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Kendrick Lamar's Move Afrika Performance: Echoes and Hints of Rwandan Culture

Happy Monday! Hope you're all feeling great as we kick off the week. Still reeling from Kendrick Lamar's electrifying performance? That performance was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, wasn't it? Just like you, I've been all about discussing it non-stop. And for folks who missed out and ponder if it was worth the hype, I can't help but say ‘it was phenomenal!'


Kendrick Lamar Lights Up BK Arena for Move Afrika - Image Courtesy of Igihe.com


Lighting Up the Stage: DJ Toxxyk at Move Afrika - Image Courtesy of Igihe.com

Besides being a very enthusiastic audience member, I am also amped up about what an event like 'Move Afrika' represents for Rwanda's creative industry. This significant event, held right in the heart of Kigali and starring Kendrick Lamar, did more than just showcase a globally renowned artist; it highlighted the beating pulse of Rwanda's cultural landscape. Among the opening acts, DJ Toxxyk, with his showmanship, blended the newest tracks and lit up the BK Arena, while Bruce Melodie made a dramatic entrance onto the stage from a box with his hit song 'Bado', capturing the hearts of an audience of 8000. These artists, along with other talented performers, are shining examples of the opportunities the event created. In this ever-growing city, Lamar's performance was a testament to the unifying power of art and music, a celebration of diversity, and a forging of profound intercultural connections. His blend of musical genius with elements of Rwandan heritage made a compelling statement about cultural fusion and the impact that Rwandan artistry can have on the global stage, if we give it the platform and appreciation it deserves.




The Power of Symbolism: A Multi-Sensory Experience in Bridging Diasporas


Kendrick Lamar's performance started with the song “United in Grief,” instantly setting a profound and intense atmosphere. Before Lamar's entrance, dancers moved to instrumental music, evoking a soldier's march with precise shoulder movements that reflected the song's themes. Then, in a striking contrast, female dancers were injected onto the stage, running hysterically to amplify the drama and emphasise the song's emotional intensity. Lamar's timed entry heightened anticipation in the crowd. Suddenly, mimicking the structure of the song, which begins with a distinct first part followed by a long instrumental section, a dynamic beat dramatically kicks in. As the anticipation reached its peak, he powerfully launched into the lines, 'The New Mercedes with black G Wagon. The 'Where you from,' it was all for rap,' electrifying the audience with his commanding delivery.


Kendrick Lamar with Dancers in Diagonal Formation - Image Courtesy of NewTimes.com

In that moment, the dancers reemerged, lining up one by one in a diagonal formation behind Lamar. Their arm movements, a simple play of symmetry, added another interesting layer to the performance. Simultaneously, the live concert footage, marked by quick cuts, dynamic effects, and vivid colour bursts, mirrored his music videos while crafting one in real-time as we watched Lamar perform. This blend of spectacle and creative ingenuity, supported by dynamic lighting that embodied the songs' themes, remained a consistent aspect throughout the entire set.


As the opening notes of A.D.H.D., the next song in the lineup, echoed through the venue, a dramatic moment unfolded: a large-scale drape cascaded from the ceiling, featuring "Compton" over the map of Africa. At this moment, Kendrick Lamar addressed the crowd, asking how they felt, mentioning it was his first time performing in front of "his people," with the map of Africa as the backdrop. This statement and the imagery combined was powerful. The connection drawn from Lamar's origins in Compton, a reflection of the African-American experience, to Africa's ancestral soil, served as a symbol of unity, shared experiences, and the interconnected narratives of the African diaspora. This was especially poignant following his performance of "United in Grief," a song addressing social and political issues impacting the Black community, while highlighting cultural and community solidarity. 


Kendrick Lamar's A.D.H.D. Performance Against the Backdrop of 'Compton' Over Africa Map - Image Courtesy of Igihe.com

Following this, typical of his performance narrative, was an emphatic expression of cultural depth, with a strong emphasis on his African-American heritage. In his quest to merge African culture, his performance was uniquely and thoughtfully nuanced in representing Rwanda. In light of this, the entirety of his show was imbued with the resonant echoes of Rwanda's cultural heritage, adding substantial depth and authenticity, and thereby creating a multifaceted dialogue between his artistry and the space he was in—all woven into the fabric of Rwanda's culture. Naturally, this resulted in a strong connection with his audience.


A Tribute to Traditional Rwandan Craftsmanship


As we entered, we were greeted by the artistry of Claude Nizeyimana's sculptures, renowned for their portrayal of Rwandan figures into regal forms. In his signature style, he artistically brings to life evocative human forms, as the natural beauty unfolds gracefully from the faces down to their elongated necks. Deeply black wood paired with copper accents casting golden tones gives the sculptures a majestic presence, reflected in their poetic silhouette. Located in a different room, there stood a wooden sculpture crafted by Forty Second. This artwork paid tribute to the Umushagiriro dance, a timeless favourite, with its depiction of a dancer's hands elegantly raised in poise.


