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“The idea is to create sustainable careers in music… It’s about getting our musicians working every day.” musicians were and they were saying there are none. I think they were saying that because they wanted us to record it, it’s a trust thing.” But it revealed a deeper truth: that Rwandan musicians don’t know each other because there is no professional circuit. “A lot of the poets and musicians were soldiers, and the traditions were around the royal family and court, the dancing was for the king,” Marshall continues. “Then when colonialism happened and the Christians came in, you got a weird mix, a lot of choirs and people singing English or German or French Christian songs.” Performances are rare, copyright law has only just come into existence and Rwandan musicians tend to work in isolation. Marshall cites the example of Jean Bosco, “a young rapper and traditional artist by trade, amazing dancer and singer, but he barely scrapes by, his family are chucked out of their home every month. There’s prestige in it, but no money.” Bosco is now experimenting with beats, loops and samples, and is one of the artists under the wing of Marshall’s Rafiki Records label, formed to release the re-recorded album by Solace Gospel Choir last year. “The idea is to create sustainable careers in music,” Marshall explains, puffing on a roll-up and sipping his coffee outside a Borough Market restaurant. He’s in London for a memorial service at nearby Southwark Cathedral, commemorating the genocide in which up to one million Tutsis were murdered by Hutus in little more than 100 days. Dicken was invited by the Rwandan Embassy, with whom he now deals a lot of the time ( just as our conversation ends, he spies a handful of embassy officials at a neighbouring table and goes over to say hello), along with the British Foreign Office. He frequently ducks behind the measured tones of the diplomat. Asked if the current government is Tutsi-dominated, he responds, “I don’t get political in interviews, just because of the nature of what I do.” Later he explains that “even using the words ‘Tutsi’, ‘Hutu’ and ‘Twa’ [who form one per cent of the population, and are traditionally the king’s courtiers] isn’t done in Rwanda.” Some elephants in the room are best left unmentioned. What was intended to be a project that stretched over a few weeks has now blossomed into something nearer

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full-time work for Marshall, himself a musician with one album soundtrack (British action thriller Travellers) to his name. He spent much of 2009 in Rwanda and will soon return for another six-month stint. “It’s about getting our musicians working every day,” Marshall explains. “We’ve just built a new studio for them to be able to work every day, to create that hub. The idea is to get them working together and trying new things, not just traditional music but how it relates to other music too. First we document what they do, then we look at what they want to do next and how we can incorporate it. So it’s preserving what’s there, but also [forging] associations with Western artists.” This is an important part of the Marshall plan. Although the just-released Rafiki Sampler seems relatively traditional in scope – with the mesmerising inanga playing of Sophie Nzayisenja, tribal drumming of EAC Troop and African reggae of Jah Doves – Marshall dislikes the preservedin-aspic element of – and even the very term – ‘world music’. Nzayisenja has already worked with New York jazz musicians, and Marshall is eyeing up Western festivals as a means to spread the word. But with the record industry in meltdown in developed territories, he’s under no illusions about the riches to be found in Rwanda. “The way things are going it’s not going to be hugely lucrative anyway, but we’re doing 50-50 deals after costs,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is get the word out, set the standard, even get some competition. We’re looking at management now, putting the roots down over there, but there are certain artists that are applicable for bringing over for the Western market. “Initially we’re looking at sync – TV rights, publishing, film, advertising – that’s a growing industry in Africa,” Marshall adds. “We’re in a unique position in that we can deliver content that we can create to a bespoke brief, deliver all of the publishing and cover the artists for their publishing rights. We want to be a bridge to great African music for other brands in the Western world and the US. It’s something ethical as well, so the brands or creative agencies will go, ‘Oh, look at that’.”

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Fair Trade music – it’s about time www.rafikirecords.com

steve YATES

The Dream Factory  
The Dream Factory  

The Dream Factory

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