I thought my Wednesday evening was going to turn into to a quiet night until the house Mama called me from the guesthouse living room to tell me that I had a visitor. Dj Sego was waiting for me in the back of the house wearing a New York Yankees symbol on a green army camouflage cap and a nice leather jacket. He embraced me like most Rwandese people do, with a handshake that may seem obnoxiously cool inAmerica, but felt warm and culturally natural in Africa. He told me that earlier in the day, he had videotaped his childhood friend Johnny Estar for a Swahillian music video. He told me that the tape was at his studio in downtown Gisenyi and he invited me to accompany him to his home to watch the “EEmages,” with Johnn Estar before they would edit the movies on his computer the next day.
I told my Rwandasquad friends that I would be back in an hour and I walked with Johnny Estar and Sego down the pitch dark town road as little children walked by shouting, “Mizungo, Mizungo” (Kirwandan for “White person, White person.”). During the walk I talked more to Johnny and learned more about his life. He was born in Gisenyi, but left after he was made an orphan by the genocide and moved to Kigali. He received high marks in his classes so he received full scholarship to the National University in Butare. He said that his “God given gift” is to learn languages as he taught himself to be fluent in nine languages- Swahili, Kirawandan, Lembo, Mabiri, French, Spanish, English, Italian and German
So walking along the dusty downtown road, we took a left into a side street which Sego proudly told me was his neighborhood. All the houses on the street were made of cement and had rusty metal roofs with an old squeaky guarding their front yard area. InPhiladelphia, if I entered this part of town, I would immediately be overcome by fear, but here in Rwanda, I did not feel threatened, but more welcome than when I walk into the lobby of my 45 floor apartment building.
I entered Sego’s home, which I can only describe as entering a villa type setting with the house shaped like an open square with a patio in the middle. In Italy, this villa may have a fountain with a classical fountain, but here in Gisenyi, three goats and a chicken coup. He pushed aside the tapestry that hung over the door frame, smiled and ask me to come in. I slipped by Sego, said, “Murokuzeh” (“thank you”) and sat down on a couch in the living room. The walls were decorated with two calendars with Islamic photography on it and a large poster of Mecca. His mother, hunched over, wearing her traditional Conga (a type of wrap that can be made into a dress) came out and greeted us with a traditional greeting of 3 alternating kisses on the cheek.
I sat down and someone helping Johnny Estar’s band Estamiento produce and market music came over carrying a video camera used to shoot earlier today. They hooked the camera to the 10 inch Magnovox TV set and pressed play. A very sophisticated percussion rhythm before the guitar part and the camera zoomed into Johnny sitting beside a tree singing to his music. It was one of many shots that were to be for the video after the editing process and after hearing the song for a second time in other video clips, I became more and more intrigued by the song. In one video clip, they had to cut because Johnny broke down into tears in the passion of his Swahili lyrics. He pressed pause on the video camera and told me that many of his songs are about children’s rights and it is sometimes hard for him to remain composed when performing his songs.
I sat in his living room as several children would creep in sneak right up and sit right next to me on the floor. An eight year old girl came in carrying her, what appeared to be her seven month old brother. I asked if I can hold the baby and I bounced him on my lap for 30 minutes as he became infatuated with the texture of my beard. In this natural living environment, I was able to witness the gender imbalance in the culture very vividly as the women were basically not aloud to sit in a chair in the room if a man did not have a seat. Several times through the viewing, some men would come by either to see the Mizungo or the “EEmages” showing on the television. If Sego’s sister or mother of the house was sitting, they would immediately get up and allow the men to sit down.
After a goat let out a baaahhhh, I saw all the footage that they shot and I head back to my guesthouse, shoulder to shoulder with Johhny Estar and Sego and we talked about his dreams of becoming internationally respected and invited me to be in his next hip-hop video. When I told him about the awkwardness of a short Jewish boy appearing in a rap video, he scolded me and told me flatly, “My music is to unite people. To show that even though our skin is of a different color, we are really just the same.”