Featuring cultural hairstyles, Claude Nizeyimana's signature sculptures are a sight to behold - Captured by Cynthia Butare's phone camera

As we ventured further into the arena's main performance area, our senses were immersed by Dolph Banza's large illustration of Agaseke patterns gracing the stage's backdrop. Echoing the ancient Rwandan art of basket weaving, this display, featured in the opening acts, served as a profound reminder of the often overlooked cultural gems that are a hallmark of this territory, aligning seamlessly with the event's overarching theme of highlighting and providing a platform for both Rwandan and broader African artistry. Move Afrika couldn't have been more spot-on than this, given that Dolpha Banza’s work, drawing from a rich reservoir of heritage and history, crafted pieces that engaged in a meaningful dialogue with these themes, underlining the depth of Rwandan craftsmanship.


Complementing the backdrop, the stage featured Agaseke lighting fixtures, intricately woven by artisans of the Nyamirambo Women's Centre (NWC), a Rwandan NGO that addresses gender-based violence and inequality by providing education and vocational training to financially disadvantaged women. Central to Rwandan culture, Agaseke baskets, showcasing enduring craftsmanship, were featured in the Move Afrika event, highlighting their ever-adaptability and underlining their continued relevance and beauty in contemporary settings.



Made in Rwanda' Fashion Spotlight on the Stage


Fashion-wise, 'Made in Rwanda' was prominently featured, intricately woven into the artist's signature performance style so seamlessly that it was almost unnoticeable. It is such a source of great pride that our know-how can be seamlessly integrated into world-class performances, demonstrating the global versatility of our craftsmanship. The incorporation of 'Made in Rwanda' brands, part of the CollectiveRw, was largely facilitated by Liz Agbor-Tabi, Vice President of Global Policy at Global Citizen, and Karizza Sanchez from PgLang, adding a significant cultural dimension to the show. Their efforts were instrumental in blending Rwandan artistry with modern performance elements, thereby creating a visual and thematic resonance of Rwandan culture in this prominent showcase.



The moment Kendrick Lamar stepped onto the stage in sleek all-black attire, styled by Taylor McNeil with a Wales Bonner suit and PgLang custom hat by K'tsobe through collaborative support of CollectiveRw’s Linda Ndungutse, the stage was transformed into a visual feast of artistry. Kendrick Lamar, in his selection of headwear, channelled a vibe reminiscent of Lee Perry with a hat decked out in pins and emblematic elements of Rwandan culture, paying tribute to his time spent in Rwanda, much like the brand K’tsobe does with its use of materials ranging from silver and copper to brass and amethyst. One side of the cap featured Inyambo cow horns, symbolising femininity, while an inverted representation of the African continent on the hat served as a commentary on the misconceptions of Africa's history. Sarah Legrand, the jeweller behind the brand, seamlessly blended themes of femininity and protection, and elegantly portrayed a depiction of the Thousand Hills of Rwanda at the back, adding both cultural and geographical depth to the designs. This combination of contemporary style and traditional symbolism in the hat, highlighted K'tsobe's exceptional artistry in merging contemporary and traditional elements, thereby creating a profoundly cultural fashion statement.


The styling for all dance performers, envisioned and crafted by Ashlee Muhammad and Krystle Rodriguez with support from the pattern production team of Patience Umutoni and Manzi Rugomwa, became visual statements that mirrored the themes of the performance. As such, the male dancers, dressed in black oversized shorts, black blazers, and white t-shirts, exuded a neat, school-like aura, harmonising with the choreography. The female dancers, in white ballerina attire, added a soft, dreamy touch, introducing an ethereal quality that suggested grace and fluidity. Working closely with the pattern production team, Muhammad and Rodriguez ensured that each costume element was purposeful and resonated with the show's aesthetic, leveraging Rwandan know-how and strengthening our confidence in serving top-level performances.


The male dancers, wearing black shorts and blazers over white t-shirts, gave off a neat, school-uniform vibe - Image Courtesy of Igihe.com

As diverse creatives continue to share more behind-the-scenes content on Instagram, my curiosity grows to uncover the untold stories of the making of this project. The fashion aspects, especially, offer a glimpse into the interplay of our contributions as professionals and creatives, but also as committed artisans striving to offer premium designs that cater to the broad spectrum of preferences and interests across consumers.


Symbolism in Motion Echoing with Emotive Power


I, along with many others, found my favourite part to be midway with Kendrick Lamar's performance of 'Count Me Out.' As with the entire set, this piece was beautifully choreographed by Charm La'Donna, a choreographer who shares her Compton roots with the artist and has made a name for herself working alongside renowned recording artists such as Rosalía, Dua Lipa, and Selena Gomez.


