If its true that cleanliness is next to godliness, Kigali is heaven! Oh la la! This city is as clean as European streets. I don’t spot a single paper or heaps of garbage anywhere like is the case in certain parts of Nairobi. I am super bummed that I only have 24 hours in Rwanda, but super psyched that I am finally going to Kigali Up Festival, where Sauti Sol are headlining in the fest’s 2015 edition. My initial 72 hours in Kigali turn into 24 thanks to an impromptu call from State House, for Sauti Sol to perform on Saturday night in honour of President Obama (blog post for another day). Nevertheless, on arrival in Kigali, I am ready to not sleep and discover and experience as much as I can.
8:20 a.m. – Arrival Kigali International Airport
I am once again accompanying Sauti Sol, as their publicist and tour manager, to a festival I always wanted to attend and a country I always wanted to visit. Rwandese men are handsome and the women are beautiful. Kigali’s scenery is picturesque. The roads, built on steep mini hills, are winding and sliding – just like in Kampala.
The Wi-Fi is on point right from the airport – very impressive! The weather is nice and warm, unlike Nairobi’s current gloomy situation. Our hotel Gold Crest Hotel is pretty decent and very close to where we are performing – the Amahoro Stadium.
11:00 a.m – Brunch/Soundcheck
After making sure Sauti Sol and their full band are all checked into the hotel, I have a quick brunch and then head to Amahoro Stadium to check out the venue and oversee soundcheck. The drive down to the stadium makes me have a closer look at Kigali. I am astounded by the cleanliness of this city. There are no flying banana peals off moving vehicles on Kigali roads like is the case in Kenya. There is not one person littering Kigali like there are several foolish Kenyans throwing things around our cities. Our host Bruce Twagira tells me that every last Saturday of the month is a cleanliness day – where everyone, including President Kagame, comes out to clean. Standing on the massive Kigali Up stage, I can’t believe I am in Rwanda, I remember Mos Def asking me a few months ago about Kigali Up and why I hadn’t been there – but now I am right here. It’s such a gratifying feeling for me to be right at the place I always wanted to be and at the right time. Rwanda has been on my mind.
1:00 p.m. – Return to hotel
I only have a few hours in this hotel room, made for a queen. It reminds me of the fact that I need a king. Nway I clean up nicely, do a couple of emails and press releases before mobilising my team to head to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
8:00 p.m. – Dinner/Discussing African Music
I have been starving the whole day, mainly because for the past few months I’ve been on a strict diet due to health complications. However, I can’t wait to eat up some local treats. But our host takes us to a restaurant serving none. I am so bummed. My starter – an avocado salad at Select Hotel & Restaurant is to die for! How brilliant that I gobbled it faster than I could take a pic. We all sit on a table of about 12. They get us the best spot right at the patio. The restaurant is located somewhere above a hill. We are overlooking city lights atop hills and mountains – it looks like the sky’s shiny stars are inverted.
We have great conversation about music in Africa. Our hosts Bruce and Nelson tell us about how much more Rwandese musicians need to pull their socks but Bien tells them, “Your artists are at the best place. Sauti Sol – we are well-known in Kenya but so are other artists. An artist based in Rwanda has a bigger space to fill and fans to satisfy, we’d like to come here more often and even volunteer our songwriting services at Kigali Up’s workshops.” I agree. I am also willing to volunteer my PR services in Rwanda. Bruce and Nelson tell me that a lot of Rwandese artistes don’t see the value of PR and networking, or so it seems. They tell us that about a decade ago Kenyan music used to rock Kigali. Somewhere along the way everything changed and now they only rock to Tanzanian and Ugandan music from East Africa. “We now like a few Kenyan artistes like Jaguar. But we only listen to Sauti Sol – you are breaking boundaries,” says Nelson. A few steps from where we are sitting, a merry table breaks into a bday song. One of the ladies sitting on the table is celebrating their birthday – she’s lucky she’s got Sauti Sol singing her Happy Birthday 🙂
10:00 p.m. – Showtime
Sauti Sol are the headliners, literally shutting down the 2-day festival. I really love the outfits the guys have on – all white everything. For the first time, I didn’t know what they were going to wear. The vibe is awesome, the crowd is singing to Sauti Sol songs word for word. Apparently all public shows must shut down by 11:00 p.m. in Kigali – we didn’t know. When they are just half way through their full set, the boss of the fest tells me that this show must end in 15 minutes, as the police are already at the concert to shut down. It’s a little past 11. “Tell them to only sing Nerea and Sura Yako.”
This messes with the guys concentration and dejects them a little.
When they get to the part where the lyrics go, “ … huenda akawa Kagame … Atawale …” – I see the cops talking to the fest’s boss. He comes up to me and says, “Tell Sauti Sol we’ve added them enough time, they can continue however they want.” Wow! Power of uttering the name of Kagame in Kigali!
The best part of the show however is meeting Ishimwe Daddy at the backstage. The organisers bring me this young artist who made a portrait of Sauti Sol and wants to present it to them. This is really touching. He is young and so shy, I literally force and push him onto the stage just when the concert is ending, to hand it over to them himself.
By the time we leave the concert venue, I have had the toughest time at any backstage in our touring career. There were so many girls in the backstage screaming, shouting, begging and crying to take pictures with Sauti Sol. At some point the organisers bar them from Sauti Sol but it breaks my heart. I insist that Sauti Sol must do all interviews and take pictures with all the fans. I somehow manage to handle the madness!
1:30 a.m – Hotel/Packing
You must wonder what’s there to pack when you’re in a city for 24 hours with no sleep – I am chief diva. As the rest of Sauti Sol clean up and head out to the club, I spend a couple of hours with Bruce and Chimano at the hotel, bonding and eating while reminiscing on stuff. We have had a great show so everything we talk about evokes laughter.
3:45 a.m. – Kigali International Airport/Boarding
I am so sad to leave Kigali but I have to. Work has to be done on the other side. I am so fatigued, when I get to the airport I don’t want to talk to anyone or any hostess in the plane. I just want to sleep. I will cover my head with my shawl until I hear the captain saying that we are descending into Nairobi.
5:30 a.m. – Arrival Kenya
Jomo Kenyatta Airport is damn cold, and my taxi driver overslept. 30 calls couldn’t wake him up. I am forced to grab a random taxi, to go through atrocious post – Obama Nairobi traffic, and finally to a crazy work-filled day ahead of me.
While departing Rwanda, I finished drinking a bottle of water just as I was passing Kigali airport customs. A policeman walked up to me and said, “Hey – I will throw the bottle away for you.” If I don’t get married to a King, I don’t think this will ever happen to me in any other place in the world. Kigali – je t’aime.
BONUS: Thank you Bruce and your awesome Kigali UP Team, we must return soon!