Mighty Popo
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Mighty Popo


Band World Folk


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"Mighty Popo traces his roots"

Most people want to believe that if you trace your genealogical tree back far enough, you’ll find royalty, or at least a relative or two who are filthy rich. Never mind that the odds are about a million to one that you‘re the distant relative to a pestilent peasant.

However, The Mighty Popo had a rude shock while digging into his family tree.

It was while researching the traditional Batwa and Batutusi music of Rwanda for his latest record — Gakondo — that the singer and songwriter from Chelsea learned he was actually related to a 16th-century Rwandan king on one side of the family. And on his father’s side of the family, he came from a long line of esteemed librarians for the royal court.

Like his forefathers, Popo spent many months researching the ancient musical heritage and rich poetry of his forefathers. He comes from good musical stock.

“My mother’s family date back to King Yuhi Mazimtaka the poet, while my father’s family were keepers of dynastic codes, science and knowledge,” Popo recalls a little sheepishly.

“It’s a fantastic story. It sounds like something I read out of a book, but it’s a historic fact. The more I look into my history, the more I discover.”

However, the romance of that ancient past stands in stark contrast to more recent events that saw Popo’s family leave Rwanda before the bloody coup in 1960 to seek refuge in Ottawa.

That horror of that was later eclipsed when Hutu forces brutally murdered Tutsis, including half of Popo’s extended family during the nightmarish 1994 genocide.

For obvious reasons, recording Gakondo, his fifth solo CD, in Chelsea and Vancouver last year, was the most personal experience in Popo’s long and varied career. Played on traditional African instruments with Vince Halfhide, Aaron Niyitunga, Doug Cox, John Reischman and Kofi Ackah, and sung in his native language, Popo calls his new record “a call to my family and other Rwandans that I am here.”

Despite its sometimes tragic storyline, Popo insists it’s a happy record.

No argument there. Many of the songs are riotous rhythmic, driven by choral singing and traditional percussion. But there are also ancient chants that hang in the air like crystal.

“It’s amazing how the album is affecting people. The melodies are emotional.

“They affect listeners the same way they affected us when we play them.

“Come see my Rwandan culture,” he urges me at the end of our chat. “Now that I know my family history and how short life can be, I give thanks for every minute I’m alive.” - The Ottawa Sun

"Mighty Popo Déterrer ses racines"

Jacques Murigande, alias Mighty Popo, est de retour avec un cinquième album intitulé Gakondo, une offrande entièrement acoustique dans laquelle il exploite ses racines rwandaises.

"Je suis né au Burundi de parents rwandais", confirme d'emblée Mighty Popo au bout du fil. Sympathique et accessible, l'auteur-compositeur-interprète et guitariste, dont l'arrivée au Canada remonte à 1987, a suivi un parcours musical plus que fascinant. En plus d'avoir cinq albums derrière la cravate - incluant Gakondo, qui sera lancé dans quelques jours -, Mighty Popo a collaboré aux deux volumes du projet African Guitar Summit, dont la première édition a raflé un Juno pour le meilleur album world de l'année en 2005. De plus, Muhazi, l'opus qui précède Gakondo, lui a permis de remporter la palme pour le meilleur artiste world aux Canadian Folk Music Awards de 2007.
Avec Gakondo, Mighty Popo a entrepris de plonger dans ses origines rwandaises; il offre 10 pièces traditionnelles aux couleurs world et folks. Sans contredit, le concept de l'album acoustique flottait depuis longtemps dans l'esprit du musicien. "J'ai toujours voulu faire un album acoustique, confie-t-il. Chez moi, il y a toujours une guitare acoustique au salon. Quand je prends la guitare à la maison, elle est toujours acoustique. J'avais envie de faire un album qui représente qui je suis à la maison." Gakondo est par ailleurs entièrement chanté dans la langue nationale du Rwanda. "Si je voulais chanter à propos du Rwanda d'antan, j'avais intérêt à ce que l'album soit complètement en kinyarwanda."

Aux antipodes de la perception mélancolique générale à l'égard du Rwanda, Gakondo est texturé par des tonalités joyeuses et festives et repose sur des textes poétiques basés sur la tradition rwandaise ancienne. Rien à voir avec l'image sombre attribuée au génocide survenu en 1994. "Il ne faut jamais oublier que le génocide s'est produit et pourquoi il s'est produit. Mais il faut aussi montrer que le Rwanda est un pays où il y a une joie de vivre."

Celui qui lance son cinquième album samedi soir au Centre Bronson d'Ottawa fait maintenant appel au public francophone de la rive québécoise. "J'aimerais bien jouer du côté francophone, car on ne s'est pas souvent produits de ce côté." Le Mighty le confirme, le Québec est dans sa mire. - Voir

"Mighty Popo returns to roots Singer puts his own stamp on traditional Rwandan music"

Mighty Popo thought he was familiar with Kinyarwanda, the indigenous language of Rwanda, until he met a group of Batwa musicians from the central African country. They were singing words he didn't understand about ancestors he'd never heard of, and using time signatures he didn't recognize.

He was fascinated.

"I wanted to learn this stuff, learn the nuances, the connections, the fire, the energy," says Ottawa's Juno-winning worldbeat visionary whose given name is Jacques Murigande. "Even being from Rwanda, I didn't understand some of the words they were singing. I just developed this amazing envy to really learn it."

