East African folklore is passed down to future generations through music. Singer and dancer Vincent Nsengiyumva, a child prodigy in Rwanda, was raised in a musical family of folk singers.
Nsengiyumva's songs are full of Rwandan folklore and indigenous religious undertones. They express nostalgia for the time before colonialism, when musicians sang the praises of kings, hunters and warriors.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide also provides a thematic backdrop for some of his tunes, whose melancholic tones capture the hearts of even those who don’t understand his language.
... and Dance
Nsengiyumva doesn't just sing. He is also well versed in the traditional warrior dances unique to his culture. On stage, he's backed up by colorful dance ensembles that include three drummers adorned in traditional regalia.
He says that he developed a passion for traditional dance and music as a young child in the rural Rwandan province of Butare. Legendary Rwandan traditional musician Bwana Kweli noticed his skills and recruited him at age 15 for the Rwandan National Ballet.
... and Instruments
Nsengiyumva uses a combination of over five traditional instruments, including a rare Rwandan guitar known as the Inanga, which he uses to to create a range of music -- from chordal pieces to single-note melodies. He's one the few artists who can play it, since most young performers prefer modern guitars.
He has now taken his act to international audiences, including those in the U.S. and Canada, where he's been performing over the past five years. Local newspapers have dubbed Nsengiyumva a "cultural ambassador" who has helped Americans understand Rwandan music.
His new album Humura Africa -- loosely translated as “Don’t Worry, Africa” -- calls for unity fighting the ills that plague the continent. It’s available in African record stores in major U.S. cities.
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