the other members of Inshuti-UK (lit. "friendship UK"; pron. "In-chuti") are here to explore the possibility of creating lasting links with a group of teenage musicians and dancers called Ballet Inganzo based in the provincial capital Ruhengeri town. A dazzling riot of color and sound, tightly choreographed and highly ritualized, the Rwandan ballet, remains an unknown quantity in the outside world. Even among experts in the field, Rwanda is widely thought to be one of the few African countries without a national music, a place where the streets are far more likely to pulse to the imported sounds of Congolese soukous and Burundian pop. And yet, from our time both in the capital and in the border province of Ruhengeri, where the Congolese influence might be expected to be strongest, it is clear that the indigenous ballet is a thriving art form. Everywhere in Rwanda, from the face of the 1,000 franc bank note to the national TV station, are to be seen the dances of Intore (the warrior dance) and Ingoma (the drum ensemble) performed by a generation for whom the ballet offers a way, not only to articulate feelings of pride, power, hope, and love but also to overcome the traumas of their recent past.

Ballet InganzoEstablished three years ago by local youth leader François Nkinzehwiki and musical prodigy Alfred Sibomana, Ballet Inganzo is one of many groups operating in the Ruhengeri area. During the three weeks of our trip to the country, we saw three such groups perform, from the 70-strong Ballet Inkoramutima za Kristu (lit. "beloved of Christ") directed by Father Placide Duhirimana at Janja, to Inganzo themselves enthralling us with performances at several venues, to a small group of primary school children in the village of Nyange who donned huge white manes of hair and brandished frightening home-made spears or icumu, and shared their elders' expression of fierce defiance as they danced a ballet with the Kalisimbi volcano swathed in mist behind them. Against all expectations, we discovered an indigenous culture that is vibrant and rich, and young musicians who are as keen to learn and refine their art as any hopeful saxophonist or drummer in London or York.

The town of Ruhengeri is situated in the foothills of the Virunga mountains, at an altitude of around 2,000 meters above sea level. With its rough two-lane thoroughfare, leafy, paved suburb where local dignitaries and foreign aid agencies reside, and two marketplaces, one apparently meant for the sole purpose of selling an impossibly wide range of potatoes, Ruhengeri is the very model of a dusty frontier town. Most of the houses, shops, and bars are improvised from mud bricks and corrugated iron, while very few have reliable electricity or running water. At night, road-blocks are installed at both ends of the town by soldiers from the local barracks. The authorities and inhabitants alike live in fear of a return to the days of border incursions by the Interahamwe and other Hutu extremist groups based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ballet InganzoComprised of 35-40 youngsters from Ruhengeri town and the surrounding area, Ballet Inganzo is one of the most accomplished groups in the province. During our time in Rwanda, we heard mention of other provincial outfits in Kibuye, Cyangugu, Kigali, as well as another group called Ikenimba in Ruhengeri. The members of Ballet Inganzo largely hail from the loose chain of shacks and huts northeast of the town center known as Gashangiro. As is sadly true of so many in this region--and in the country as whole--their personal odysseys tend to describe a tragic arc of extreme violence and bereavement at an early age. A frighteningly high proportion of the teenagers in the group are former refugees, many of them returning only recently from the horrific camps of Goma in war-torn DRC.

Ballet InganzoFor these youngsters, the Ballet fulfills multiple functions: the regular rehearsals provide a structure sorely lacking in a country where education for all is still a distant hope. Many of the members have also found a kind of solace in creative expression, which, in the words of fifteen year-old Marie-Josée, has allowed them to "forget some of [our] personal troubles and the troubles of [our] country". When we spoke to Alfred Sibomana in the Gira Amahoro bar on the outskirts of Ruhengeri town, it became clear that, at the age of twenty-three, he is a young man with a unique sense of vision and responsibility. Alfred has been playing the ingoma and dancing since he was nine years old. Sadly, his secondary education was curtailed by the outbreak of civil war in 1994, during which he lost his father and several other family members. For Alfred, leading Ballet Inganzo has been a pivotal experience; it has "enabled [him] to be known" and to exercise a degree of influence over both his own life and that of the local community. He maintains that, "like anyone who plays guitar or drums, music helps me enjoy and to 'carry life' life with a different perspective." Moreover, as leader, Alfred evidently conceives his role as that of an elder or mentor within a group which, for many of its members, has become the nearest thing to a family unit they will ever know.

Having struggled against horrific personal odds, it is clear that Alfred has grown into an articulate young man with real potential to become an inspiring leader of his community. As such, he is undoubtedly the kind of person that Ballet founder François Nkinzehwiki sought out as he began to put the group together in 2000. Looking back now with evident pride, François recalls the founding aims of the project. Unlike most people in Rwanda for whom the genocide of '94 remains a taboo subject, François avoids euphemism. Indeed, he is quite explicit about his desire to reconcile the country's three socio-ethnic groups--Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa--within the micro-community of Ballet Inganzo. In this way, Inganzo reflects Rwanda's pre-colonial past when court musicians and "ritualists" (Abiru) would pay tribute to the Mwami and the royal family.

For François, the Ballet offered an opportunity to "collect the three groups under the umbrella of a national culture". After many years of traumatic and dehumanizing experience, François believes that singing and playing in the Ballet allowed the members "to feel that they are again human and accepted". And he should know: before moving back to Ruhengeri, François worked as a teacher in the hellish camps of Goma. Moreover, Ballet Inganzo is not his only initiative. He is also the director of the Virunga Wildlife Clubs, a society established to educate young people from Ruhengeri and the neighboring province of Gisenyi in the principles of sustainable development and "green" farming methods. In a country of such huge population density where up to 90% of people live in rural areas, this kind of initiative is obviously of vital importance for the future.

Another of François 's grands projets is CLAJERANG, a loose collective of local businessmen and worthies based in Ruhengeri. CLAJERANG was originally set up by François and his British friend, conservationist and erstwhile colleague of Dian Fossey, Ian Redmond.

Information compliments of


Well done Ian

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