Well, he not only learned it, he made it his own, as you can hear on his gorgeous new album, Gakondo. The singer-songwriter-guitarist took the musical traditions of his homeland and stirred them up with acoustic guitar, turning out folk-roots-worldbeat gems that are sung with warmth and passion.

But it took a few years to get to that point. After getting to know the Batwa musicians on a trip to Rwanda, Popo brought the group to Canada in 2006 to join him on a Western tour. A year later, he went to live with them in the hills of Rwanda as part of a mission to learn the songs that had been passed down from the Royal Court era hundreds of years ago.

Popo returned to Canada with 26 songs added to his repertoire. He wanted to start tinkering with them, but the language was still a challenge. Happily, there was one person close to home who could help: his mother, who lives with him in Ottawa.

Born in Burundi to Tutsi refugees, Popo emigrated to Canada at 19, mostly because Canada was the first country to accept him out of the several to which he applied. His parents were both born in Rwanda.

"My mother was crucial," he says. "I understand Kinyarwanda, it's my language, but I had to relearn that particular poetry. She actually coached me rhythmically.

"She doesn't sing but she knows how it's supposed to feel. When I actually started understanding the meaning, the expressions, I realized I was ready to start working on them."

Loaded with a wealth of material, Popo put his stamp on the ancient narratives by rearranging them into three- to five-minute songs. Adding acoustic guitar was a big departure from tradition. Normally, the only instrument that would be used is the ingara, an instrument that consists of a shallow bowl carved out of wood and strung with a gut string.

"To put guitars to these songs is unheard of," Popo says. "They were songs that were chanted. I applied the guitar to all the songs, and I applied it in a way that it's not going to bother the melody but it enhances it even more."

The title track is an original song Popo wrote based on the Rwandan tradition of presenting one's lineage in poetry. It documents his family tree, starting with his parents and travelling back to his ancestors, the high priests of ancient Rwanda. His wife and children are also introduced.

It's one of the songs that is resonating with the Rwandan community in Canada, and led Popo to discover relatives he didn't know he had. "It's beautiful," he says. "Now I go out in the community and people know who I am. It's like another level of friendship and community and respect."

Of all his albums, Popo says Gakonda is being most warmly embraced by family and friends, especially his mother.

"The other albums were a challenge for her because they were a fusion but this is closer to something that she is familiar with," he says.

Popo is planning to travel to Rwanda before Christmas to visit his wife, whom he met during a 2004 trip, and toddler son. Immigration issues have prevented him from bringing them to Canada.

He will be back for a Canadian tour early next year, which he hopes will encourage audiences to feel the love in his music.

"There were so many forces that came together when I was making this album," he says. "I felt a good energy and I was channelling this energy to the musicians. Inspiration just came and then it was done like that, no thinking twice. I'm just hoping this fire would be felt with anybody who is willing to listen."

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

- The Ottawa Citizen


Gakondo - November 2010

Muhazi - February 2007

African Guitar Summit II - September 2006

African Guitar Summit - November 2004

Ngagara - June 2003

Dunia Yote - March 2000

Tamba - April 1997



You could say that the Mighty Popo is a Rwandan/Burundian refugee/survivor whose music is steeped in African tradition, but you’d hardly be getting at the whole story of one of Canada’s greatest rising stars. You’d hardly be able to account for his effortless musicality as a member of the 2004 Juno Award winning African Guitar Summit, the kudos received for his genre-busting solo work, his highlight performance at the Canadian edition of Bob Geldof’s international Live 8 concerts (one of the few chosen for EMI’s Live 8 DVD) or his brilliant return to New Orleans for CBC Radio’s Maple Leaf Mojo Meets New Orleans Gumbo benefit concert broadcast live across Canada.

En route to understanding Popo’s musical and career achievements, one would do well to consider how Africa and Africans are often subjected to certain distortions in the public consciousness.

Recent history has made Rwanda and Burundi a kind of shorthand for violence, chaos and genocide. One might think that all music, dance, laughter, civility and joie de vivre in those countries had disappeared into a vortex of despair. Popo – a Rwandan born in a Burundian refugee community – is evidence to the contrary. He is a person of enormous charm, wit, resilience and, yes, joie de vivre.

The image of a hardscrabble existence eked out in isolation, despair and dislocation doesn’t take into account the richness of lives lived before and even during exile, the communities formed within it and the strength of families that sustain themselves through it. In spite of hardship, Popo and his family made connections and friendships, found jobs, expressed ideas, pursued dreams, surrounded themselves with music and managed to live and be engaged in a larger world.

There is a strain of romanticism that glorifies “traditional”African music, defining it in restrictive terms, arguing for its “purity” in a curatorial manner and citing a musician's connection to tradition as a means of authentication and validation. In reality, African tradition – like any tradition – is a floating signifier, a tough concept to nail down, part of a continuum that constantly shape-shifts in subtle ways that stretch over many lifetimes and across many borders. But as much as Popo has inherited a love of the traditional music of Rwanda and Burundi, he also has a lifelong connection with rock and roll, blues, jazz, R&B, Reggae and folk traditions. His music reflects his immersion in a world culture which he has navigated with grace, sensitivity and an enormous sense of exploration and fun. It is enriched by many traditions. It is authentically his. It is validated by its own excellence.

Yes, the Mighty Popo is a Rwandan/Burundian refugee/survivor whose music is steeped in African tradition. He is also one terrific musician and someone to watch – in Canada and around the world.