Sunday, 1 November 2020

The Story of a Love Affair

Sorry! It has been a really long time since we made an update. 

We are still working on the action alignment issue, but Dés had a bereavement recently and had to return to Congo to be with family. He has now returned and we continue to work on it.

In the meantime, we had a slight surprise.

Back before we really started any of this, Marion mentioned a broken Emile Vits she once saw in someone's basement. The story behind that was that Marion used to live in a house that she had to leave rather suddenly. She had become good friends with her landlord, whose family turned against him when they found out he was gay. As a result, Marion refused to pay rent to that family and her landlord helped her find somewhere else to live. In the process of house hunting, he took her to a very large house in the suburbs, where she saw two pianos. One was a Belgian Emile Vits and the other was a US Baldwin Spinet. 



She didn't end up living there, but she did fall instantly in love with the Emile Vits. She offered to buy it, but the owner said it belonged to his family and wouldn't entertain the idea.

The friendship with her former landlord drifted over time, and she never could remember where the house was, though she never forgot the piano. Part of the reason for starting Kigali Keys was the vain hope that someday, the owner might get in contact again. 

And... that's exactly what happened.

Five years later, she received a call from a man who wanted to know if we could salvage his piano. Marion went to meet him and he drove her to his house. As they pulled up in front of it, Marion had to pick her jaw off the floor - it was the house. 

The owner looked on astonished, as she pulled her phone from her bag and showed him a picture of the inside of his own piano. They had never met before, because the person she met last time did not own the house. The true owner works overseas a lot and had sublet it at that time. He is back at the moment because of COVID, and he no longer rents out rooms in the house.

However, the two pianos are still exactly where they once were. Although the owner, Adrien, asked Kigali Keys to fix the spinet, he very patiently waited whilst Marion ran down into the basement to hug the Emile Vits. 

Unfortunately, it's in a bit of a state. Over the past five years, a family of mice moved in and built a small city inside it. 



But, as you can see, it's a birdcage piano with a vertical frame and ivory keys. Given the address on the fall board, we reckon it's about 130 years old. Very few of the keys still play, but those that do hint at a very nice sound.


Marion always dreamed of finding this piano again, but restoring it would take a lot of work. It needs new pins, strings and hammers. However, the sound board and cage wiring look to be okay. 

Both pianos have a haunting story. Adrian was here in 1994, living near the Belgian Embassy. In the aftermath of the genocide, he was walking down the road and saw these two instruments sitting on the sidewalk. 

The soldiers agreed to sell them to him. He was training as a priest at the time and had learned a little piano in church. However, they were in a bad state, and have deteriorated further over time. It's lucky that he saved them, as they probably wouldn't exist today if he hadn't. We have contacted the Belgian Embassy, as Emile Vits is a Belgian make, but so far there are no leads as to who it belonged to before the genocide. 

At Kigali Keys, our mission is to get pianos playing again. There are several broken and unloved pianos in Kigali that simply act as decoration. It's incredible to hear one play again, or just to tune one up after years of silence. We're considering whether to adopt the Emile Vits as a salvage project as it depends on income, but it's likely to start featuring more on this blog in the near future.

Meanwhile, we put in the time with the spinet and everything worked out really well. Due to the design, it's a very difficult instrument to work on. You can't just pop the action in and out to test it like you would on a normal upright, but we were all rather amazed by the end result - it sounds brilliant. 


Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Happy Birthday Patricia

Happy Birthday to our supporter Patricia Lynn Rawn. 

May your year be filled with music.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020


Hi everyone.

So, the action is in the new piano - sort of.

We're really struggling to align it with the strings, especially at the very top treble. 

A lot of the centre pins are screaming their dissent after the treatment they've had over the past couple of years, and who can blame them. The problem is, we don't have any more at the moment.

For the time being though, it's about working out why the action isn't aligning properly and trying to fix that. Désiré and Paulin have been jiggling it about for a couple of weeks with no success. 

