pain and moving forward: rwanda and Gaël faye

Only twenty seven years after the Rwandan genocide, the country continues to heal and move past this historic tragedy. This painful historic background has not deterred the region to realize its resiliency and channeling the strength it needed to collectively heal. A peaceful country with progressive ideals, “The Heart of Africa” as it is known, navigates through the twenty first century with ideas of hope, reconciliation, and new beginnings. While healing is a process, art and music are natural mechanisms to navigate complex feelings and a more prosperous future. Whether it is addressing individual trauma or the challenges of a nation, some of these themes can be explored in some artists’ music.

Note: Not all artists explore these themes, there is a complex array of themes that fit under Rwandan music. It's not about where you're from, it's what you're about.

One musician who uses his artistic will to discuss these themes is Gaël Faye. Gaël Faye is a Rwandan-French musical artist, born in Burundi to a French father and Rwandan mother, emigrating to France when he was 13 years old to escape the Burundi civil war. Since then, he has released an array of music as well as published a novel, Small Country, a semi-biographical book. The book is now a bestseller in France, his current country of residence, and has won multiple literary awards. His passions of creating art in all forms even manifests in working with children, as he works with children to overcome their circumstances and make music – such as Romani children living in a camp in France. He describes the themes of his work as navigating his childhood, exile, Burundi, and Rwanda. For this artist it appears that the ideas of strength, resilience, and internal emotion are what moves his work. 

One of his most recent songs, Kerozen, appears to navigate these themes through a calming rhythm, skillful diction, and calm delivery. As he states in a previous interview, he feels that with rap, many listeners solely focus on the music itself rather than the message behind it – eliminating further examination into his lyrics. As he channels his story into his literature and finds solace, he still utilizes his music to express his narrative. Kerozen is a prime example of his feelings told through his artistry and a song that listeners should examine beyond its smooth instrumentalism. Faye speaks of exile, police brutality, and hope he allows his calm, collected diction to wash over the smooth beats and simple yet catchy instrumental to highlight his words. In the song he speaks of “kerozen dreams,” which can symbolize great influence coming your way in a life you may not be able to control. He mentions some of these anxieties as he describes “Officer badges/ On the ground, our silhouettes in chalk,” and “the siren song.” As he uses imagery of oceans, cement, and tinted windows, he conveys feelings of anxiety and entrapment while still looking out to a possible better future. He speaks to his intended that he would like to escape, invent exiles, and a land ridden of worry. The music video parallels the song beautifully as the artist uses blue lights and cool-toned imagery to convey his calmness as he shows striking images of police, chalk silhouettes of bloody bodies, the aftermath of violence and frozen bodies as he and his lover pass all of them – running away. 

As they attempt to escape, the video illustrates the feelings of entrapment through water, still motion, and violence as they attempt to move around it. While the video opens with images of the aftermath and “during” of a riot after police brutality, officers shooting ruthlessly, and a couple running hand in hand, the most striking moment is at the end. The viewer finds themselves rooting for the couple as they attempt to surpass the violence, trying to escape but finds themself disheartened when the artist reveals that the couple were the ones who were shot. The police were shooting at the couple, who were the bodies outlined by the chalk silhouette. Gaël is the only one who rises, walking towards the camera at the end. Perhaps this means that the escape entails much more than individual action.

May this be a lesson we all carry in 2021. The world needs it.

Gael Faye:

Kerozen music video,



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