Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga is an American-based Rwandan actress, singer, poet and social justice activist. She has acted in different plays like ‘Miracle in Rwanda’, ‘Notre du Nil’, films like ‘Yankee hustle’, ‘Loveless generation’, ‘Operation Turquoise’, among others.
She also had poetry performances on different stages like AU Summit 2016, Forbes Women Summit 2020, Rwanda Day and other solo performances.
“My posts are mostly about bringing up topics that our societies shy away from but are at the heart of the issues we deal with,” she said.
The new times Alice Kagina had an exclusive interview with Uwamahoro, during which she shared different aspects of the creative industry.
Below are excerpts.
Who is Malaika Uwamahoro and how has your career been?
I was born into a family of artists, my mother is an interior designer, my grandmother is a seamstress, my aunts were performers, my uncles were visual artists and my siblings are also into art. I’ve always been surrounded by artists and that has definitely contributed to who I am.
I have also taken many trainings through Mashirika Performing Arts, Spoken Word Rwanda, Ishyo Art Center, at university and in different workshops which I have always attended and they have really added to my skills and interests.
It’s been an interesting career path as I’ve learned that I’m able to do a lot of things in the world of art, poetry, theater, film, music and it’s really fun to express myself in these different ways and also to find opportunities in the workforce.
Sometimes it’s hard because I have to teach myself new skills.
How do you navigate through your emotions displayed during the performance?
Having an acting background really helps, it means I can get into character, depending on the subject matter, I’m able to pick up those acting skills and deliver the poetry in a way where you think “that person is affected by this thing”.
It’s really cool to cross the different skills that I have in different fields and to be able to use these assets to better convey a message.
Poetry can be very heavy and being able to carry those emotions and hold them is something I get from my acting skills.
Tell us briefly about your recent pieces
I have a lot of music and poetry content waiting for me to turn it into visual content.
One of the lessons I learned from my last projects ‘Black Skin’ and ‘How many times’ is to use what we have. If someone is out there and wants to create their own content with big ideas, keep that dream but also scale it down to make it possible with what you have.
I wrote ‘Black Skin’ in 2015, recorded it in Abu Dhabi in 2019 and shot it in 2020, it took a while but that’s because it required a huge set. The inspiration behind it came from when I was in class and my teacher told us to take a moment of silence for what was happening in Paris, and it struck me that we never took a moment to recognize the atrocities that black people faced around the world.
I went home and wrote it. When we were shooting the video, I used different elements that represent black people and also Rwanda specifically because I am Rwandan.
I wrote “How Many Times” in 2018 and the inspiration behind it comes from conversations that have taken place about rape and rape apologists who protect the perpetrators instead of the victims, they shame them and drive them crazy for tell their stories.
With ‘How many times’ I wanted to present the story of rape visually so that people can understand that what we are talking about is non-negotiable, it is an atrocity that is happening and I hope the play will inspire people to witness what they deny.
It is really difficult for people in our communities to admit that the people who rape are their fathers, uncles, brothers and friends, it is something very difficult for people to accept when it is done by someone they know, they automatically want to protect.
I hope that kind of message can get across and people can take it more seriously and hold rapists, rape apologists accountable for the actions they take on their own and support the victims.
How many times:
How to reconnect to your inspiration once lost?
There are different techniques that I use as regularly as possible. When I find it hard to write or create, it’s often a sign of taking a break and being with family and friends, but also moving in your body by doing some exercises.
Sometimes you need to take a complete break from creating and watch others make their art and allow yourself time to be inspired by it.
What is this thing that a young artist has to cling to?
Stay true to yourself and work hard to become the person you dream of being. I always wanted to become an artist, but along the way, I was discouraged by my family, my friends who said that the salary was not really enough.
It’s a tough career path. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth it when you love it and when you know what you’re capable of and willing to go through thick and thin to make sure what you envision for yourself- even becomes reality.
How important is it for an artist to invest in what they do?
You must have a work ethic. Even though it’s art, you still need to deliver efficiently and on time. Create a work ethic that sets you apart from people who view art as a hobby, make what you love work for you, your career and those around you.
I think when you put yourself on different platforms, you always practice those talents and learn more skills by putting yourself in a position where you can learn from others and add to what you already have.
Years later on the ground, in your opinion, where is the Rwandan creative industry?
I think he went very far. I remember when we moved here I was almost 12 and the only thing that was available then was Mashirika Performing Arts.
And now we have so many different art houses producing different types of work; in fashion, music, theater, among others. We started to see our artists doing international collaborations. I really think we are going far.
However, as Rwandans, we must realize that we can do more to contribute to the life of an artist.
Do you get to a point where you can no longer separate a character’s life and your true self?
I did a one-woman show where I had to be 18 characters for an hour, my body had to change from an old man to a young woman, to a baby. I was really nervous when they gave me this task, but it showed me how capable I was, vocally, in acting and in my body.
I think it’s more of an emotional aspect, that when I have a piece to play for a long time, it can be hard to completely get out of it. Take care of your mental and physical health. I try to do relaxing activities like yoga and therapy.
How do you feel when you come back to Rwanda from time to time?
I love it. Rwanda is my home. Chris (Christian Kayiteshonga, her husband) and I hope to make the transition to come here at some point.
We also dream of building an art school here, where you can learn all kinds of arts (performing arts and visual arts). At present, we continue to learn and grow before we can finally share what we have learned.