The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) provided a platform for artistes and creatives to showcase their talents and skills. You probably saw the spectacular performance at the Commonwealth Youth Forum and Commonwealth Business Forum, featuring young people, sending a message to the leaders.
The performances were curated by none other than Rwandan actress, poetess and singer Malaika Uwamahoro, who also worked alongside UK-based British-Rwandan choreographer Sherrie Silver on CBF’s opening ceremony performance.
Malaika Uwamahoro has been on the big stage for a long time but mostly reciting message-filled poems that move crowds, but curating CHOGM’s performances was a little different as it involved dancing.
The Fordham University educated actress says she got the opportunity to produce the showcase at the Youth Forum from Hope Azeda of Mashirika Performing Arts, a group she was previously a member of.
The idea was to come up with something that rhymes with the theme ‘Taking Charge of our Future’ – something digital and youthful.
“Hope was a little bit overwhelmed with what was going on and she brought me on board as a director for this piece. She basically told me what they were looking for and gave me a license to artistically create and direct the piece.
“I took the brief they had given me, which basically said that they wanted something digital, in line with the theme. They wanted it to be youthful and vibrant,” Uwamahoro tells Weekender.
In her mind, Uwamahoro thought the piece had to be futuristic, which explains the background music you only hear in Sci-fi movies.
She also thought it would be cool to add youth on a ‘spaceship’ which would launch them into the future. However, before launching the spaceship, the young people had a lot of problems they had to first do away with, like climate change, pollution, corruption, limited access to education, malnutrition, mental health and many other challenges today, carried on from generations.
“As a concept, the youth were about to launch us into the future but they met a critical system failure and had to address that problem.
“So I thought to myself that instead of them launching us into the future, they have to address those problems and recognise that even though they inherited these problems and even though they are not necessarily the source of those problems, they have to address and face them,” Uwamahoro says.
The synopsis focused on how young people can come up with solutions before they launch everyone else into a better future.
“The idea really turned out to be fun. I feel like being on a spaceship covered all of the digital aspects in the brief I got because you know, we had a spaceship, we had a space panel, we had a button that was supposed to launch us into it.
“We had images and sounds that were supercool which we made in the studio and all of that really covered the digital aspect of it. In order to cover all of the Commonwealth countries, we had different beats that we had researched as a team and decided to make music with them,” she explains.
In total, they had five tracks representing the Caribbean and the Americas, Pacific Asia, Europe and Africa—the five regions of the Commonwealth and all of them were on different topics.
“It was really fun to make. I loved working on this project because I had a lot of artistic licence to really do whatever I wanted with the wonderful cast that I had. They were super talented and they made it make sense,” Uwamahoro says.
Working with Sherrie Silver
Uwamahoro was contacted by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the events company organising the Commonwealth Business Forum, who informed her that she would be working on a project with Sherrie Silver.
The duo had been in touch, being in the arts industry. Together they started thinking and planning what they wanted to showcase.
“I got in touch with her and we started conceptualising the project. She told me how she wanted to bring different dances and make sure that everybody was represented and felt included in the production that she was directing.
“My part was to read a poem. I also had a brief that I was given, talking about how we want to really move people into action instead of talking about it all the time, and to inspire them to really make those moves and make the necessary connections needed to move past our problems and into a world of solutions.
“Being able to bring together all these cultures and dances, as well as poetry that could tell the story, was really amazing,” the poet says.
Behind the scenes
It was not an easy task to deliver on such a big stage. The effort, the ideas, the people involved, all required meticulous planning.
“I have to say that both teams included really amazing and talented artists, the type that you’re not usually used to seeing together and I think that was the magic.
“That’s how both performances turned out to be really successful. I feel like when you give a chance to different people to shine, or two different people to come together and collaborate, you’re always going to get something different and amazing,” she says, adding that everyone worked hard.
As a result, Uwamahoro thinks going forward, she will find different people to collaborate with based on what they can bring to the table.
“The behind-the-scenes work was a lot, especially because of the time that we were given to create. We weren’t given much time to come up with these projects even though we’ve been expecting CHOGM for more than two years,” she adds.
“We had like about a month or less to come up with both of these productions and it was a lot of work. It took a lot from the artists too. They had to really bring their all,” she explains.
“We do what we do because we know the impact it can make and because it’s worth it. It’s something that we know that the world needs. Art is healing, art is transformative and inspiring,” the actress adds.
Uwamahoro says that seeing people’s faces beaming and receiving a standing ovation after the two performances shows the impact of the productions.
Also being able to perform in the spaces including Intare Arena and Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village (KCEV) shows that there are many unutilised spaces which creatives should be given a chance to take advantage of.
“I really enjoyed those spaces and I feel like they allow us to do more as artists and I hope that we have more access,” Uwamahoro says.
The actress and poet says she is working on her own productions that should be out soon.