Music in post-genocide Rwanda: the revival of Orchestre Impala
Rafiki Ubaldo & Helen Hintjens (2020): Rwandan music-makers negotiate shared cultural identities after genocide: the case of Orchestre Impala’s revival, Cultural Studies, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2020.1755709
In the sensitive post-genocide cultural landscape of Rwanda, this research considers the significance of the recent revival of a musical group that was first popular in the pre-genocide Habyarimana era.
Orchestre Impala was perhaps the most popular musical group of the late 1970s and 1980s, and its revival represents something of a novelty in Rwanda’s national cultural politics. Perhaps, we suggest, this revival may reflect a certain ‘normalization’ of culture, and a sense of continuity in Rwanda.
Drawing on personal contacts with musicians, supporters, and observers, we conducted informal interviews, and analysed lyrics of songs still sung, those left behind and those newly created.
Reflecting on the revival of Orchestre Impala and the meaning of their music in post-genocide Rwanda
What emerged was a careful and conscious process of selective recovery of past songs, and the creation of new songs, unified by their association with a genre known as igisope, a term explained in the article.
Song texts, translated from the Kinyarwanda, are analysed as a form of historical commentary on the times that Orchestre Impala musicians survived and now find themselves in.
We found that Orchestre Impala has been revived with great caution and sensitivity for the post-genocide context in Rwanda. Its popularity draws on shared social imaginaries across generations of Rwandans, and the band’s revival seems to signal improved possibilities in future for coming to terms with Rwanda’s pre-genocide past.
We tentatively propose that revival of Orchestre Impala both reflects and helps generate elements of cultural continuity in Rwandans’ musical landscape. The demands of surviving commercially as a band, implies that political praise-songs remain part of Orchestre Impala’s song repertoire today as during the Habyarimana era.