Ubumuntu Arts Festival returns with more flavour and variety

Hilde Cannoodt is a dancer, choreographer and teacher from Belgium. She made her maiden trip to Rwanda last year, to participate in the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

Together with Tjarda Van Straten, a friend and fellow choreographer/teacher from the Netherlands, the two created a dance piece in collaboration with Rwandan artistes, which they presented at the festival.

This year, Cannoodt is back in the country as part of the foreign cast for the 3rd edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival that opens at the Kigali Genocide Memorial outdoor amphitheater on July 14.

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The two are performing a rendition of Viateur Kabarira’s “Abandi imana zirabaha”. Courtesy

The three-day festival will run till July 16.

“While I was here last year, I saw many traditional Rwandan dances,” Cannoodt explains the reason for her latest visit.

“When I was watching the female dancers I was so inspired because it felt like even though it wasn’t the way I danced, there was something in the aesthetics of the movement –the way it was so fluid and feminine, and at the same time also very strong and rhythmical. It really reminded me of my own belly dance which I have been studying for the last twenty years.”

As a dancer, Cannoodt loves to combine belly dance with other styles of dance, “so when I was seeing the Rwandan dancers I thought this would really compliment the dance style that I do.

So, I wanted to come back and have a few collaborations. One of them with some traditional dancers to learn their movements, and for them to learn my movements, and to create a combination of movements that work as a whole.”

Her other objective was to do her belly dance to the backdrop of traditional Rwandan music.

“When I was searching for suitable Rwandan musicians for this, that’s when I met Deo Munyakazi and by coincidence Munyakazi just contacted me while I was looking for him. He sent me some of his videos and I knew it was the exact thing I was looking for.”

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Actors at a past Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali.

The two are currently in rehearsals for their collaboration. It features Munyakazi on the inanga, singing a classic Rwandan folk song, Abandi imana zirabaha by the late inanga maestro, Viateur Kabarira, while Cannoodt dances to it.

“It’s a very old folk song Munyakazi sent to me and I just fell in love with it. For weeks, I was dancing to it in my room and trying to find what the essence of this song is and which movements would work with it. There was sweetness, a contentedness and happiness to it that I wanted to express in my movements,” she explained.

“This is a thanksgiving song to thank God for the many things he has given us –food, children, beautiful wives beautiful cows,” added Munyakazi.

“I love this song. It’s rhythmical and it inspires and helps me because when you’re doing Inanga music, you try to imitate old songs to find your original touch. It helps my fingers to get familiar with the strings.”

The piece will be performed as part of the festival, but the two are also working on some other future projects already.

“This time it’s a very short performance of about ten minutes. We want to work on a longer set when I come back in November for the East African Nights of Tolerance (EANT) dance festival in November,” Cannoodt further revealed.

On day two of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival (Saturday July 15), Cannoodt will also stage a solo piece on the festival stage, which she says will be a combination of contemporary with belly dance.