Rwanda's capital Kigali is set to enjoy the best reggae from the region when a festival in honour of Jamaican legend Bob Marley takes place from Wednesday 11 to Friday 13 May at the One Love Club garden.
The Bob Marley Festival will feature local groups Strong Voice and Kwanda Band, along with Burundi's Lion Story, RasClan Entertainment from Uganda and a German trio known as Dub Armada.
The event marks the anniversary of Marley's untimely death on 11 May 1981. "One Love is organizing an event for Bob Marley Day every year," said Leo Ludemann, part of the organising team. "This year it was mainly the initiative of Lion Story and Strong Voice to organize this day. However there were many artists who were interested in playing, so beyond just celebrating the Bob Marley Day we are using this opportunity to revive the One Love Festival and subsequently Kigali’s reggae scene. Therefore we have developed a small-scale festival that will run over the course of three days. If everything works well, we will try to keep organizing the event on a yearly basis with a possibility of hosting a bigger festival in 2017."
Though most popular music genres in Rwanda today emerged after the 1994 genocide, specifically hip-hop and R&B, as well as gospel and Afrobeat, reggae has not yet established a firm footing on the Rwandan music scene. The three-day event is in line therefore with the organisers' aim to promote reggae in Rwanda by showing people that the genre is alive and well, as well as giving space for cultural exchange in general.
"We want to unite the Rwandan reggae community and pay tribute to Bob Marley, who is still one of (if not the most) influential reggae artists of all time," emphasizes Leo, who also plays saxophone in Dub Armada. He adds that there are only a few bands playing regularly in Kigali, so the city lacks a vibrant live music scene - something he says is also noticeable in the rest of Rwanda, and which this event will help to rectify.
One of Burundi’s famous and popular reggae acts, the 11-man band Lion Story is well-known for their songs that deal with issues such as corruption, political killings and harassments of members of political parties and civil society members. Following the political unrest that descended on Burundi in mid-2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for another term in office, members of the band were forced to seek refuge elsewhere for fear that they would be victims of the growing repression that followed the elections. Already long before the elections, in early 2015, Lion Story had received regular threats because of the sharpness and openness of their lyrics.
Strong Voice is a family band. Originally known as Kidz Voice, the reggae ensemble is made up of five siblings (three brothers and two sisters). After having struggled to find platforms to showcase their talent, the band was able to write 14 songs and record them at Dreamland Studios in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Titled African Child, their album was released in July 2011. In mid-2013, the siblings took a decision to change the name of the band from Kidz Voice to Strong Voice. Since then the band has continued to write songs and perform in and out of Rwanda. In 2015 the band performed at the DOADOA East African Performing Arts Market in Uganda.
Kwanda was formed in 2006 and is made up of Cub Lion, Francis Nubuhoro, Fabrice Babano and Jovial Imanzi. They create music with a message of humanity and unity, in a world that is becoming increasingly disconnected and virtual. The band (whose name means 'to grow') use reggae to spread this message of peace and to encourage communal growth.
Dub Armada was founded recently when three young musicians from Germany met in Rwanda. Alex Riedel, Konrad Vogt and Leo Lüdemann are all at different stages of life but uniting them is their love for music. Driven by this passion and their ability to improvise, the trio had the idea of combining electronic music with live instrumentation. Dub Armada’s style varies from dub to techno; an uncommon yet refreshing concept that they plan to refine and develop.
Entrance to the Bob Marley Festival will cost 3000 FRW (US$3.85) on Wednesday (from 4pm) and Friday (from 6pm), while Thursday's events are free. On Wednesday couples get in for a discounted rate of 5000 FRW ($6.40), while on Friday the price includes food and drinks.
The proceeds from the festival will go towards the Mulindi-Japan One Love Project, an initiative that provides artificial limbs and IT training to people with disabilities in Rwanda.