Music Review: Ijoro - Rwandan Folklores Re-imagined
Photograph: Chris Schwagga
I believe the spirits of the ancestors will dab to this project from the other side.
I don’t remember exactly the first time I listened to Maguru – the opening track on the Ijoro project. I feel the need to be specific because I had listened to a couple of other versions of Maguru by different artists many years ago. The tale of the hunter never gets old. Even better, it got fresher on the Ijoro project (allow me to dodge mainstream names such as album, EP, Mixtape because I can only guess it’s a collaborative project by Yannick MYK, Sogokuru and Remy Phantom). Through a well-crafted story in archaic Kinyarwanda with a pinch of salty street Kinyarwanda, Yannick raises the bar from the start and maintains throughout the entire project, for which he created the music too. Who is this guy?
Gatete Jimmy - Wow. I didn’t see this coming. At all! Gatete is a retired striker who put Rwanda on the football map in 2004 when he scored the goals that took the country to the African Cup of Nations. By repeating “Ndi Gatete Jimmy” (I am Gatete Jimmy), Yannick reminds us that we cannot keep up with his skills. Phantom and Sogokuru appear for the first time on this second track. Phantom stays on track literally, which we can feel from his first line “Data yari attaquant de pointe, na njye ndi attaquant de pointe” (My father was a striker, I am a striker) and pursues in a short, which I don’t find very convincing for a self-proclaimed leader in the game, which I think is deliberately light because he comes back hard in Ku Mihari to claim his respect. On this same track, Sogokuru drops a french-kinyarwanda verse reminding “his” girl that he is now a star and she should treat him as such.
Ndabaga - Yannick narrates the story of the brave girl who trained herself to become a fierce warrior and then replaced his father on the battlefield. Phantom emphasizes on Ndabaga’s abilities to run, jump, fight, win wars and/yet ends up marrying the king as a reward. I think this track is my favorite on the project. I like how the duo allows their imagination to wander between the past and the present and tells the story in a way that cuts across, linguistically speaking.
Mayibobo - I can’t tell whether the sound revokes nostalgia or melancholia but if Sogokuru intended to do make me feel both, he did a great job. As soon as the keys start playing, I reminisce sitting in front of the tv waiting for the TVR old theme song Genda Rwanda uri nziza (Rwanda, you are so beautiful) announcing the beginning of programs. I could then watch till 11pm when the same song replayed at the end of the day’s programs. What does this song have to do with Mayibobo, street kids? I have no idea. I tried reading between the line “Singira data kandi singira mama, sindi mayibobo” (I have no father, no mother yet I am not a street child) but wapi. Is this Sogokuru hinting on his life’s details we may not be familiar with? Through his French verses, I felt a sense of change, of growth that people around the artists might be having a hard time understanding. And somewhere he mentions that he rises from the ashes. A metaphor for Rwanda nziza? I don’t know. All I know is that I love this song.
Muchoma - I didn’t quite relate to this track. Maybe because it’s what I believe trap music is about. A beat you can dab to and rhymes you can nod to. Overall no storyline. Somehow this songs makes me think about the cover artwork. I laughed hard when I saw Nkundamahoro with tattoos in the face, shades on and a blunt. I thought Nkundamapiece would be more appropriate.
Mufasa - Let’s just say this is kwivuga 2.0. Kwivuga is the ability of a poet or warrior to boast about their skills. In hip hop it’s known as the ego trip but it is a very old practice in Rwanda. On this track, Yannick expresses it with class, “I am the lion king in this jungle.” Phantom’s contribution to this track seems like a continuation of Muchoma, which is hinted on in the hook.
Bakame - I didn’t feel this one and I can’t really tell why. Maybe I got tired of the repetitive trap loop and using too much efforts trying to follow Yannick “yihuta nka bakame” (speeding like a bunny). Or maybe it is because I expected more as soon as I saw the title. There are so many stories around the bunny’s wit, cleverness, abilities to get in and out of trouble etc. in Rwanda’s folklores.
Kumihari - This is the Remy Phantom I know. Nothing but raw spits. I can feel the efforts in Kinyarwanda and I must say, he delivered on this one. It’s a short verse but he murders it or should I say them [artists] when he drops the last line on the project “Abasani ndi guhamba, birutse nkikambakamba” (I bury these artists, they’ve been running away since I started crawling). BOOM!
Ijoro (the night), as we have learned through folkloric music and tales was a time when people gathered around a bonfire to share stories, songs and self-praises in the spirit of cultural celebration. I believe the spirits of the ancestors will dab to this project from the other side. They can relate. And so can we. Can we also take the time to appreciate Yannick, Sogokuru and Remy Phantom for the brilliant execution of such a beautiful idea? Which you can explore in less than half an hour.