It’s impossible to tell the story of Blue Marble Dreams without talking about the effervescent, inspirational Odile Gakire Katese, deputy director in charge of artistic activities at the University Centre for Arts and Drama of the National University of Rwanda and, in her own words, “professional dreamer”.
Odile – better known as Kiki – says that her job is to “fill the cultural gaps in Rwanda”, a country which has no national arts festival and few institutions to train and develop artists, actors, writers and musicians. It was in working towards this goal that she came to found the all-women drumming group of Ingoma Nshya.
“In the past we worked mainly with students, but we wanted to reach other people too, especially people who had the time to devote to something new,” she says. “The answer was women - poor women especially, and the activity that really took off was drumming. The first time they touched the drums they wanted to do it again. They didn’t need any encouragement.
“In the beginning it was just an activity. We didn’t know what effect it would have, but immediately it became more than just drumming. I think it has given the women a reason to get up in the morning. It offers relief from normal life, an escape from problems. When we’re drumming we can make mistakes. We are free.
“I told them that what they give to the drum, it will give back. If they show commitment, if they show generosity, this is what the drum will return to them. I also told them that the future would be bright – but I couldn’t promise. I could only pray. I could only tell them that this was our chance to write a new page in the history of Rwanda, because drumming has always been for men. We are the first women. Anyone else, they come after us. For us, drumming would be worth it, if only for the sake of our writing our names in history.”
But the formation of Ingoma Nshya in July 2004 led to far more than that. First there were the tours, to Senegal and to the Netherlands. The group attracted the attention even of Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and launched Rwanda’s first ever national drum festival. For Kiki, however, there was more to aim for: she wanted to help the group do something that would support them not just emotionally, but financially, too. She dreamt of a shop, something the women could launch and run for themselves – and then, in 2008, came the fateful meeting with Jennie and Alexis at Sundance Theatre Lab in Utah.
“Blue Marble provided ice cream for the workshop, and so I approached Jennie to find out what was involved with setting up a shop, to find out how far away we were from doing it in Butare,” says Kiki. “I was only asking, not putting on pressure – but it was Jennie who straight away believed. And by the time I left Utah it was all decided: we would bring the taste of sweetness to the people of Rwanda.”
Two years later, the dream is almost a reality and, Kiki says, it’s a strange feeling. “It’s not a dream any more – I’ll have to find another one! But it feels really great. To read what Marie-Louise said here on this blog… to see the women speaking English… I’m really moved.
“When we started they didn’t have confidence in themselves. They didn’t have hope or faith, and without these, how can you live?
“Now they believe – and not just in me. I didn’t do the work; they did. Not the men, not their husbands. Now they know that if you work, you have success. Now they know that even if their ideas are crazy, they can commit their work, their time, their imaginations, and then anything is possible.
“I hope this is just the beginning. I hope they will open many Inzozi Nzizas across all the provinces of Rwanda. There are still dreams to be had, still possibilities to explore. This could be just the first step. It doesn’t hurt to dream. Even if the dream doesn’t come true, it can be the start of many beautiful things.”