Stromae, “Tous Les Mêmes” and the Rwandan Genocide – Blog Post #6

Welcome back to my blog post for my final installment of my analysis of the hit song “Tous Les Mêmes” by singer-songwriter Stromae. In my last post I discussed the Rwandan Genocide and the effects it specifically had on women. To continue the discussion today we are going to open it up to be a slightly more broad discussion on the overall aspects and effects of the genocide, then obviously tying it back to Stromae’s song and music video.

The Rwandan Genocide was an ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi and moderate Hutu ethnic groups in the early 1990. The genocide left over 800,000 people dead and destroyed countless families, leaving children or women behind to rebuild a life on their own without any rights. During the war, sexual violences were very prevalent as there were many expectations of the ethnic groups, as researched in Patricia Weitsman’s “The Politics of Identity and Sexual Violence: A Review of Bosnia and Rwanda”. In addition to the killing of primarily the Tutsis in Rwanda, there were mass rapes committed resulting as a critical part of the genocide. As stated through Weitsman’s research, “It is estimated that 90 percent of Tutsi women and girls who survived the genocide were sexually molested in some manner . . . According to one study, Butare province alone has more than 30,000 rape survivors” (Weitsman). Rape is a form of exerting power over others, it is never truly about the sex, making this a common way to have one’s dominance personally validated. It is insane to think that after the genocide it took the acknowledgement of someone who had essentially become a foreigner to identify and try to extract the problem of the oppression of women, as mentioned in my last post.

The mass rape of women during the genocide became a major part of the war due to the propaganda that was spread throughout the nation in order to respectively target Tutsi women. In regards to Stromae and specifically the song we’ve been discussing, I think he is particularly influenced by his paternal-Rwandese background and the treatment of women in the nation. He utilizes his platform to identify the stereotypes and unhappiness of women, however, he balances out his critiques by drawing parallels from a man’s perspective. These Tutsi women were blueprinted during the war in terms of, “their supposed promiscuity and their feelings of superiority toward Hutu men, who were considered unattractive and lower class . . . who were agents of their brothers, fathers, and sons . . . seductress spies, who believed they were far too good for Hutu men” (Weitsman). The slander directed at Tutsi women as the result of a generalization is again, insane, but utterly unsurprising as it comes down to my next point regarding a connection to “Tous Les Mêmes”.

In Stromae’s song, the first few lyrics translated from French state, “You guys are all the same / Macho but cheap / Bunch of unfaithful cowards / So predictable”. Women have grown into have an expectation of the way men act, so despite the disgusting, utterly disturbing targeted mass rape and murder of Tutsi women, it is one of the mere ways men find that they can overpower women. I say this because I’m sure with evolving times, despite the newfound advocacy for women’s rights in Rwanda, that men have realized what little power they truly hold. Being submissive to a man is out of style and it won’t be making a comeback any time soon, as women have also realized the power they do hold. Rape in war and in general is used as, “a tactic to degrade, humiliate, and undermine the enemy’s morale may entail the desire to drive the enemy out of a particular geographic region of a country in order to assert ethnic and political dominance” (Weitsman). The ultimate goal was to clear out the Tutsi and moderately Hutu ethnic groups, either through sexual assault and murder, or the fear these actions rose.

The Rwandan Genocide has a lot of moving parts that are often overlooked by the very people still affected by it today, however this is the last installment of my music video analysis in correlation with African History and Culture. Thanks so much for joining me, and make sure to read my prior posts if you haven’t already to draw your own conclusions on the influence in modern music. All the videos discussed are embedded here on my page!

Weitsman, Patricia A.”The Politics of Identity and Sexual Violence: A Review of Bosnia and Rwanda.” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 30 no. 3, 2008, pp. 561-578. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hrq.0.0024

Stromae and the Rwandan Genocide – Post #5

Welcome back to my blog everyone, for today we’re going to continue the discussion surrounding the singer-songwriter Stromae. Stromae is biracial, with his mother being from Belgium and his father from Rwanda. The particular song that we have been analyzing puts a heavy critique on to gender stereotypes and expectations in roles. The music video constructed to pair with his song, “Tous Les Mêmes”, utilizes angles, acting and colors to emphasize Stromae’s argument. Today’s post on Stromae’s hit single will discuss the Rwandan Genocide, women in Rwanda and the oppression that they face on a daily basis.

