Ezra Kwizera Brings Africa

At first I was unsure about this singer, he had a smoky rough voice­–the kind my mother loves, but I don’t find appealing. Personal taste. As he kept singing though, the music’s lively beat began to catch hold of my limbs. In the beginning, Ezra Kwizera seemed detached from his singing. He stood quite still, his expression lax. Then after two songs he woke up. He began shifting his weight left and right, then his hips and guitar.  Four songs in he set his guitar gently in its stand and, turning to the audience with a cheerful gleam in his eyes, he energetically motioned for them to stand. His friendly invitation found purchase in the eager audience and with a cheer they bounced out of their seats. We had caught the music bug.

Kwizera had his audience moving in their seats, then dancing in the rows of the Clock Tower Alumni Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 28 with his musical combination of traditional reggae, soca and African dance hall.

Audience members raised their fists as they sang alongside Ezra Kwizera.
Audience members raised their fists as they sang alongside Ezra Kwizera.

Growing up he was a Rwandan refugee in Uganda. Now, he lives in Vancouver after moving to Canada three years ago. But he has not forgotten his roots and travels to East Africa each December to visit orphanages. In fact, Kwizera had only just arrived back in Canada the day before his performance at TRU.

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“I want to spread the message of forgiveness and love,” he said. And, singing in a number of languages, he did just that at TRU. He sang calling for peace, equality and love. For him music unites.

“It’s forbidden to just say hello in my culture,” he said, “you invite people with the sound of music.” Halfway through the performance Kwizera encouraged the audience to participate, teaching them the chorus to Refugee’s Cry Mama Africa and filling the theatre with praise.

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“Ah, you already know this song,” he joked as the audience relayed the lyrics back to him. He took a video of the audience singing to send strength to those in Africa (I’m the one in the red pants with my legs crossed three rows up centre left- I’m later seen snapping pictures). Now I can show them that people care all around the world, he said. *Note: he calls the song several different names online for some reason.

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“The one thing I respect about Canadians, is how they dance sitting down,” Kwizera said to a chuckling audience, “I don’t know how you do it.” I have to admit he was right about our meekness when it comes to leaping up and dancing. At many of the events I’ve attended in my life, people rarely stand and spontaneously break into dance. Life isn’t a musical–when I think of High School Music I’m immensely relieved it isn’t–however, an audience’s hesitation to dance is much more than that fact. It takes a certain character to get people to rise from their seats and let loose. Kwizera had that quality. After the performance when I went to interview him he pulled me into a friendly hug instantly after I introduced myself. Throughout our discussion he was clapping my shoulder and grinning like we were age-old friends. I kept in mind that personal space is perceived differently in different cultures as I edged back. Though I was surprised and a little uncomfortable I knew he meant nothing of his intrusions to my space. It was fascinating to examine my own movement and body language as he spoke. I noticed that I let my friend stand closer after the sudden hug and that I turned my body away at an angle, towards my friend rather than Kwizera. Once I realized this I turned myself straight as I spoke. I began working through my discomfort till it fell away.

After a brief tour of the suggestions from Google later that night I found an interesting post from a Brazilian blogger who wrote of the experience from the other perspective (the one getting too much space).

Apart from this, the other interesting thing I noticed in my exploration was that discussions on personal space in different cultures appeared most frequently on business blogs and websites. I suppose this makes sense with the internationally intertwines economies we have today. In the role of a tourist, foreigners can be forgiven for their cultural trespasses, but as a representative of a competent company, working to avoid offending the host would be imperative.

Certainly as strangers congregating to hear good music, the audience and I at TRU had no reason to fear showing our appreciation. The thing with Canada, is that many Canadians are so used to interacting with people of other cultures they’ve developed a laid-back diplomatic attitude. This in turn resulted in a development of mild responses to fantastic or terrible things, making us look complacent to many citizens of other countries.

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Of course we still grumble as much as members of any other country. But as Kwizera pointed out, “you’re in Canada, be happy.”

Compared to a Rwandan refugee I’d say we have it good. Next time I grumble about being in class all day or how expensive things are in Kamloops I hope Kwizera’s words come straight into my head.

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