Rwandan hip-hop poet Eric 1Key: Entre 2

AiW Guest: Ceri Whatley

AiW Note: This is the first in a series of four posts in which Ceri Whatley discusses Rwandan artist Eric 1Key’s album Entre 2, as well as presenting original translations of 1Key’s lyrics from Kinyarwanda and French to English. We are delighted to publish these posts and lyrics with the permission of Eric 1Key. 


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Kigali, Rwanda. March 2016. 1Key performing Apprenti_Sage in his live show: the #expericment. [Courtesy of 1Key]

Eric 1Key (real name Eric Ngangare) is one of Rwanda’s most exceptional creative talents. He is a multi-lingual hip-hop poet, spoken word artist, blogger, and advocate of Kigali’s blossoming live music scene. Born to a Rwandan mother and Congolese father, 1Key has lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda – where he lives today. Between November 2014 and February 2015 – and while living in Kampala, Uganda – 1Key created his debut album Entre 2 (“Between Two”).

Entre 2 – which boasts eleven carefully constructed tracks – is reflective of complex contradictions and dichotomies in 1Key’s own life. Throughout the album, we hear multiple voices singing and rapping in Kinyarwanda, French and English – as well as in Kiswahili and Lingala – reflecting the new Kigali today. Indeed, Rwanda’s capital city is home to vast numbers of Rwandan returnees, who grew up in neighbouring countries – as well as in Europe and North America – and then returned to Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide, speaking a variety of different languages.

As a PhD researcher interested in musical connections between Kigali and Kampala, I have enjoyed the privilege of getting to know Eric. Through his album, 1Key took me on a journey through a world of traditional Rwandese melodies, soulful folk, celebratory rock, bouncy reggae beats, and conscious hip-hop poetry. He introduced me to Rwandan and Ugandan music producers and artists – with whom he collaborated with on the album – who live in Rwanda, Uganda, France, Sweden, the UK and Canada. But most importantly, 1Key helped me to translate and “decode” his words. His poetic, playful, multi-layered, seductive, defiant, honest words.

I hope that this series of song reviews – complete with lyric translations and audio links – enhances your understanding of 1Key’s outstanding album, and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Track 1: Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning”)

Apprenti_Sage is the album’s opening track. Drawing on the Rwandan tradition of Kwivuga, which literally means bragging, 1key introduces and asserts himself as a poet and as an artist, but also as the ferocious Son of Rugambwa: a sharp shooter who terrorizes his enemies! Within the tradition of Rwandan praise poetry there are numerous specialist sub-genres, including the poetry of dynasty, the poetry of farmers, and amahamba (“the praising of cows”). According to 1key: “Kwivuga was everybody’s poetry”. Created and performed by men and boys, kwivuga is about lineage and ego: “it’s about knowing who you are and ensuring that others know too” (1Key). In this case, 1Key identifies himself as the son of his personal hero, his late Grandfather Ngangare Rugambwa.

Historically, males would learn kwivuga at initiation camps called Itorero, a Kinyarwanda word meaning “the place where you select”. At Itorero, pubescent boys were taught how to protect their country, to shoot arrows, to perform kwivuga, and to dance Intore, which means “the chosen one”. After initiation, boys would return home transformed, “as men with responsibilities” (1Key). Intore performance is also about bragging. Incorporated into the dances are byivugo (singular: Icyivugo), an important component of Kwivuga, where a man performs a particularly dramatic closing piece. He may drop down to one knee, or throw his stick to the floor (as if to “drop the mic”), while boasting to the crowd about who he is and what he has achieved. Indeed, Icyivugo literally means “a self-introductory poem.” 1key’s Icyivugo, the final section of Apprenti_Sage, concludes with confidence. The wordsmith cements his artistic identity with his final Kinyarwanda line, which he delivers with impressive speed, and which translates as: “I am the only key that opens the door of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.” Introducing 1Key, the wise apprentice!

