kiwis, fitzsimmons and albertine

I had the chance to see Brooke Fraser in concert a few nights ago. Brooke is a kiwi (a New Zealander) who I just started listening to about a year ago. She doesn’t tour a whole lot in the US, so I have been excited ever since I saw that she was coming to Minneapolis to play at one of my favorite venues, the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown. It was a great night of music, including a short set by my friend Elizabeth Hunnicutt followed by an incredible new and still unsigned artist named William Fitzsimmons, who nearly stole the show. I just couldn’t get enough of his music, and in the days since the show I have bought both of his albums on iTunes and he has quickly become one of my most listened to artists. If you like really chill/acoustic music you should definitely check out his myspace to give him a listen (his style is similar to, but not exactly like, Joshua Radin and Iron & Wine).

When Brooke first came on stage I was a bit surprised by her quirky personality – her NZ accent kept reminding me of Flight of the Conchords, a comedy/music duo also from New Zealand – but she also showed a very kind and serious side (which is what I expected, given that she is closely connected with Hillsong Church in Australia, where she has written and recorded some of today’s most well-known modern worship songs, like “Hosanna” and “Lead Me to the Cross”).

Before closing the night by playing her “favorite song,” Brooke told the incredible story of an experience she had a few years ago in Rwanda that inspired  the title track of her new album, “Albertine” (the song she was about to play), which is named after a young woman she met there. I had seen the video for this song on youtube and thought I understood a bit of the story behind it, but hearing the story from Brooke took it to a completely new level. Later that night, after getting home from the show, I was reading through the liner notes of Brooke’s CD (I bought it at the show) while listening to the album on my headphones and I ran across the story of Albertine again, this time as it had been written by Brooke. Albertine’s story is one that Brooke felt needed to be shared through her music, and I feel it needs to be shared here as well.

Here is the video for the song (much of which appears to have been filmed in Rwanda) and below that is Albertine’s story (in Brooke’s word, as found inside her album).

Albertine by Brooke Fraser

In 1994, the tiny Central-East African nation of Rwanda was devastated by genocide. Almost one million Rwandans were killed at the hands of their neighbors, friends and community leaders within the short space of 100 days…the catastrophic outcome of decades of tension and fighting between two ethnic groups – the Hutus and the Tutsis – a conflict that did not exist before Belgian colonists moved in during the first part of the 20th century and introduced an alien politician divide.

My first visit to Rwanda occurred in June 2005, eleven years on from the atrocities. I visited local authorities, churches, schools, official memorials and living ones: child-headed households and communities living with AIDS, facing life without adequate medical care or basics like clean water. I met a people who are humble, joyous, diligent and in deep pain.

One day before I was to fly out and onto Tanzania, my friend and guide Joel Nsengiyumva took me to a village school in a district called Kabuga. He wanted me to see that Rwanda had hope – and no better way to see it than in the next generation. The kids and I exchanged songs and dances, and as things wrapped up and we were about to leave, Joel asked if we could take a few minutes and meet with an orphan whose personal history he was familiar with.

Throughout the trip Joel had introduced me to people as a musician from the other side of the world who was going to go back to my people, tell them about the people of Rwanda and help. No pressure. That afternoon we walked across the schoolyard into an empty classroom, joined by a tall, beautiful girl wearing the school’s cobalt and navy garb, where Joel’s introduction was about to become a kind of commission.

Just before he shared her story with me, that of one person laying down their life for another, he uttered these words:

“You must go back to your people and you must write a song,
and I will tell you what the name of the song is going to be.”

He motioned toward the girl.

“This is Albertine.”

Albertine is alive today because of the selfless, sacrificial love of another. Funny thing is, so am I. And now I want to know what it’s like to love other people like that, so have decided to spend my whole life on the experiment.

Feel free to join me. We might just change the world.

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One thought on “kiwis, fitzsimmons and albertine

  1. I remember when Rwanda happened and being utterly stunned. I wasn’t so much reacting to genocide as I was to the realization that my country didn’t seem to be doing much about it. I couldn’t figure out how only three years before we had gone to Kuwait to stop Iraq from killing the Kurds but didn’t seem to mind the Hutus killing the Tutsis in droves. It was the first time I felt truly angry about the injustices in the world.

    Needless to say when I ran across this article about forgiveness in Rwanda, I felt compelled to read it. My jaw nearly hit the floor. A woman named Iphigenia Mukantabana, sits with her friend, yes friend, Epiphania Mukanyndwi and the two women weave baskets together. The kicker is that it was Ephiphania’s husband, Jean-Bosco Bizimana, who slaughtered Iphigenia’s husband and children during the genocide. Yet Iphigenia has chosen to not only forgive the Ephiphania and Jean-Bosco but they are now good friends and share family meals together. For as forgiving as I like to think I am and try to be, this woman’s ability to not only forgive the man who killed her entire family, but to share a meal with him and his wife as her friends, puts me to shame. Yet in a way it has almost made forgiveness come a little easier lately because when I want to be cold, stubborn & unforgiving, this story creeps into my mind and I think, “If Iphigenia could forgive Ephiphania & her husband, then I can forgive so’n’so for (insert relatively minor transgression here), too.”

    Here’s the link to the entire story:
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/05/15/amanpour.rwanda/index.html?iref=newssearch

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