We have been writing about the Kigali Street Kidz album project on and off for a while now. Luckily, we were able to finish it completely in our final week at the centre. To sum it up, many boys at the centre have formed their own R&B, Hip Hop and Gospel groups, some of which have been together since their days on the streets. These boys write and sing their own songs about their past lives in hell, but they always have a message of hope as well. Unfortunately, they mostly only sing in Kinyarwanda, so the messages are lost on Western listeners like myself, but the impact of seeing an eight-year-old rhyming fearlessly with an ice-cold stare is enough to communicate the gravity of what they are singing about. The message is this, "We have been treated like animals and forced to live in sewers and prisons, but we are looking you dead in the eyes and saying that we are NOT animals. We have hope. We have love. We have each other. We will be something."
Here is how it went down. We made a list of the groups with songs, and I recorded them one at a time in the nearby cowshed with a portable MP3 recorder while they sang to the rhythm of a metronome on my phone. I arranged and posted these vocal recordings on soundcloud. I then sent out a request to every producer/DJ I know asking if anyone could bless these tracks with instrumentals. To my amazement, the response was overwhelming, and before long all the tracks were finished. The final tracks were mastered together as a full album by my sound engineer friend Dave Clayton of Natural Selection Musica. A76 also created a beautiful album cover for the project, combining African styles with traditional Hip Hop flyer styles. Here is a list of all the tracks we made in the end along with producer credits. These producers gave up their own time and offered their talents and creativity to these boys' songs for free, and they can never know the happiness this gave the children. Thank you one and all!
01. ubuzima twabayemo (produced by Cisum) by Gisiment Boys
02. ababana bumuhanda (produced by ash.OK) by True Boys
03. ntawe uzagusimbura (produced by Eric Biondo) by T.Y.J.
04. agaciro kumu nyarwanda URBANADDICTIVE EDIT [produced by Groovem & $Bill (Kind & Kinky Zoo)] by Angel Boys
05. harigihe urukundo rwamwuzuye (produced by J.Kid) by Hope Choir
06. ubuzima mvamo (produced by Clayton & Fulcrum) by Talent Boys
07. king of hip hop (produced by Floor Phantom & Dynamo) by Time Boyz
08. life of street children [produced by Groovem & $Bill (Kind & Kinky Zoo)] by Empire State
09. agashari kumuhanda (produced by Raphael Williams) by Drago & Young Shooter
10. reggae (produced by Dave Clayton) by Lucky
11. harigihe urukundo rwamwuzuye (produced by Floskel) by Hope Choir
12. agaciro kumu nyarwanda [produced by Groovem & $Bill (Kind & Kinky Zoo)] by Angel Boys
13. nya dwight (produced by Young Believers) by Jean Paul
Once the album was complete, I had 130 copies burned here in Kigali by a "guy with a CD burner". The Sulfo Company offered me the use of their photocopier so I was able to print the cover image by A76 and then hand make the 130 sleeves to hold the CDs myself by cutting and glueing them at home.
As a surprise, we handed out the album to every single boy at the centre, as well as every member of staff, on my last day there. It filled me with joy to see everyone getting into this. The sight of staff and children listening to their CDs together, proudly singing along, is something that made this entire effort worthwhile.
Dorota, Willy and I also rented some sound equipment and held a song competition for the boys the week before that. Each group preformed their song in front of the entire centre. It was sort of a lip-synching concert, but the microphone worked, so the boys were able to sing overtop of their own songs as they blasted out of the loudspeakers. It was a hilarious and fun event. Ourselves and the staff judged the groups on music, performance and style, while one of the boys, Abdallah, emceed.
The prize for the winners was that I would make a new music video of their song. Well, that footage has already been shot, so stay tuned for the online unveiling in the next couple of weeks.
After the competition was over, the boys were pretty pumped, so we hit them with our final surprise. We had gotten permission from the centre to keep the party going after hours. Willy provided the boys' favorite Kinyarwanda songs with his new laptop, and the speakers thumped into the night. We danced for hours. I have been to many parties and clubs in my days, but I have to tell you, nobody parties like these kids! Music is their doorway to freedom, and they let it all hang loose on the dance floor. At the end of the night Dorota and I were both dripping in sweat and tears.
Below is a short video to sum up the excitement. It is set to a song by the youngest group on the album, True Boys, and now you can download the entire album for free at bretreecordstudio.bandcamp.com.