Blues from Rwanda and Canada: Gakondo

The swirl of color, the laughter of the people, the vibrant sounds and smells and tastes of a gathering in central Africa: all these come to life in the opening track of the album Gakondo. It is also the title track, a word that means traditions or origins in the language of Rwanda.

That language, Kinyarwanda, is the native language of Jacques Murigande, who makes music under the name Mighty Popo. Resident now in Canada, Popo honors his African roots while drawing in aspects of the diaspora those roots have reached, for a style he has called world blues. For this project, which has received a Juno nomination for best world music album in Canada, Popo chose to focus on his African roots, collecting and writing songs in Kinyarwanda, from ancient tales passed down through generations to a newly composed piece celebrating his love for both Rwanda and Canada.

Whatever sort of American blues you know, be that Piedmont ot Delta or Chicago or those of rooted in another part of North American history, you’ll find resonances and connections in the music Mighty Popo offers here. It holds a distinctly African presence, too, from the language to the rhythms to the instruments, which include Popo’s own handmade gourd guitar and the inaga, an instrument shaped like a shallow bowl which has a single gut string woven back and forth across it, creating nine or more strings with a sound that holds elements of both melody and percussion.

The songs on Gakondo speak of family, of heritage, of place. There is a lament for the genocide which has scared this history of Rwanda, and a celebration of the ancestors who have made Popo’s journey possible as well as songs which focus on bravery, empowerment, and the lives of great men and women. The ten song collection ends, appropriately enough with Rwampunga, a song of welcome.

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