The Rwandan Genocide was one of the worst ethnic cleansings in history, yet it is one of the most overlooked, unacknowledged and forgotten. This genocide took the lives of over 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, once one of the largest ethnic groups in the nation. The Tutsis, alongside many moderate Hutus, were murdered in cold-blood in 1994. The genocide left many families ripped apart or even wiped some of them out. The effects of the genocide have left many women on their own, forced to move in with other loved ones as they have no rights to attempt to rebuild their own lives after such tragic loss. Women’s rights are a foreign concept, and the tragedy of loss does not end there, as stated by an interviewee an article by Laura Santoro, “If a woman’s husband dies, or if a woman is repudiated, she can lose her house, her land, and her offspring in a single devastating blow” (Santoro).

In correspondence to Stromae’s critique of gender stereotypes and expectations, the women in Rwanda are expected to be submissive and essentially are looked at as property rather than people. Stromae’s lyrics, “tous les mêmes” or “you are all the same” can reflect the relationship between men and women in Rwanda, especially in regards to the genocide and loss experienced. Since women who lost everything were expected to give up the remaining tangible items in her life, it degraded them further into nothing as not only was their families and lives destroyed but they couldn’t even salvage what was left of them. This created a commonality amongst women and the treatment they received, additionally the lack of knowledge to fight for their rights, especially post-genocide.

Stromae critiques both binary genders through his lyrics and as he acts out stereotypical gender-identified actions,. His song provides a message to both genders and even those who are gender fluid, to begin to speak out for what they truly want and not what they are expected of. In the article a professor at the University of Butare stated their biggest adversity in advocating for women’s’ rights in Rwanda, “First, we will need to convince women they are being discriminated against. Then we will have to convince them to go out and claim what is theirs” (Santoro). A Tutsi lawyer who returned to the nation from being abroad post-genocide identified the main issue with rebuilding the nation, and that was the further dehumanization of women. He has made strong efforts to instill written law for women’s rights so that in such tragedy especially, they do not have to lost every single thing in their lives.

Thanks for joining me on another discussion with Stromae and his hit song of 2013, “Tous Les Mêmes”. In the next post we will continue our discussion of the Rwandan Genocide in parallel to Stromae’s musical work. Make sure to check out the music video for reference, it is embedded here on my blog!

Santoro, Lara. “Women in Rwanda Get a Room of Their Own.” List of Books and Articles about Euthanasia | Online Research Library: Questia, National Association of Social Workers, 1997,

Breaking Down: Tous Les Mêmes by Stromae – Secondary

For today’s blog we’re going to continue discussing Stromae’s 2013 hit song and music video, “Tous Les Mêmes”. First let’s recap the last post and how it will tie into today’s material. Stromae is of Belgian and Rwandese descent, both of these countries have French as one of their official languages, hence why his lyrics are in French. His song critiques gender stereotypes and expectations, the main topic of our discussion. Stromae utilizes his lyrics to replicate the stereotypical perspectives of a cisgender, straight male and a cisgender, straight female. His lyrics are heavily played upon throughout the entire music video through the use of “binary” colors and fashion aspects, such as splitting half his body to resemble that of a woman and the other a man. To connect to today’s topic, binary terms are also associated to power especially regarding female sexuality in post-colonial Africa.

The use of colors in the music video being associated with gender binary expectations can also be connected to power during heterosexual intercourse in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in Rwanda. As stated in a journal piece by Ina Skafte and Margrethe Silberschmidt, “a focus structures the world in binary, dichotomous terms, where women are always seen in opposition to men. ‘Power is automatically defined in binary terms: people who have it (read: men), and people who do not (read: women)’ (Mohanty 1988, 73)” (Skafte 1). Women are stereotyped, particularly in post-colonial Africa to be submissive and are objectified as sexual beings for male gratification. It is interesting to further delve into with the lack of research and literature in African women’s and gender studies. One might infer that this is due to the historical sexualization objectification of black female bodies for male sexual gratification.

