we arrived in kigali and the city was abuzz with a performance by a miseducated beauty and the promise of renewing kagame’s promise. each time i’m in rwanda, i’m certain the the hills and valleys are breathing deeply – first sucking in bitter cassava leaf truths then spitting out strength and survival. this trip marked my first visit home since my father’s passing and i was longing for those ancestral hills of mine to whisper more directives – although i was not sure what exactly i was waiting to hear.
oh, how i miss him. a lover of live music and the outdoors, he would have enjoyed our bonfire-lit garden concert at kifaru art studios in nairobi. that was, afterall, the city where my parents met. and so between rubbing elbows with east africa’s art cognoscenti, between almost being car-jacked in the upscale, forest-like neighborhood of karen, between a wee-hour drop-it-like-it’s-hot group dance session in the city’s seedy but staple nightclub known as florida, between sightseeing with kenyan hip-hop artist octopizzo who started a children’s art center in africa’s largest slum, between eating the most amazing brazilian food ever, i saw them. i saw my parents walking the streets of newly-independent 1960′s nairobi. my mother in her miniskirts, my father in full beard and british neckties. i often found myself juxtaposing my east africa to what i believe theirs must have been as young adults.
constantly zipping across the region on this tour enabled me to admire the contrasting rhythm and personalities of the three cities my parents once called home. as new yorkers, the band felt most comfortable in nairobi – a city that swaddles itself in a cosmopolitan self-confidence that aches of the late 90′s black brooklyn bohemian beauty. just next door, kampala charges through each tropical day with a nature that is at once charming and industrious. kigali, on the other hand, seems to grow newer with age as it brims with ideas, initiatives, and nationalist action. in each city, i came back to the same questions about what my east africa would be and is. most of those questions negotiating my relationship to the region in both spiritual and musical terms. most of those questions suspending themselves only once i stepped on stage to perform.
on our last evening, i went to say goodbye to my 93-year old grandmother. as she always does, she asked about every single one of her 20 or so grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in the states and told me to greet each one of them for her. there was a picture of my father on her bedside table and the smell of pineapples and menthol in the air. there were no whispering hills in the ugandan dusk, only a chorus of tree frogs and hungry mosquitoes. my grandmother’s message to me was unchanging and clear: pray, love, and be thankful. perhaps those were the simple directives i’d been longing to hear in the hills all along.