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Angel Uwamahoro is making a huge name for herself in Rwanda, after opening the African Union Conference in 2016 with her poem Africa. Angel is currently studying theatre in New York on a presidential scholarship. She has been performing from a young age as a member of Mashirika Theatre Company and has a number of projects on the go, both in the US and here in Rwanda.
You recently opened for the African Union Summit in Kigali. How much advanced notice did you get to prepare? Can you tell us a bit about your process for developing that poem?
I had about three weeks in advance to prepare.
The process I used to develop the poem was first, intense research on all fifty-four countries of Africa. I wanted to be able to feel and understand each country, especially because I knew I was going to address their heads of state. I was looking mostly for what they all had in common, what made them special and unique. I also took a short look at their history, economies, current struggles, and leaders who made great impacts for them.
I drew my inspiration from the African people and their leaders.
I imagined, what would the African people like to say to their leaders given the chance?
If I was an African leader, what would encourage me to keep doing better for my people?
After intense research, I then took a long walk while listening to music, and started typing the poem down on my notes.
From the moment the final draft of the poem was approved, to the moment I stepped onto stage, I was rehearsing. Sometimes aloud, sometimes in my head. Constantly in my mind I kept going through it, perhaps a couple of thousand times.
You joined Mashirika Theatre company when you were only fifteen. What first piqued your interested in theatre, and when did you realise this was what you wanted to do for a career?
I have always been interested in theater since I was a little girl attending nursery and Sunday school. I would always participate in end-of-year and Christmas plays, often scoring main roles. This continued all throughout my education, where I would make it a point to be actively involved in the diverse art programs my schools provided.
Since I was a little girl, I was very active in the arts when I could be, but at the same time I wanted to be so many things, a queen, a hairdresser, a waitress. I think it was about five years of age when it dawned on me that the best way to be all these things was to be an actress. With every role I scored, I got to be a different person and live a different life for a while - this made me very happy!
Do you feel you have changed as a performer since then? What have been the biggest learning experiences?
Yes, I have definitely changed over the years that I have started acting professionally. Perhaps changed isn't necessarily the right word, but grown. I feel that I am doing what I did before better, and with a lot more professionalism and technique involved.
There have been a lot of lessons and learning experiences along the way, and I am still learning.
Something that I am learning along the way that continues to stick with me, is how difficult it can be to create a piece of art. Once born, how to give that piece of art the value it deserves.
You are currently studying for a Theatre and Performing Arts degree in America. Under the presidential scholarship, you were allowed to choose the performing arts school you wanted to attend. What drew you to Fordham University in New York?
Fordham University has a very strong theater department that allows you to explore all areas of theater, and does not just focus on my acting major. This was something that was very attractive to me, as I wish to be a well-rounded artist and be able to transfer the skills I have learned to art students here in Rwanda in the future.
Another thing that was so great about Fordham University, is its location. Smack in the middle of Manhattan, where theater is not just part of the entertainment industry but a culture. Being surrounded by this environment defiantly helps, especially if you're out to learn from everywhere, and not just the classroom setting.
Last but not least, Fordham University has excellent staff, well known in the theater and film industry. They have produced, and continue to produce, excellent alumni. I figured that this would be the best place for me to learn and acquire as much knowledge as I can during my four-year education.
Was it a big adjustment moving to the US?
I lived in the US before as a child, but moving there as an adult was a completely different experience.
I had to deal with issues of identity, racism, and being an adult on my own as well.
What do you remember most about your first weeks there, and what do you miss most from home?
The first weeks of school, I was so excited to finally find a mass of people who were equally, if not more, enthused about the arts than I was. That was so thrilling. I also remember being overwhelmed by the workload and struggling to keep up.
When I'm away from home I miss my family, friends, the landscape and food!
Do you suffer from nerves when you perform? How do you deal with that?
Yes, I always do, always have.
I take a deep breath and dare to step on the stage. All of the nerves escape as I enter the new world ahead of me.
Whilst you were back in Rwandan, you performed at Ubumuntu and collaborated with fellow artists. You do a lot to support the arts in Rwanda, but how do you think we could better promote Rwandan art to the world? What needs to be done to export Rwandan talent?
I think it's important to make external connections with people who are passionate and working in the arts. That way we can use those connections to get involved with festivals and other big events happening around the world that can help to further showcase our art!
Also, applying for festivals around the world ourselves. That is something we should start doing in order to become active worldwide participants.
In The New Times article, you announced that you have recently become vegan. What does this mean in terms of what you eat, and why did you take this decision?
Being vegan means not eating or using any animal products. I chose to do this firstly for health reasons. It has been scientifically proven that many animal products which we have learned to consume, such as dairy and meat products, do more harm than good to the human body.
Secondly, for environmental reasons. Our environment is suffering a great deal due to our continuous depletion of the earth and its resources, which are often used to feed the animals that we consume. We force unnatural growth and create hormone-filled products, which again are harmful not only to humans, but to our environment.
Finally, for animal cruelty reasons. Due to the high demand for animal products, producers feel the urge to supply to the masses, not taking into consideration the proper handling and treatment of these animals which provide big profits for them. The animals live miserable lives, in unacceptable conditions. They are brought into adulthood and reproduction far before their time has come. Once driven to their extreme limits in life, they are executed in a cruel manner for consumption.
As someone who believes in the transfer of energies, I do not believe that the consumption of exploited animals living in these conditions is a healthy idea.
My diet has only changed slightly.
It is difficult to avoid diary products, but so far I have been able to keep up and hope that I can stay the course!
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a short theatrical piece for Kwita Izina, the gorilla naming ceremony here in Rwanda, as well as some poetry collaboration's with various Rwandan artists.
Do you have any advice for budding writers, poets and actors?
Keep on keep on-ing. Rehearse, practice your craft every single chance you get, and whatever you do, never quit.
The world needs you. Keep pushing through. It's a constant battle!
Georgie Ndirangu moved to Rwanda from Kenya in 2012. He is a journalist and well-known media personality, currently working as a presenter and producer at CNBC Africa. Although best known as a business reporter for Sub-Saharan Africa, Georgie is also recognised for his performance poetry. This piece, titled I Am Kigali, was recorded at Spoken Word Rwanda in June 2016. You can find Georgie via Twitter, Instagram and his blog.