New Internationalist

Rwanda 94

Issue 336

‘All these pictures from Angola, Ethiopia and Somalia’ are the closing lines of ‘Africa’, the last song on Eyuphuro’s Yellela (see above), and one wonders why they didn’t add Rwanda to the list. The problem is an age-old one, though: how can you represent the unrepresentable? The answer is with difficulty. And, one might also add, dignity. This is something that Groupov, the Belgium-based collection of European and Rwandan musicians and actors manage to do with Rwanda 94. Conceived as ‘an attempt at symbolic reparation to the dead, for use by the living’, this double CD comes out of a music theatre event that takes as its theme the most recent genocide in Rwanda when Hutus turned on Tutsis with appalling ferocity. It’s hard even to mention that the ‘94’ in the title is a reference to the fact that earlier tribal killings existed: it may even suggest that future ones will also happen unless sense and humanity prevail.

This is an extraordinary record: its music is of a fearful beauty and the theatrical text, often using quotations from victims and lists of the dead, is reproduced in a well-presented book of over 250 pages.

With composer Garrett List leading the work, his collaboration with singer Jean-Marie Muyango is simple, elegant and unfailingly direct. Rwandan drums echo through the work and as a prelude, a chamber orchestra suggests the European responsibility for current Rwanda. Jazz, classical quartets (much influenced by Philip Glass’s structural clarity) and some stunning chorus work move the piece along. Sung or read in French and Rwandan languages (a full English translation is provided), Rwanda 94 flows with a terrible purity. At one point a raucous boogie-woogie section is broken with the cry ‘Hutu, Tutsi – et toi’. Rwanda 94 is a work in progress, although listening to this one hopes that another chapter need never be added. This is essential listening.

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