The wait to finally have Belgian music sensation Stromae aka Paul Van Haver, perform in Rwanda, the land of his father, was a long one.
Stromae’s African tour was cancelled on June 13 following medical complications brought on by the anti-malarial drug he took before travelling to the continent. He flew back to Brussels for treatment and was hospitalised.
He had by then performed six of the eight scheduled concerts on his 2015 African tour before he was forced by illness to cut the tour short. He had performed at the Gamboa Festival in the Cape Verdian city of Praia on May 15; in Doula, Cameroon on May 18; Dakar, Senegal on May 19; Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire on May 20; Libreville, Gabon on June 6 and Brazzaville, Congo on June 10.
Then on June 13, the concert in Kinshasa, DR Congo and Kigali on June 16 were cancelled and Stromae flew back to Brussels.
Fast forward to October 16, and the excitement in Kigali was palpable. Stromae was finally “coming home.” It was not by chance that Kigali was the last city on his African tour. He was saving the best for last.
Stromae, born on March 12, 1985, to a Belgian mother and brought up in Laeken, Belgium, is half Rwandan. His father, Pierre Rutare who was later, killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, met his mother in Belgium, and when the musician was still a toddler, he travelled to Rwanda and was killed there.
Stromae however grew up with attachment to Rwanda and later traced his father’s surviving family which included an uncle and several cousins.
As his music career took off, Rwandans considered him their own through his father’s roots. The feeling was mutual.
“I am obviously very pleased to be here, especially with all the health problems I’ve had and the obligatory cancellations. But I am super happy to be here, and it’s weird to see so many faces that look like mine, or rather that I look like. It’s a nice but strange feeling,” he said at his first press conference in Kigali on October 17. He later on during the concert apologised to his fans for the June cancellation.
Despite the well publicised concert, Stromae’s arrival in Kigali was shrouded in secrecy. He arrived at 10pm, but because his handlers didn’t want the press to interview him, he was sneaked out in an ambulance to throw off the journalists who waited from 11pm to 2am before they were told he had already left for the Hotel de Mille Collines where he was staying. The hotel was out of bounds to journalists.
Even worse, at the concert venue, to the dismay of journalists, the VIP entrance was reserved only for those in Stromae’s close circle, and journalists were forced to scramble with the general public to get into the venue.
The general timing of his appearances — the press conference during the day and the actual performance — were delayed, which initially put off concert goers.
However, his performance redeemed all that. The dance arena was filled with fans who sang along and danced to every song.
According to Derry Mugema, 16, he has always been eager to see an international star with Rwandan roots perform live, and Stromae made him so proud to be Rwandan, “I am a fan and although he cancelled his earlier scheduled concert in June, I am so glad he finally made it. I am happy to see someone with Rwandan roots succeed internationally.”
Kayitare Dylan, 10, said, “I have watched Stromae on TV so many times and this makes me so happy to be here and finally see him performing live.”
Stromae’s fan base is basically the young and tech savvy, and older music lovers, who all danced the night away in the well-lit arena as the Belgian star performed on the state-of-the-art stage.
The concert featured no local musician as a curtain raiser as is the tradition with most international music concerts. Stromae, who has mastered his musical art from beats, word play and good lighting, performed non-stop from 8:38pm to 10:27pm with a series of songs, theatrical performances and dances that showed his African roots.
The interplay between his band and dancers, combined with his on-stage dance antics made some of the concert goers declare his one of the best concerts ever held in Kigali. Kigali hosts a number of international concerts annually.
Among prominent people who attended the concert was the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeanette Kagame, along with the who’s who of the Kigali entertainment scene; even Kenya’s Sauti Sol came to pay homage.
The concert was also thronged by lovers of good music and art from around the region who paid Rwf2,000 for regular tickets, Rwf10,000 for silver, Rwf30,000 for gold and Rwf100,000 for platinum VVIP tickets. The crown was estimated at about 20,000 people.
Stromae was born and lives in Belgium, sings in French and is a household name in Western Europe, but in Africa he is hardly known outside Francophone countries. But by default he is well-known in Rwanda and his fans showed their allegiance by turning out for the concert in hand-made bow ties just like the ones the musician likes to wear, in homage to the icon.
Interestingly on June 9, a day before his concert in Brazzaville, Congo, Stromae had the chance to meet some local “sapeurs.” These Congolese dandies style is one of the inspirations of his personal style. Coralie Barbier, designer of Mosaert’s clothing line, has also mentioned being inspired by Congolese “sape” for Mosaert’s pieces, which Stromae wears regularly.
Some concert goers also painted their faces in the Belgian flag colours, carried banners that professed their love for the musician and placards with his caricature and his stage name; Stro and Mae (from the word Maestro, reversed).
The concert was more of social event than just a music event with a lot of roast meat being sold in stands as concert goers enjoyed either beer or soda.
The concert venue was the stadium at Independent University of Kigali and the gates were open from 4pm, but many people began arriving at 5pm.
According to Sheilagh Neilson, director of British Council Rwanda, who attended the concert, “It was a little bit difficult getting to the venue but eventually we got there and got parking. At first we were worried about the organisation of the event especially when a friend who got there earlier told us the stadium was empty. But when we got in, it was filling up fast and there was a good atmosphere. It was generally a good ambience, even though I don’t know Stromae really well, I liked his stage performance, the art, the music and the acting, I think he is an all-round performer. It was a good feel in the audience and that’s the main thing when it comes to good fun and music.”
Yohann, 40, said that it was the best concert he had ever attended in a long time and he loved every bit of it.
The whole artistic vibe was quite vivid till the end when he sang his vote of thanks to the audience, and an impromptu a cappella to serve as an encore to close the show. He then acted out the switching off of the lights as he reminded the audience who wanted to stay longer that it was getting late.
And much to the disappointment of the young ladies in attendance who were shouting out their love for him, he announced that he has a girlfriend.
In the weeks preceding the concert, the tickets were sold out and the organisers had to have another batch printed. It is reported that 50 per cent of the sale of platinum (VVIP) tickets by Solid’Africa, a charity in Rwanda that offers hospital beds and food supplies to some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities, would go back to them in order to support the most vulnerable patients.
Before Stromae’s arrival in Rwanda, Twitter was abuzz with the hashtag #StromaeKigali trending. His music combines a mash up of hip-hop, euro dance, Cuban son and Congolese rhumba to give a rich blend.
This was Stromae’s second visit to Rwanda; the first time, he came as a 5-year old. His view then, he said during his press conference, was through European eyes and wasn’t so clear then as it is now.
“It is fate that we have ended the tour here in Kigali, and I’m very happy about it as it is very important for me to come to my home country.”
“Rwanda’s son” as Stromae is fondly referred to in Rwanda, at times showed raw emotions in his performance. At one time he broke down in tears while singing Te Quiero, and after singing his YouTube video that went viral, Papaoutai. He repeatedly thanked his deceased father in what seemed to be heartfelt feelings of relief and love at the same time.
His mother, Marie Miranda Van Haver, attended the show in solidarity with her son and also appeared at the press conference. He also expressed familial love by thanking his Rwandan extended family on stage. He also mentioned that his brothers from his mother’s side were also part of his entourage.
Stromae has a Rwanda half-brother from his father, named Cyusa Ibrahim.
After the concert, he was due to meet up with members of his father’s extended family who live in Rwanda, and visit the genocide memorial in honour of his father and all those who died in the genocide.