The bass plays more or less okay, but the top treble is a mess.

Until we can solve this issue, we can't tune her up and she won't play.

But, leave it with us. We're not fast, but we're persistent. We'll get there eventually.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Back in Action

Aaaaand... we're back.

The Covid-19 lockdown meant we've all been at home for about three months. Despite rising detection figures, lockdown restrictions are easing and Désire's workshop is back in business.

Above, you can see Paulin working to align our keyboard with the Lirika action. Once this is done, we'll hoist it into the new piano to try and align the hammers with the strings, then it's over to Marion for tuning. 

So, it shouldn't be too much longer until we can hear whether or not the piano plays. 

It's terrifying, but also really exciting. After such a long journey, we're all eager to know if it works.

More news as it happens.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Helping Genocide Survivors During Lockdown

We're making a little post on behalf of AVEGA-Agahozo, an organisation representing genocide widows in Rwanda. One of our project members works there and wanted to share this message:

Hello friends. Times are particularly difficult at the moment as we enter the memorial period for the 26th anniversary of the genocide. Due to COVID-19, memorial sites have been closed and communal events are on hold. This also means that our group counselling support sessions are unable to meet. AVEGA has many vulnerable members and we are trying to assist them in two key ways:

1) Delivering food and basic supplies to those who are particularly vulnerable, which include elderly and disabled widows with no surviving family and those who already have compromised immunity, such as those living with HIV/AIDS. It's particularly important that these groups do not leave their homes and risk infection.

2) Providing airtime packages to community counsellors in each district of the country so that they can regularly call up counselling clients to make sure they're okay during this time. We're also hoping to expand our national helpline, but it's important that those in counselling for trauma and depression are not alone at this time of year.

I know that there have already been a lot of appeals for help around the world, so I'm not going to push it. Everyone in the AVEGA office has already given what they can. If you would like to make a donation you can do so directly to our MTN mobile money (momo) account: Agahozo Avega 0788 520 122. You can also donate to that number using PayPal or a credit card through HeptaPay or WorldRemit or you can donate to Survivors Fund (SURF) in the UK who will pass on the funds.

All money will go either to airtime for counsellors or to food packages for vulnerable survivors.

Murakoze cyane/Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Kwibuka 26

Today marks the 26th anniversary since the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

The photograph above is taken from this article commemorating musicians who were killed

You can find out more about how COVID-19 is affecting memorial week in the Survivors Fund newsletter, here.

Saturday, 4 April 2020


Well hello.

A little update on lockdown in Kigali.

We're at the end of week two of lockdown and it's been extended until 19th April, though whether it's lifted all depends on how many cases there are. The number has been rising extremely slowly over the past couple of weeks. We're now at 89. The airport is closed and most of the foreigners who wanted to leave have left.

Marion and Dés are sitting it out with their cats and family, respectively. The government has been really quick to respond. Rwanda has been on high alert for Ebola for the past few years. Although there's never been a case here, the isolation wards and sanitation supplies were already in place. Food is being distributed to those most affected and communities are organising emergency supply boxes. So, things remain optimistic. 

Marion has been in quarantine with the action from Bugesera Lodge, so tinkering with that. Dés helped to replace a hammer butt and it's almost ready to reinstall, we just can't get it there, which is a shame as lockdown is the perfect time to learn to play.


Above is the Bugesera action on the left and our Lirika action lying down - see the blue flip-flop hammers? Desperate to give that a try. Our volunteer, Charlie, got it 90% of the way there and Paulin has put on the last few hammers.

This allows us to sit it on top of the new keyboard so that we can eventually test the new piano. The keyboard needs a few things doing, still. The key punchings need to go in and the capstans. Everything's a little thrown together at the moment, but you get the theory.

Old action on a new keyboard.

At the moment, we're not sure when we'll be able to start work again. We're hoping all of our followers are safe and well, and not talking to the furniture yet. We'll update as soon as we can.