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Nyundo Music School, Rwanda. September 2015. Inanga, the instrument of Rwandese storytelling. [Courtesy of Ceri Whatley]

In Apprenti_Sage, we are transported into the world of traditional Rwandese melodies. The introduction is dedicated to the bare boned and unproduced sound of the Inanga, the Rwandese instrument of storytelling. After 20 seconds, 1Key penetrates the piece with his carefully constructed poetry, while the beautifully springy sound of the Inanga persists until the end. The delicate pulse of 1key’s French lyrics are spoken with rhythm and purpose, before transforming boldly into Kinyarwanda for his compelling Icyivugo: “Yeeeee…!” (Final section)

Throughout his experimental and playful album, 1key creatively explores his most important, ever-present theme: Entre Deux, or “Between Two”, which his album is named after. In Apprenti_Sage, 1Key expresses tensions between two languages: Kinyarwanda, the native language of almost all Rwandans and the carrier of Rwandan identity and culture, and French, the language “brought [to Rwanda] on boats” and enforced on the population by Belgian colonisers. Is it possible to perform Rwandan culture and identity in French? In the third stanza, 1Key apologises to his ancestors for delivering his words in French. He expresses his regret and disgust at being imprisoned within an unequal system of globalisation, where the mastering of European languages is required to earn a living, and where “Rwandan culture” is treated as subordinate.

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Musanze, Rwanda. September 2015. Intore dancers performing at Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony. [Courtesy of Amy Pritchard]

1Key bridges the gap between today and yesterday; between himself as a modern day resident of Kigali and his ancestors as he imagines them. As a multi-lingual poet and recording artist, 1key interweaves Rwandese oral traditions with modern digital technologies, creating a unique contemporary sound which is rooted in tradition. Inspired by the echo of his ancestors’ voices, 1Key aspires to write his life, to describe his view, and to fearlessly leave a message. He tells us: Je suis le message (“I am the message”). We are captivated, intrigued and excited to hear more…


Apprenti_Sage lyrics

Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning” [Track 1 on Entre 2 album, 2015]) 

Prod. Barick: Home studio, Kigali; Vocals: Yego Studio, Kampala. French, Kinyarwanda.

[Verse 1] [Verse 1]
Les pouces sur mon phone comme sur une manette I’ve got thumbs on my phone as a controller
Je joue avec des lettres, je griffonne des textes I play with letters, I scribble text
En fait, depuis que je les pose sur des pages net In fact, since I put them on Internet pages
Et que j’expose mon âme entre les lignes de mes rimes And I expose my soul between the lines of my rhymes
On m’appelle poète; mais est-ce que je mérite ce titre? They call me a poet; but do I deserve this title?
Pour être honnête, je préfère quand on m’appelle artiste To be honest, I prefer to call myself an artist
Au fond je ne suis qu’un esprit qui cherche sa forme Basically I am a spirit that seeks its form
Je suis brut, sans filtre, mes pensées résonnent I’m raw, unfiltered, my thoughts resonate
Dans mes écrits, comme sur du papier carbone In my writings, like carbon paper
Avant la plume, je les calquais à la mine de graphite Before the pen, I would trace my thoughts to graphite mine
Qui aurait cru que mes ébauches auraient un bon accueil au public? Who knew my drafts would be well received by the public?
C’est incroyable mais il y a deux décennies


It’s unbelievable that two decades ago, without a shadow of a doubt
On aurait juré que j’étais dyslexique à force de juger mon lexique We could have sworn that I was dyslexic, if judging by my lexicon
Sur base des dicos amenés en bateaux Based on dictionaries brought on boats
L’apprentissage n’a pas été du gateau Learning was not a piece of cake
Apprenti-sage je suis devenu pour éviter les coups de batons Wise apprentice I became to avoid the blow of the cane
Que mes aïeux m’excusent pour ma forme sur ce fond May my ancestors forgive me for this performance
Si je m’exprime mieux dans la langue du colon If I express myself better in the colonisers’ language
C’est parce que c’est devenu une culture de survie It is because it has become a culture of survival
Elle évolue au dépens de la nôtre et on suit, asservis


