Eric 1Key’s Entre 2: Gene Aise, 1Key’s life story

AiW Guest: Ceri Whatley

AiW Note: This is the final post 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 Kiswahili and French to English. We are delighted to publish these posts and lyrics with the permission of Eric 1Key.

Divider

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”).

Kigali, Rwanda. March 2016. 1Key performing Gene Aise live on the #expericment. [Courtesy of Innovation Village]

Kigali, Rwanda. March 2016. 1Key performing Gene Aise live on the #expericment. [Courtesy of Innovation Village]

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 9: Gêne Aise ft. Cassa & Samy Kamanzi  

Powerful poetry is born out of pain. Enveloping us, it demands our full attention; creating a ripple of silence, our minds become consumed by the words. Our bodies are affected too: goosebumps on our arms, a lump in our throat, or a knot in our stomach. Perhaps a tear down our face. This is what I experienced when I watched 1Key perform Gêne Aise live for the first time on the #expericment. I understood how much this meant to my friend, and there was no way to escape his pain. And yet the pain was lightened by the pleasure of this shared experience. Through his music, 1Key brought us all together: an audience of friends and strangers, from Francophone Rwandans to Anglophone North Americans, to me, the emotional British anthropologist on my final evening of fieldwork!

Gêne Aise is 1Key’s most intimate piece. It tells his life story, a story which is shared by many Rwandans, but is not often talked about openly. The track is a collabo between Cassa (or Dady Cassanova) – a Rwandan who lives in Canada – and Samy Kamanzi, who, like 1Key, is half-Rwandan and half-Congolese – and who was living in France at the time. Once again, new digital technologies triumph in their capacity for enabling musical collaboration!

The initial idea for Gêne Aise was developed by the three artists, through the circulating of voice notes using WhatsApp. Samy produced the music for the track and emailed it to 1Key. 1Key took the track to Dustville Studio in Kampala, where he added some beats using Logic Pro. He layered in his vocals and emailed his progress to Samy and Cassa, who continued the process, and so it went on. According to 1Key, it was a complicated endeavour, due to the three artists all using different, incompatible recording software.  When listening to the beautifully haunting harmonies in the Hayaya yoyoooo sections, it is difficult to imagine these challenges.

The opening section of Gêne Aise switches back and forth between Cassa and 1Key, and between English, French and Kiswahili. The tone is set instantly when Cassa sings: “I’ve been holding on for too long/I’m gonna let it all go through this song.” Indeed, 1Key tells us: “Tonight there will be no metaphors in my verses/I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to talk to you with an open heart.” (Translated from French to English) Later, in his verse, 1Key tells us:

“I was born in exile in my father’s country… /

… When my grandfather’s neighbours were slaughtering his brothers

He found asylum in this land which belonged to his father before

It is complicated but brief, I was born between the anvil and the hammer

In this region of the Great Lakes known for the blood that flows

Between two large countries, one known for genocide and its bravery

The other for its size, its riches and its endless wars…” (Translated from French to English)

Here, 1Key is explaining his complicated family history. Son of a Rwandan (Tutsi) mother and a Congolese father – who he has had limited contact with – 1Key was born in Goma, eastern DRC – which used to be a part of Rwanda. 1Key told me: “I have always felt more Rwandese. Rwanda is the family and the traditions I know.” 1Key and his family were living in the DRC as refugees; lines 2-3 of the above extract refer to the 1959 massacres in Rwanda, which led to vast numbers of Tutsis fleeing Rwanda to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

In the album’s second track (Mal Appris), we learned that 1Key was exposed to poverty, hunger and disease, while growing up in Goma. This track reveals how 1Key also “received the treatment of the cockroach” – cockroach being the derogatory term used to describe Tutsis in the de-humanizing campaign, which contributed to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. (Translated from French to English) As 1Key’s narrative continues to unfold, the rapper softly tells us how he went on to spend time in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, and then Kinshasa, DRC, before he finally “landed in the arms of Rwanda.” (Translated from French to English) 1Key tells us that, while it feels good to be accepted in Rwanda: “…it’s heavy to bear/The weight of knowing that I can no longer put my feet/On the land which has seen me rise because the volcano has erased it.” (Translated from French to English) This is in reference to the 1997 volcano lava flow disaster in Goma, which destroyed his childhood home.

Gêne Aise is wordplay: apart, the two words translate as “discomfort” (Gêne) and “ease” (Aise), while together they become like Genesis. Indeed, 1Key’s personal creation story is defined by such dichotomies, as he attempts to understand the twisted roots of his life history. This is a story of rejection and suffering, of poverty and abuse, of war and peace, and of loss and pain. At the same time, this is a story of perseverance and strength, and of rediscovery. Towards the end of the song, Cassa sings: “Strong like a strong, I keep rolling on (on and on and on).” Meanwhile, 1Key makes reference to rappers who continue to inspire his art, namely: Soprano, Kery James and Tumi Molekane. Like them, 1Key’s poetry is “real” and sometimes sad. In the words of 1Key: “Tumi said to me “It kills you and heals you at the same time”…” (Translated from French to English)

Watch 1Key perform Gene Aise live on the #expericment:

 

 Gene Aise lyrics

Gene Aise ft. Cassa & Samy Kamanzi [Track 9 on Entre 2 album, 2015]

Prod. Samy Kamanzi (France), in collaboration with Dustville Studio, Kampala and Cassa (Canada); English, French, Kiswahili.

Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long
I’m gonna let it all go through this song I’m gonna let it all go through this song
1key: S’il y a du silence entre mes fous rires 1key: If there is silence between my laughter
De l’absence de joie dans mon sourire An absence of joy in my smile
C’est parce que mon historie est inédite That is because my story remains untold
Samy: Usiku na mchana najificha Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi sema There is so much I cannot say
Ukiona nacheka usizani ni furaha If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
1key: Ce soir il y aura pas de métaphore dans mes vers 1key: Tonight there will be no metaphors in my verses
Je sors de ma zone de confort vous parler à coeur ouvert I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to talk to you with an open heart
Hayaya yoyoooo Hayaya yoyoooo
[Verse 1: 1Key] [Verse 1: 1Key] 
Je suis comme tout artiste, mon art vient d’un vide I’m just like any artist; my art comes from an empty place
Mon gouffre de je le remplis de vers de poésie I fill my void with verses of poetry
Ivre de melancolie, comme soprano j’en deviens accro aussi Drunk on melancholy, I get addicted to it like Soprano
Oui je pratique un art triste, réel comme Kery Yes I practice a sad art, real as Kery
Tumi m’a dit “Il te tue et à la fois te guérit” Tumi said to me “It kills you and heals you at the same time”
Voici donc une session de thérapie pour le meilleur et le pire Here, therefore, is a therapy session for the best and for the worst
Je suis né à l’exil au pays de mon père I was born in exile in my father’s country
Une partie de moi a hérité la terre de l’autre du même master A part of me inherited the land of the other from the same master
Quand les voisins de mon grand-père égorgeaient ses frères  When my grandfather’s neighbours were slaughtering his brothers
Il s’est réfugié sur cette terre qui appartenait aux siens plus tôt He found asylum in this land which belonged to his father before
C’est compliqué mais bref je suis né entre l’enclume et le marteau It is complicated but brief, I was born between the anvil and the hammer
Dans cette région de grands lacs connus pour le sang qui y coule In this region of the Great Lakes known for the blood that flows
Entre deux grand pays, un connu pour son génocide et sa bravoure Between two large countries, one known for genocide and its bravery
L’autre pour sa taille, ses richesses et ses guerres interminables The other for its size, its riches and its endless wars
Les deux se haïssent, certainement pour des raisons minables The two hate each other, certainly for minor reasons
Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long Cassa: I’ve been holding in for too long
I’m gonna let it all go through this song I’m gonna let it all go through this song
1key: S’il y a du silence entre mes fous rires 1key: If there is silence between my laughter
De l’absence de joie dans mon sourire An absence of joy in my smile
C’est parce que mon historie est inédite That is because my story remains untold
Samy: Usiku na mchana najificha Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi sema There is so much I cannot say
Ukiona nacheka usizani ni furaha

 

If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
Hayaya yoyoooo Hayaya yoyoooo
[Verse 2: 1key] [Verse 2: 1key]
J’ai vu le jour entre la haine et l’amour I was born between hate and love
Derrière cette petite maison enduite de crépi rouge Behind this small house coated with red plaster
En 92, moins de 12 ans deja In ‘92, before I was 12 years old
Je subissais le traitement du cafard I received the treatment of the cockroach
A cette école de planches près de l’aéroport de Goma

 

At this school of planks near Goma’s airport
Rejeté du Kivu, 3 ans à Brazza Rejected from Kivu, 3 years in Brazzaville
De kin, j’ai atterri dans les bras du Rwanda From Kin I landed in the arms of Rwanda
Ses collines m’ont accueilli avec du lait caillé Its hills welcomed me with milk curd
Des sourires jusqu’aux oreilles et Nkundamahoro comme cahier Big smiles and Nkundamahoro as note books[1]
Je dois l’dire, ça soulage de se sentir accepté I have to say it feels good to be accepted
Mais en même temps c’est lourd de porter But at the same time it’s heavy to bear
Le poids de savior que je ne peux plus remettre les pieds The weight of knowing that I can no longer put my feet
Sur la terre qui m’a vu naitre car le volcan l’a efface On the land which has seen me rise because the volcano has erased it
[Verse 3: Cassa] [Verse 3: Cassa]
Let go of what you think you know Let go of what you think you know
You got no idea about where I come from You got no idea about where I come from
My hometown’s been erased by a volcano My hometown’s been erased by a volcano
I coulda be homeless but I said “no no no” I coulda be homeless but I said “no no no”
Wherever I lay my head, that’s my home (home home home) Wherever I lay my head, that’s my home (home home home)
Strong like a stone, I keep rolling on (on and on and on) Strong like a stone, I keep rolling on (on and on and on)
(X 2) (X 2)
Samy: Usiku na mcana najifica Samy: I hide myself day and night
Mambo mengi siwezi semaa There is so much I cannot say
Mikiona naceka usizani ni furaha If you see me laughing don’t assume I’m happy
Hayaya yoyooo… Hayaya yoyooo…

[1] Nkunda amahoro (“I love peace”)

Divider

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

join the discussion:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: