Friday, September 6, 2013

Primus Guma Guma Superstar

            Every year for the past three years, Primus, one of Rwanda’s beers, hosts an American Idol-like music competition called Primus Guma Guma Superstar. “Guma Guma” means “Stay, Stay” in Kinyarwanda, although in this context, it usually means “stay and drink.” Primus selects 10 abastari of the Rwandan music scene to be in the competition every year, and then they perform at concerts all around the country. Rwandans can vote by text for their favorite, and then the top 5 singers advance to the final.

            I’m constantly surrounded by Rwandan music. It streams from shops lining the streets of my village, it blasts from the stereos of buses crammed with people, and it plays from cellphone speakers everywhere. Current Rwandan music often relies heavily on auto-tune, and the singers have some pretty awesome names: King James, Tom Close, Meddy, Kitoko, JayPolly, Super Level, Miss JoJo. The competitors in this year’s Primus Guma Guma Superstar were Mico Prosper, Christopher, Danny, Bulldog, Eric Senderi, Fireman, Riderman, Kamichi, Knowless, Urban Boys, and Dream Boyz.

            I went to my first Primus Guma Guma Superstar (abbreviated to PGGSS) show in Kigali several weeks ago. There were hundreds of (mostly young) Rwandans there. Some carried signs supporting their favorite singer, and vendors sold little bracelets with the names of the abastari on them. Some friends, my brother, and I got into the VIP area, with the perks of free Primus and excellent views of the stage.

           After two months of more concerts around the country, the final concert was held in Kigali on August 10. The competition had been narrowed down to five finalists: Mico, Knowless, Dream Boyz, Urban Boyz, and Riderman. The event was held at Rwanda’s national stadium in Kigali, Stade Amahoro (or “Peace Stadium”). I arrived a little late, and the stadium was packed. It was amazing to see so many Rwandans, who are often somewhat reserved, completely letting loose and enjoying themselves.

         Primus Guma Guma Superstar is always a popular event among Peace Corps volunteers, and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, our good time was marred by a string of thefts at the event—which apparently happened last year as well. This year, two Peace Corps volunteers lost iphones, and two had their wallets stolen. One of my friends was able to track her phone, but when she went to the police station and showed them that she knew where it was, the police demanded that she pay 20,000 francs, and then they refused to leave their office because it was the weekend. Not cool.
        My friend Alex and I headed up to the front near the stage to dance and enjoy the show. At the end of the show, they announced the winners, starting with number 5 to build up the drama. Riderman was eventually crowned the 2013 Primus Guma Guma Superstar, which also earned him 24 million Rwandan francs and some promotion deals. Fireworks went off, some Rwandans threw their cups of beer up in the air in celebration, and a kid next to us actually got down on his knees and thanked God for crowning Riderman the champion. Talk about dedicated fans…

       I was expecting Riderman to play a whole concert after winning the title, but he played one or two songs and then exited stage left. In America, musicians usually play at least one encore, so I thought he’d come back on stage. But nope, he was finished playing for the night, likely due to Kigali’s rather strict noise ordinances (11 pm!). As the stadium began to clear out, I thought about the fact that probably very few people in America (besides the Rwandan diaspora) had ever listened to any of the Rwandan musicians that played in the concert. American music is really popular here, and the students in my clubs know the lyrics to songs by Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Rihanna, and even Dolly Parton (!) by heart (even if they don't always understand what the words mean). American culture can sometimes be a one-way street, exporting our movies, music, and culture to other countries, while their means of cultural expression never reach our eyes or ears.

"Turi Kumwe" means "We are Together" in Kinyarwanda
So in the name of cultural exchange, here’s a small sampling of some popular Rwandan songs for your listening pleasure!* 

Video Footage of Primus Guma Guma Superstar 3:

Rwandan hits:
Kina Music All Stars, "Kanda Amazi":
King James, "Pala Pala":
Kitoko, "Akabuto":
Meddy, "Oya ma":
Riderman, "Bombori Bombori":
Knowless, "Nzabampari"
Urban Boyz, "Kelele" :

And some popular African hits:
P-Square (from Nigeria): "Alingo":
P-Square, "Chop My Money":
Fuse ODG, (British of Ghanaian descent) "Antenna":
Fuse ODG, "Azonto":
Kigoma All-Stars (from Tanzania ), "Leka Dutigite":

*I tried to find videos that were PG rated or just audio. Some are the original music video, some are not; if you want to see the original music videos, I'm sure youtube can help you with that. 

1 comment:

  1. Claire,
    Thanks for posting the music. I really liked "Nzabampari" by Knowless.
    I love reading about your adventures in Rwanda while I'm at work in my cubicle. Now I have some Rwandan music to jam to.