It evolves at the expense of ours and we follow, enslaved
Aujourd’hui on se moque des nôtres Today they make fun of us
Quand ils commettent des fautes When we make mistakes
Dans ces langues étrangères et ça me révolte! And it disgusts me!
Laissez-moi être mélancolique sur ce sample de cithara Let me be sad on this sample zither
Laissez-moi me noyer dans ce pot de slam, cet art Let me drown in this slam pot
Oratoire de mes ancêtres, c’est tout ce qui me reste This oral art of my ancestors, that’s all I have left
Leurs doigts grattent des cordes, les miens gravent des textes Their fingers strumming the strings, mine engrave texts
Dans leurs notes et les miennes, tu peux lire l’envie de transmettre In their notes and mine, you can read the urge to pass on
C’est l’écho de leurs voix que j’entend quand les vallées respirent It is the echo of their voices that I hear when valleys breathe
Et peut-être pourquoi j’adore écrire le soir, leur mélodie m’inspire And perhaps why I love writing in the evening, their melody inspires me
A écrire ma vie, à décrire ma vue, à conter mon parcours sans peur Writing my life, describing my view, to relate my journey fearless
Je sais qu’on ne vit pas pour toujours et tout comme eux I know we do not live forever and like them
Je veux laisser un message… I want to leave a message…
Je suis le message I am the message
Qui vivra, entendra cette voix venue de nulle part Whoever lives will hear that voice coming out of nowhere
Portée par le vent d’un écho ancestral Carried by the ancestral echo
[Icyivugo][1] [Icyivugo]
Yeeeeee ndi ingangare ku rugamba Yes! Here I am, I am the strongest in battle
Mwene Rugambwa simpangarwa ndahangara Son of Rugambwa, none can approach me, I approach them
Dore nje mu rukerera nk’igiteroshuma I attack at dawn as if it’s an ambush
Sinikanga, sinikinga I am not intimidated, I am not hiding
Ikaramu narazwe na data ni yo ngabo y’amahina amakuza atagwabizwa The pen I inherited from my father is my unbreakable spear
Iyo mfoye simpusha ababisha bashahurwa n’ubwoba ntaranabegera I’m a sharp shooter, I don’t miss and that terrorizes my enemies before I even reach them
Abaswa banyumva nk’amahamba The small-minded don’t understand the intricacies of my amahamba[2]
Ndasiga nkisiga bagasigara basiganuza When I write I paint stories/When I write I only compete with myself
Uko mbambura imizingo imirongo igahinduka amashusho Because when I write they can’t keep up, but they see pictures
Umushyitsi ukabataha mu nda bagahitamo kunyita umunyabufindo They call me a “magician” [3]


Ndi urufunguzo rumwe rukumbi rurangaza amarembo y’amayobera maze agatahurwa n’inyamibwa mu ndatwa. I am the only key that opens the door of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.

[1] Icyivugo literally means “self-introductory poem”.

[2] Amahamba (“the praising of cows”) is a particularly complex and intricate sub-genre of Rwandan praise poetry.

[3] There is no direct translation for the Kinyarwanda noun umunyabufindo. It is a derogatory word, which roughly translates as “magician”.



Eric 1Key (real name Eric Ngangare) is a multi-lingual hip-hop poet, spoken word artist, blogger, and advocate of Kigali’s blossoming live music scene. His album – along with his other poetry and music – is available on Soundcloud: – and for sale on digital stores iTunesSpotify, and Amazon. Eric 1key is very active on social media where you can find him discussing and debating all kinds of things. For updates and live info, follow Eric1key on Twitter: @eric1key, Facebook: Facebook/eric1key, or email for bookings at

Ceri WhatleyCeri Whatley is a PhD candidate in African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham, UK. Her research explores “musical traffic” – both physical and digital – between Kigali-Rwanda and Kampala-Uganda, with a particular interest in the construction of new Rwandan identities, post-1994 genocide. While conducting over 12 months of ethnographic research in Rwanda and Uganda, Ceri undertook Kinyarwanda language training. She is currently analysing the rich corpus of data collected during fieldwork, and looks forward to completing her thesis. Ceri is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC-M3C) and can be contacted on

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  1. Eric 1Key – AFROGROOV

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