8 Spoken Word Poets Breaking Boundaries in Rwanda

Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Naleli Rugege
Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Naleli Rugege | Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Naleli Rugege
Photo of Leah Feiger
20 November 2017

As Rwanda’s arts scene continues to grow, photographers, painters, filmmakers, and poets are making their mark on Kigali. Rwanda has always been a nation with a rich cultural history in poetry and art, but recently, spoken word poetry has experienced a youthful resurgence. Young poets from all over Rwanda participate in a monthly event called Spoken Word Rwanda, where poets hit the stage every last Wednesday of the month at rotating venues. Individuals from all over Kigali attend these events, and poets perform in an assortment of languages, further exemplifying Rwanda’s multicultural and cosmopolitan outlook. Check out some of our favorites, and be inspired by these eight spoken word poets breaking boundaries in Rwanda.

Eric Ngangare

Known as 1Key on stage at Spoken Word Rwanda, Eric Ngangare has been part of the spoken word community since 2011. He has been a full-time artist since 2015, and has performed, taught poetry workshops, and self-published his own words from then on. He noted that Spoken Word Rwanda has been consistent since its inception, and provides much needed entertainment, inspiration, and professional growth. Well known for his performance at the opening of the African Championship Tournament in front of 25,000 people in Kigali’s Amahoro National Stadium, Ngangare has also been invited to perform around the country. He slams his poetry in French, English, and Kinyarwanda, and recent pieces have engaged with issues of marriage, choice, mutual respect, and social injustice.

Eric Ngangare | Courtesy of Eric Ngangare / Kakatshozi

Robert Nkeramugaba

As a writer since 2011, Robert Nkeramugaba has been immersed in Rwanda’s creative scene for many years. Nkeramugaba is a regular performer at Spoken Word Rwanda, and has also been featured at the Kigali Up Festival. His poems include depictions of love, betrayal, perspective, classical art, and abstraction. Though he performs primarily in English, he mixes Kinyarwanda and French into various pieces.

Robert Nkeramugaba | Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Robert Nkeramugaba

Malaika Uwamahoro

Malaika Uwamahoro has been a writer and performer since childhood. She credits Spoken Word Rwanda, and founders Diana Mpyisi and Betty Tushab with providing a platform for artists around the country to collaborate, work, and gain exposure, and before participating in spoken word, she was known throughout the country as an actress, singer, dancer, rapper, and activist that has performed at United Nations and African Union events. Her interest in poetry is directly linked to the opportunity and ability to articulate her own thoughts and experiences. Her work deals with complex topics of rejection, unconditional love, political, and racial issues, and she performs in English, French, and Kinyarwanda.

Malaika Uwamahoro | Courtesy of Malaika Uwamahoro

Kivumbi King

Kivumbi King, known by his stage name Lion King, is a Rwandan poet that has recently joined the Spoken Word family. He began writing songs and poetry as a teenager, and has performed all over Kigali at Spoken Word Rwanda, Transpoesis Poetic Fever, and Kigali Vibrates with Poetry (KVB). King won KVB in 2017, and is looking forward to more shows to come. His words tend to focus on providing voice for the voiceless, as he addresses community violence, judgment, gender inequality, and the pitfalls of religion. Performing in English, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, Kirundi, and Kiswahili, King is a youthful and poetic force to be reckoned with.

Lion King | Courtesy of Lion King

Olivier Tuyisenge

Olivier Tuyisenge has been working professionally in the creative industry since 2014. In addition to slam poetry, Tuyisenge also participates in Gusaba, or traditional Rwandan wedding, ceremonies by performing the “Amazina y’inka.” He has been featured in a series of Rwandan newspapers, and has made appearances on different talk shows and radio stations to promote his poetry and new poetic endeavors. He founded his own poetry show called Ndi Igisigo—Kinyarwanda for “I am a Poem”—in an effort to continue encouraging poetry throughout the country, and he collaborates with other Rwandan poets and creative organizations on the show. As an artist, he has also been involved with Rwandan genocide commemoration events (called Kwibuka) as well as the opening of the popular Great Black Music Exhibition.

Olivier Tuyisenge | Courtesy of Olivier Tuyisenge

Naleli Rugenge

Naleli Rugenge has been a spoken word poet since 2009, and performs her pieces in English. Her work focuses on Africa rising, personal growth, the role of technology, Rwanda’s painful history, and the country’s inspiring way forward, and she is also a singer and songwriter. In addition to Spoken Word Rwanda, she has performed at the Kwibuka genocide commemoration events, alongside other artists at the Imbuto Foundation award ceremonies, at the opening ceremonies of the Africa Nations Cup, and in front of the British High Council.

Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Naleli Rugege | Courtesy of Spoken Word Rwanda / Naleli Rugege

Gildas Niyomukiza

A man of the Spoken Word stage since just 2017, Gildas Niyomukiza has been a long time participator in the traditional Amazina Y’inka. He has performed all over the country, and recently spoke at the National Day of Mother Language at the Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali, as well as at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival, Transpoesis, and other poetry competitions. His work generally addresses topics of forgiveness, the perils of HIV/AIDS, and finding love in solidarity. He generally performs in both Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili.

Natacha Karangwa

This proud Rwandan poet began slamming in 2014. In addition to spoken word in both French and English, Natacha Karangwa also writes sonnets and works on continually promoting spoken word in Rwanda. In addition to the Spoken Word Rwanda stage, she has performed at the Kwibuka genocide commemoration events, the Educated Girls in the Development of Rwanda Campaign, and Kigali Vibrates with Poetry. She mostly focuses on pressing issues of humanity and gospel, and delivers emotionally moving performances.

Natacha Karangwa | Courtesy of Natacha Karangwa

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