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October 14, 2023 | Theatre,

Who is Kiki Katese, the artist behind The Book of Life?

ArtsEmerson is thrilled to welcome The Book of Life to the stage at the Cutler Majestic Theatre on October 18. This uplifting and joyous theatrical event combines original music, an extraordinary collection of letters written by ordinary Rwandans, and a beautifully visualized animal fable to remind audiences of the healing power of expression and how creativity can transform trauma into peace and hope.

Behind this remarkable show is Odile Gakire “Kiki” Katese, a Rwandan actor, playwright, director and cultural entrepreneur who was raised in exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Katese was born to Rwandan parents who fled their home country due to an outbreak of mass violence against the Tutsi, one of Rwanda’s three primary ethnic groups, whose continued persecution culminated in the Rwandan Genocide.

Katese moved to Rwandan as a young child in 1996 and eventually relocated to Paris, where she studied theater at Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. After returning from Paris, Katese became the creative director at the University Centre for Arts and Drama in Huye, Rwanda.

While working in Huye, Katese took note of the lack of opportunity for women in the arts and decided to focus her efforts on helping women explore different creative mediums and in 2004, she founded Ingoma Nshya, an all-female drumming group, whose music is featured throughout The Book of Life.

Initially, Ingoma Nshya was met with some resistance, as female drummers were not the norm in Rwanda. Despite not having financial backing, Katese continued Ingoma Nshya as it was a way for women to connect and have a creative outlet. Katese found that women of all backgrounds could come together and drum, regardless of their socio-political differences. Ingoma Nshya eventually secured funding in 2008 and went on an international tour. They now have 12 full-time drummers and currently teach drumming to 600 school-aged girls in Rwanda.

In addition to Ingoma Nshya, Katese has written and directed two short films and even won the Prix Images de Femmes at Le Festival Vues d’Afrique for her film, Isugi. Kiki Katese is also the founder of two major festivals in Rwanda: the Rwanda Drum Festival and the International Performance Festival Arts Azimut and even started the country’s first professional dance company. Additionally, she founded the Women’s Cultural Centre in 2016, a company to help women become involved with the creative and cultural industries in Rwanda and has been honored with numerous accolades, including the the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Rosamond Gilder/Martha Coigney International Award, the Salzburg Global Seminar Fellowship, and the 2012 Carnegie Common Ground Award.

Don’t miss Kiki Katse and Ingoma Nshya perform The Book of Life from October 18-22, 2023. or more information and to purchase tickets, please click here. Enjoy the show!   

Paige Walker, October 2023

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