Eric 1Key’s Entre 2: a ‘story about a hero and a coward’

AiW Guest: Ceri Whatley

AiW Note: This is the third 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 Entre 2 in his live show: the #expericment. [Courtesy of Ceri Whatley]

Kigali, Rwanda. March 2016. 1Key performing Entre 2 in his live show: the #expericment. [Courtesy of Ceri Whatley]

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 6: Entre 2 (“Between 2”)

This is the album’s middle track (track 6) and, like the album, is entitled Entre 2. Within his words, 1Key explores the “Between Two” motif, with clear examples in the hook:

“I exist between…

Birth and death

Without filter between…

Thought and speech

I live between…

Night and day

I hesitate between…

Never and forever”. (Translated from French to English)

In Entre 2, 1Key carries us into the second half of his album, which is more heavily influenced by hip-hop, and which exudes a more serious mood. The music opens with an electronic piano chord sequence, which is modified to sound like female voices and is repeated throughout the track. The chord sequence is dramatized by the click and then bang of a gunshot, over which 1Key starts to rap in French, his voice deep and his statements punchy. At the same time, the music thickens. We hear high-pitched piano notes, creating a siren effect, and then a sharp knocking sound. Next, a series of metallic rhythms are layered in, building a sense of drama as the story unravels.

This is a story about a hero and a coward. In the first verse 1Key pays homage to his Hero, a “Wise soldier armed with vocal chords/… defender of virtue”. (Translated from French to English) He says:

“You’re not this butterfly with flamboyant colours

Sailing between the winds of trends

You’re a chameleon, hooked on your own branch

You observe the world in every direction

You do not just stay there and watch these egocentric termites devour each other mercilessly

You sound the alarm but that makes you a target…” (Translated from French to English)

Within his words, 1Key reveals complex contradictions and dichotomies. While butterflies are beautiful in appearance, they are fickle and easily manipulated. On the other hand, the chameleon has qualities of a hero: he is defiant, he thinks independently, and he takes action. But he suffers for his heroism. This raises an important question: should butterflies (aka ordinary Rwandan citizens) behave more like chameleons, despite the sacrifices that would involve? And if the butterfly were to represent “Rwandan progress”, just how much substance is there? In Rwanda, conversations about politics are generally met with caution, and it is extremely rare (and potentially dangerous) to openly challenge the status quo. Having said that, the question of substance is reflective of conversations that I have had with many Kigalians. While these Rwandans are proud and optimistic about the extraordinary growth of Kigali, they also understand that rural Rwanda (home to approximately 90% of the population) is a completely different reality. Within Kigali, citizens have been witnessing the mushrooming of new, shiny buildings and expensive coffee shops, restaurants and gyms. As inequalities deepen, many people ask: “But who is this beautiful city being built for?”

In his termite analogy, 1Key addresses additional concerns with Rwandan society. Termites live as one, which speaks to the Rwandan Government’s policy of National Unity, an idea which is also prevalent in Rwandan popular culture. And yet 1Key’s egocentric termites devour each other mercilessly. According to 1Key, this is an honest reflection of contemporary Rwandan society (or indeed any capitalist society), where its citizens habitually exploit and take advantage of each other in their increasingly individualistic attempts to gain money and subsequently status.

In the second verse, 1Key adopts the persona of the Coward, or the ordinary citizen. He describes hypocritical smiles and friends who stab him in the back, evoking our sympathy and understanding. Simultaneously, he admits to being passive and lazy, telling us: “Nothing drives me besides alcohol, sex and drugs.” (Translated from French to English) Like the chameleon, 1Key observes his world in every direction. He certainly articulates a more intelligent and nuanced view of contemporary Rwandan society than what we are used to hearing (or reading). 1Key doesn’t want to be a commercial “copy-cat” recording artist for radio and TV. Through his art, he expresses himself, explores ideas, and heals himself (and others).

In many ways, 1Key is a pioneer: aesthetically, his music is original and experimental, and his lyrics are fresh and provocative. A fierce promoter of Kigali’s live music scene, 1Key essentially wants to start conversations. He told me: “It’s OK to have different opinions, but we don’t talk about them.” 1Key is aware that his art may cause controversy, telling me: “Not all Rwandans are ready for me!” Indeed, his “disobedient” character – which is untypical in Rwanda – and tendency to challenge norms, as well as his body piercings and tattoos, leaves many Rwandans bewildered. 1Key laughs this off, defiantly telling us: “You want a joke? Apparently I belong to an asylum/I write crazy stuff HAHAHAHA”. (Translated from French to English)

Entre 2 was produced by Barick at his home-studio in Kigali. Barick is featured in the hook.

Watch 1Key perform Entre 2 live on the #expericment

 

Entre 2 lyrics

Entre 2 (“Between 2” [Track 6 on Entre 2 album, 2015]) 

Prod. Barick: Home studio, Kigali. French.