This unfolded with a solo by female dancers performing ballet moves to classical music, creating a soothing aura. Wearing white like the therapist in the music video, the dancers fulfil a dual purpose: they convey healing and introspection, and also mirror the angelic figure seen in the music video's final sequence. This presentation contrasted with Lamar's black outfit, mirroring the visual theme from the music video. As the performance progressed, the dance fluidly evolved, subtly integrating a contemporary style along with sharp and structured movements. This sequence mirrored the evolving essence of therapy – reflecting a shift from initial ease to a more deliberate and rough expression, blending both soothing and rough movements, highlighting the nonlinear journey that we typically go through when we undergo therapy. Midway through the song, the male dancers, including well-known figures like Kida Burns, whom I'm sure you know from Instagram, rejoined the scene, contributing to the stunning visual composition.


Throughout the choreography, the female dancers had kept weaving movements that represented complex emotions, while their graceful arches mimicked the horns of Inyambo cows, an essential symbol in Rwandan dance. This cultural motif was subtly echoed in the artist's K’tsobe pin on his hat, a crafted piece resonating with the same deep symbolism. The performance's storytelling depth was augmented by Sherrie Silver, a world-renowned dancer and TIME100 Impact Awards Africa honoree, who depicted the Inyambo cow horns with her arms and exited the stage ahead of the others. The live performance, showcased on screens with striking black and white imagery, saw dancers gracefully encircling Lamar, who stood like a living statue. Their movements around his stationary yet central presence highlighted the contrast, as their gentle touches conveyed a profound sense of connection. This tableau, so compelling, had already at that point generated our interest in whether the dancers were Rwandan.




As the track neared its end, dancers were scattered across the stage, creating a spectacle that stirred profound emotions within us. And then, in a display of Amaraba's elegance, the dancers' arms soared skyward, their feet stepping to the beat in a manner deeply rooted in Rwandan culture, weaving a visual poem as they gracefully exited the stage. This moment, rich in cultural pride, left no room for doubt—they were unmistakably our very own. We were so stoked that we couldn't help but shout as we couldn't believe it. Had Kendrick Lamar planned this fusion of music and dance all along, intentionally embodying the essence of our heritage? Feeling inquisitive, I did a bit of Instagram sleuthing and found Saidath Uwase Rwagasana, better known as Saddie Vybez, Chanella Djamilla Habimana Uwacu, Zulfat Umujawimana, Gisele Ingabire, Ange Wibabara, and Celine Manzi, each contributing to this memorable display.


Closing Thoughts: Envisioning the Path Ahead for the Rwandan Creative Industry


If it hasn't sunk in yet, let me spell it out: I had an amazing time! It was hands down the best concert we've ever had in Kigali. No debate. It was a moment in culture. 'Move Afrika' wasn't just a high-caliber show; it was a cultural milestone that fused music, art, and heritage in a way that entertained, educated, and inspired. At the end of his show, Kendrick Lamar shared that he had met in the afternoon with local rappers such as Kivumbi King, Sema Sole, Angell Mutoni, and Andersonne Uwineza. To me, this is a clear motivation to continue expanding our horizons, not only to grow as creatives but also to believe in our Rwandan voice and its unique qualities. If his ability to create something as evocative as he did is any proof, it highlights the rich potential within our own heritage, waiting to be explored and celebrated.


Kendrick Lamar's Kigali Meet-Up with Rwandan Rappers - Image Courtesy of Igihe.com

It looks like we're heading towards hosting more large-scale concerts and cultural events, a strategic move to broaden our MICE industry and broaden our global cultural footprint. And if there is something that the MICE industry typically reaps, it's the benefits of large events that bring international experts, leading to capacity-building and networking opportunities. These events are more than just showcases; they're catalysts for professional development, cultural exchange, and global collaboration. By hosting such events, we're creating a fertile ground for art and cross-pollination of ideas, not only enriching our own cultural landscape but also positioning Rwanda as a hub for creative and intellectual synergy. And that, for us creatives, this means an unparalleled opportunity to showcase our artistry, to learn from international peers, and to integrate global perspectives into our work. This move towards more significant events signifies a commitment to elevating the Rwandan creative industry. It's an exciting time, where the seeds of our creative endeavours have the potential to germinate and flourish beyond our expectations.


Equally essential is the development of a collaborative ecosystem, where uniting a diverse group of stakeholders—from artists to policymakers, alongside educational opportunities aimed at professionalising the industry, and providing vital infrastructure support to nurture creative endeavours—is a promising endeavour that, while requiring dedicated effort and investment, holds the potential to yield substantial and invaluable rewards.


In conclusion, the path ahead for the Rwandan creative industry is brimming with possibilities. Sustaining momentum, securing funding, and navigating the complexities of the international art scene require resilience and adaptability. By pooling our resources, sharing our expertise, and engaging in continuous learning, we can overcome hurdles and carve out a distinctive niche for the Rwandan creative industry, fostering a unique and influential cultural presence. If this is the direction we continue in, we are surely on the right path. The trajectory of the Rwandan creative industry is not just upward; it's expansive. Wrapping things up, and with a phrase that's maybe a tad simple and cliché, yet I'm sticking with it anyway, in the spirit of Kendrick Lamar, I'll just say: 'We gon' be alright.'


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