Gakondo (Borealis Records BCD210, 2011)
Rwandan guitarist and vocalist Popo Murigande (better known as Mighty Popo) is part of a thriving African blues scene in Canada. His new album, titled Gakondo, maintains the blues flame alive while at the same time it is an acoustic music return to Popo’s Rwandan roots. These roots include Intwatwa songs of the Batwa, the rhythms of the Bahutu and Batutsi pastoral melodies. Gakondo honors ancient songs and poems that express the story of the Rwandan civilization.
Popo spent many months investigating the origins and the combination of these Rwandan sounds, working with traditional musicians and learning about the rich poetry of the Royal Court or “Ibwami.” Popo also researched instruments like the inanga, with its shallow bowl carved out of wood and a single gut string woven back and forth across it, creating nine or more strings.
On the title track “Gakondo,” Popo traces his family’s ties to the Abiru, the high priests of ancient Rwanda, and keepers of the dynastic codes.
Other pieces, such as “Kamananga,” “Impunga,” “Impangaza,” “Uw’ibuhoro” and “Nibarize,” mimic inanga melodies on his guitar. On “Nibarize” Popo sings in the ancient, now defunct Rwandan whispering style.
Traditional songs are also part of Gakondo. Popo brings back the songs of praise for the achievements of kings along as well as themes of love and loss.
Mighty Popo wrote the lyrics exclusively in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s only indigenous language. The line-up on the album includes Popo Murigande on: guitar, lead vocal, percussion; Kofi Ackah on cajon, tama, congas, shakers, bodhran; Aron Niyitunga on guitar; Doug Cox on slide guitar; John Reischman on mandolin; Vince Halhide on slide guitar; Degaule Mbyayingango, Thierry Kijanya, and Jean-Paul Rufahusha on background vocals; Nyabyenda Dona on Ingoma drum, bells, background vocals and Kinyanrwanda rap.
The phenomenal Gakondo is a deep and insightful album that uncovers the rich traditions of the peoples of Rwanda.