Rwanda, Africa

Rwanda by Rancid

Orphans of the dead
When no more machine guns strike
And there's silence instead
Rwanda, a country nestled just south of the Equator in central eastern Africa, is roughly the size of Maryland, but with a population of 11.4 million. This country isn't known for its majestic and volcanic mountain ranges or its biodiversity including one-third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population. Sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda, the Republic of Rwanda is famous for one thing only: genocide; and this is, of course, what Rancid's song is all about.

American punk rockers, Rancid, delivered their second self-titled and fifth studio album in 2000. Considered a departure from their somewhat derivative ska-influenced punk rock, the band delivered a ska-free hardcore punk album of 22 tracks clocking in at only 38 minutes. It's an adrenaline rush, a skull-bashing, punch-to-the-stomach, yup-this-is-punk kind of album, coalescing sounds reminiscent of The Clash with the unrestrained vitriol of the Sex Pistols. The album is considered by Entertainment Weekly to be a "collection of urgent, gravel voiced of the most vital things the punk world has coughed up in years." Most of the songs were recorded in one take and subjected to very little post production, maintaining the rough edge sound; a tradition since lost to the process of pasteurization required for modern, radio-friendly pop-punk.

Kivu lake, Rwanda
Photo: Vadim Nefedov, Dreamstime

The ninth track on this heavy, angry album, "Rwanda" delivers its hard-hitting message in just 1 minute 22 seconds. While definitely not a concept album, there are a two other songs sharing the common theme of African politics on Rancid 2000: "Blackhawk Down," the song preceding "Rwanda," and "Reconciliation" further down the track listing. With the exception of "Blackhawk Down," touted as the album's anthem, the other African-themed songs are considered weaker tracks, even filler by some. Regardless of why they're on the album, the tracks deserve to be there, and convey a strong message encouraging political awareness for the misunderstood African continent.

"Rwanda" is a foot-stomping sympathy anthem for a country devastated by ethnic hatred. This track is surprisingly upbeat, considering the subject material. But then that is the nature of punk, and the power of it. By juxtaposing incredibly powerful lyrics on serious topics against the toe-tapping driving rhythms associated with bouncing around in a skank, punk-rockers make quite a profound statement noticed only by those who spare a moment to really listen to the lyrics, instead of dismissing the song as "happy punk" in a moment of apathy.

In 1994, while the world mourned the death of Kurt Cobain, while France and England celebrated the opening of the Channel tunnel, and while South Africa celebrated the end of Apartheid, a jet carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents was shot down over the capital city Kigali. This assassination sparked the Rwandan genocide. Within three weeks, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed by Hutu forces, making it one of the most devastating exterminations in history. More than 500,000 people died in only 100 days, an atrocity which has forever defined the country. The war-torn, post-genocide image of Rwanda has again been solidified in recent films like Hotel Rwanda, which caught the world's attention when it was nominated for several Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

Despite the continuous negative exposure given to this tiny country in the heart of Africa, at least films and songs like Rancid's make people aware, enlightening those who would otherwise have remained oblivious to the plight of the Rwandan people.

Suzanne van Rooyen
September 19, 2012

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.


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