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Sweet Dreams: Documentary film examines all-female drumming troupe

Kam Williams | 10/31/2013, 6 a.m.
The Ingoma Nysha Drummers are an all-female drumming troupe in Rwanda that is the subject of a documentary “Sweet Dreams” by Lisa and Rob Fruchtman. Lex Fletcher

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The Ingoma Nysha Drummers contains women of both Tutsis and Hutus background and has about 60 members.

The 1994 Civil War left the beleaguered African nation of Rwanda a bloody mess, both literally and figuratively. Not only had the warring tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis, hacked each other to death with machetes to the tune of about a million bodies scattered across the countryside, but to this day many of the survivors of the ethnic cleansing remain totally traumatized by the slaughter they’d witnessed.

Consequently, much of the populace still walks around in a daze sporting blank, thousand-yard stares some refer to as battle fatigue or shell shock, and what shrinks refer to clinically as post-traumatic stress syndrome. For, it is understandable that it might be hard to get over a conflict which pitted neighbor against neighbor, and even relative against relative.

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Left to right: Kiki Katese, founder of Ingoma Nysha Drummers, and Jennie Dundas, a proprietor of Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, N.Y. Dundas has helped Katese launch an ice cream parlor in Rwanda.

One survivor, theater director Kiki Katese, determined to do something to alleviate the suffering, asked, “How do you rebuild a human being?” So, she founded Ingoma Nshya (meaning “new drum, new kingdom”), an all-female drumming troupe comprised of both Tutsis and Hutus, with admission being conditioned on checking one’s tribal allegiance at the door. Besides affording the 60-strong membership an opportunity to pound rhythmically on congas, the gathering simultaneously served as a support group offering healing and reconciliation.

In 2010, Kiki came up with another innovative idea, namely, opening Rwanda’s first ice cream parlor. This time, she enlisted the support of Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, proprietors of a place located half a world away in Brooklyn called Blue Marble Ice Cream.

The game New Yorkers answered the call, traveling to Rwanda to help Kiki realize that dream. Together they created Sweet Dreams, a shop owned and operated cooperatively by a number of the women from Ingoma Nshya.

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Ice cream shop Sweet Dreams is owned and operated by women form Ingoma Nshya in Rwanda.

All of the above are affectionately recounted in “Sweet Dreams,” an uplifting documentary co-directed by Lisa and Rob Fruchtman. Kiki and her companions cut a sharp contrast to the bulk of their fellow countrymen peppering the desolate background, lost souls who seem broken in spirit and caught between mourning murdered kin and facing bleak prospects for a better tomorrow.

“Sweet Dreams” is a female empowerment flick featuring a blend of ice cream and drumming as a viable path to rehabilitation and reconciliation.