[Verse 1] [Verse 1]
Hommage à toi brave        Homage to you brave
Sage soldat armés de cordes vocales Wise soldier armed with vocal chords
Elles t’étranglent quand tu ne les utilises pas They strangle you when you do not use them
Elles tuent quand tu les utilises mal They kill you when you use them wrong
Mais toi t’as trouvé l’équilibre… Chapeau bas! But you found the balance… Hats off!
Ce couplet est une ôde pour toi, défenseur de vertu This verse is an ode to you, defender of virtue
Toi qui ne t’ai pas tu même avec la bouche cousue You did not keep quiet despite your sealed lips
Tu t’es battu malgré les mains liées You fought with your hands tied
Pour un futur où tu seras oublié For a future in which you will be forgotten
Avec ta vie t’as payé le prix R.I.P With your life you paid the price R.I.P
J’admire ton courage dans la défense de tes croyances I admire your courage in defending what you stand for
T’es pas ce papillon aux couleurs flamboyantes You’re not this butterfly with flamboyant colours
Qui vogue entre les vents des tendances Sailing between the winds of trends
T’es un caméléon, tu t’accroches sur ta branche You’re a chameleon, hooked on your own branch
Et t’observes le monde dans tous les sens You observe the world in every direction
Tu ne restes pas là à regarder ces termites égocentriques se dévorer sans merci You do not just stay there and watch these egocentric termites devour each other mercilessly
Tu sonnes l’alarme mais cela fait de toi une cible You sound the alarm but that makes you a target
Ça t’étonne pas, tu connais la musique It does not surprise you, you know the tune
Alors tu danses avec un grand sourire So you dance to it with a huge smile
On t’applaudit mais tu sais que quand tu seras parti You receive applause but you know that once you are gone
Tes écrits seront conservés dans la bibliothèque des amnésiques Your writings will be stored in the library of amnesiacs
Tes traces préservées au musée des oubliettes Your footprints preserved in a museum of the forgetful
Et ton nom restera gravé dans le vent… à jamais And your name will be engraved in the wind… forever
[Hook] [Hook]
J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans filtre entre… Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever

 

J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans filtre entre… Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever

 

[Verse 2] [Verse 2]
Hélas je ne serai jamais toi, j’ai pas ta bravoure dans ma peau Unfortunately I’ll never be you, I don’t have your bravery within me
Moi je préfère la fermer, vivre à genou que mourir debout en héros I prefer to shut it, live on my knees than die standing
Je suis le rhytme, j’attends que la Terre tourne dans l’autre sens I follow the rhythm, I’m waiting for the world to turn the other way
La vie me surprend tous les jours, me parlez pas de son essence Life surprises me every day, don’t talk to me of its essence
C’est une fine meche qui brule a petit feu… et alors? It’s a fire wick which burns a small fire… so what?
Je suis passif, hypo-sensitif, est-ce ma faute? What if I’m passive, hypo-sensitive, is it my fault?
Rien ne m’anime à part l’alcool, le sexe et la drogue Nothing drives me besides alcohol, sex and drugs
La famille? T’as vu leur regards quand t’as pas de job? Family? Have you seen their look when you don’t have a job?
Les amis? C’est eux qui te poignardent dans le dos Friends? Those are the people who stab you in the back
J’ai peur de rien surtout pas des ont-dit I fear nothing, especially what people say
Je me méfie des non-dits cachés derrière les sourires hypocrites I’m cautious of unspoken words hidden behind hypocritical smiles
Cette ère c’est notre apocalypse, rien à y faire This era is our apocalypse, there’s nothing we can do about it
Cette terre c’est le paradis et l’enfer This earth is heaven and hell
Cette vie n’est qu’un sombre tunnel, la mort, c’est en fait elle la lumière Life is just a dark tunnel, death is in fact the light
Tôt ou tard on finit tous six pieds sous terre, puis on rejoint nos ancêtres à l’etat végétatif Sooner or later we will all end six feet under, then we join our ancestors in their vegetative state
Peut être que c’est leur esprit que j’aspire, quand je tire deux coups de mon spliff Maybe it’s their spirit which I inhale, when I take two puffs from my spliff
HAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHA
[Hook] [Hook]
J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans filtre entre…  Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever
J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans ilter entre…  Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever
[Verse 3] [Verse 3]
Je suis pas suicidaire, je kiff trop la life I’m not suicidal, I love life too much
Surtout pas sédentaire, je suis à la poursuite des fun nights Especially not sedentary, I’m in pursuit of fun nights
Ce serait un drame si cette vie n’était pas une comédie It would be a tragedy if life were not a comedy
Tu veux une blague? Parait que ma place est à l’asile You want a joke? Apparently I belong in an asylum
J’écris des trucs de ouf HAHAHAHA I write crazy stuff HAHAHAHA
[Hook] [Hook]
J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans filtre entre…  Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever
J’existe entre… I exist between…
La naissance et la mort Birth and death
Sans filtre entre…  Without filter between…
La pensee et la parole Thought and speech
Je vis entre… I live between…
La nuit et le jour Night and day
J’hésite entre… I hesitate between…
Jamais et toujours Never and forever
[Instrumental] [Instrumental]
[Outro] [Outro]
Barick attends un peu… Il y a un truc que j’ai oublié de dire Barick, wait a minute… there’s something I forgot to say
En fait… In fact…
Je suis pris entre les dents comme la langue I’m caught between teeth like a tongue
En déséquilibre entre le yin et le yang  In imbalance between yin and yang

 

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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: soundcloud.com/eric1key – 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 ericonekey@gmail.com. Additional song reviews by Ceri Whatley can be found on Eric 1Key’s Blog: https://eric1key.com/

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 cnw604@bham.ac.uk.



Categories: Academic Research, Music

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