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Michael Ormsby, Rwanda
Michael Ormsby

Blak Blu Zungu

Rwanda Blues Band

"What does 'Voodoo Rock' mean, on your posters?"

I tell him I have no idea, I just made it up. He looks confused. "If you want to know, come hear us play next week?" I open my battered gig bag. He watches, thinking: These muzungus, they're weird. He wanders out, leaving me alone with the bored waiters in Club Mango. It's empty, gloomy.

I sit onstage, tune my two beat-up Telecasters then crank up my new Fender amp, shipped from the States. It farts like a young bison. I don't yet understand the Drive channel. I twiddle the chicken heads. Better already.

Another Rwandan wanders in, calls "Hey Muzungu" in my direction and shuffles to the bar. Muzungu means white, in the local language. Our band - Blak Blu Zungu - is a play on words. Black guys + white guys + blues. Some folks get it.

September 2003, I asked Mango's hip owner, Albert, if I could have Thursday nights. To play blues, classic soul for the ex-pats. "I want to start a band. There's a gap in the market" I said. 'Stax groove?' he asked. "You bet. I got Cleve on vocals and I'm chasing horns"

Our first gig was December: ram-jam full. Ex-pats and locals. Word of mouth and emails. Kigali is like that, news spreads fast. Like in 1994, when FM radio told people to kill their neighbours. 800,000 were slaughtered with machetes in 100 days. The Land of a Thousand Hills is still traumatized. Except now it's the Land of A Thousand Consultants.

In January, we sold out. 200 souls @ $2 a head, dancing their mojos off. Musicians jumping all over, sweat oozing down the walls. The bar ran dry, two gigs running. Now we're preparing for our third show. The band is getting tight, confident.

They dribble in...... Lambert the high-flyin' Dutch diplomat carrying his sax. Tim the British Customs advisor, trumpet. Marc the Belgian UN staffer, pump-action bass. Papy on keyboards, the best local around. Joannita from Uganda, a young Aretha, all stilettos and Kampala cool. Drummer DJ, bruised from a spat with the local militia. Sonny Boy the Rwandan-Belgian ex-detective, who hunts 'genocidaires' for the International Criminal Tribunal. Never talks about it, but blows a harp like he's on Death Row. Finally Cleve, the hardest working Pastor in showbiz, our very own Otis. He's a Jamaican-Canadian with a Sunday chapel of a hundred bedraggled genocide survivors, getting by.

"We can't play April 1", he says, tapping a lifeless microphone, "it's Genocide Commemoration Week. Tenth Anniversary". "But I checked the dates?" I offer, confused. That's what journalists do. "You checked wrong" he says, unbuttoning his tie. We all exchange looks. Cleve scratched his head, concerned. "Plus, we can't put 'Voodoo Rock' on our posters. Every Sunday I tell my congregation not to dabble in voodoo. You know what they said to me last week? "But yoo-doo"

We fall about laughing. Then there's a power cut. And it starts raining through the roof.

By Michael Ormsby, Rwanda

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