Cecile Kayirebwa, Guardian of Rwanda's Traditional Music

 "A nation without intellectuals is a nation without a soul, a nation without guardians of traditions is a nation without its own personality”. Alexis Kagame,1969.

There is nothing so fulfilling like listening to musical rhythms that stir the uttermost recesses of your mind and soul. That effect is almost always felt when listening to traditional Rwandan music especially, when the artist has crafted their skill for decades.

Mrs Cécile Kayirebwa’s music has had such a tremendous effect on many Rwandans both home and in the diaspora. When she sings, crowds listening to her will either go silent in deep contemplation or join in a chorus and many times, get their dancing shoes to work. Her deep respect and passion for music appeals to so many listeners so much so that she has come to be known as, ‘The guardian of traditional Rwandan Music.’

This year Cecile Kayirebwa turned 70 years and was greeted with an extraordinary celebration of sorts at the Serena Kigali Hotel. The audience was electric and immersed in her vibrance and youthfulness even after years of richness in her song, poetry, story-telling and dance performances. Her songs have continued to inspire many Rwandans to find hope and value in their roots. Keeping the Kinyarwanda traditional heritage alive is one of the facets of her work as a musician. 

While a lot has been done to preserve culture in several contexts, sometimes African musicians like Cecile Kayirebwa have had to take it a step further. She recently introduced a crowdfunding non-profit platform through her organisation 'Ceka I Rwanda' that was founded 20 years ago while she lived in Belgium. Kayirebwa’s  aim has been to safeguard the rich Rwandan cultural heritage. This is the first ever crowdfunding campaign with a focus on traditional Rwandan music. 

She regulary performs at events called ‘Igitaramo’ that are typically traditional music gatherings hosted across the city of Kigali. It is through her performances and collaborations with other traditional artists that funds are raised and are directed toward funding the research, education development, preservation, digitisation and the transmission of the Rwandan traditional culture. This shows that remaining relevant in todays information age, the guardians of Rwanda’s cultural music and arts, need to adapt and digitise their work for both local and global audiences.

Through working with the elderly, who have protected immense historical knowledge through retelling the origins of songs, stories, poetry and dance, more historical data is collected for literary and digital preservation. This provides the basis for Rwanda’s current creatives to get in touch with their past and present. In so doing, they work toward a future where people will not simply relegate culture to their ancestors but rather uphold a way of life that relates to a dignified and respectful acknowledgement of their cultural contexts.

Photos: Courtesy of CEKA I RWANDA



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