To further reference the music video, the stereotype of a submissive woman would be defined as the color pink while a dominant male would be referred to as green. However, in Rwanda it is deemed necessary for the male partner in a heterosexual practice to please the woman prior to satisfying himself, “if the woman is not sexually gratified, neither is the male partner” (Skatfe 3). The practice of female gratification prior to male has become a custom in Rwandese and other sub-Saharan African communities. Moreover, the customs associated with female gratification are taught as young as eight-years-old to girls so that in the future their sex lives are able to reach the expectations society has set for heterosexual intercourse. Sexual relations such as this have translated into women becoming social and sexual agents, able to manipulate male dominance by producing challenges in the bedroom. This leads me to believe that then Stromae’s use of colors in the video could redefine power in terms of sexuality, and his lyrics to do the same. In the outro of Stromae’s song he sings “tous les mêmes et y’en a marre”, translating to “you’re all the same and we’re sick of it”. These lyrics in the video coordinate to an overall scan of both sides of his body as well as the actress in the video who reflects the same half-cisgender male, half-cisgender woman. By doing this scan and not focusing on a particular side of the body or gender designation, Stromae is speaking on both sides of the spectrum, telling cisgender males and cisgender females to each other that they’re sick of each other. This moreover is expressive of women complying to submissive stereotypes but also challenging them by exerting their power through demands for focus on their desires and satisfaction.

The case study, “Female gratification, sexual power and safer sex: female sexuality as an empowering resource among women in Rwanda” focuses on the probability for empowerment of women in sub-Saharan Africa in their communities, post-colonialism. Their progressive customs of ensuring positive experiences with heterosexual intercourse completely counteracts the stereotypes and expectations of female sexuality only being defined as submissive, primitive and reduction to purposes of reproduction. Thanks for joining me on my journey through the deeper roots of Stromae’s “Tous Les Mêmes”. Be sure to check out the music video embedded here on my blog!
Skafte, Ina, and Margrethe Silberschmidt. “Female Gratification, Sexual Power and Safer Sex: Female Sexuality as an Empowering Resource among Women in Rwanda.” Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol. 16, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–13., doi:10.1080/13691058.2013.815368.

Breaking Down: Tous Les Mêmes by Stromae – Primary

The singer-songwriter Stromae, born Paul Van Haver, originates out of Belgium with Rwandan paternal heritage. Much like the previous song in my last blog post, Stromae’s song is in French, one of the official languages of both Belgium and Rwanda. His song “Tous Les Mêmes”, which was released in 2013, has Cabaret influences and calls gender stereotypes into question. Throughout the song, he utilizes the lyrics in order to replicate the stereotypical perspectives of what seems to be a cisgender, straight male and a cisgender, straight female. His utilization of his lyrics to question gender roles and stereotypes is heavily played upon throughout the entire music video, so much so that it cannot be ignored, especially paired together.

The use of colors assigned to a gender is relied on to deliver the two perspectives that Stromae is addressing, and to clarify, “tous les mêmes” means “they are all the same”. In the video, he is styled so that half of his body is considered to be feminine, with his hair and makeup done and only shown under pink lighting. Additionally, when these frames occur his actions reflect the same. For example, in one of the first scenes, he is shown under pink lighting to be checking “herself” in the mirror. On the other hand, he is shown under green lighting in the same mirror to then be making a serious face and picking his nose. The music video continues on and pans to him groping the woman in his apartment, then switching over to Stromae-her and her male partner with him scratching his bum while lounging in his briefs. With the way that gender expectations are criticized, I was very surprised when researching to learn that the song was released in 2013 because I thought that the movement of breaking these expectations was a more recent one.

Through my research, I found that in Rwandan children’s literature, it is common for the fairytales to counter the traditional roles in their society and education and it is generally accepted, as a majority of the population as of 2002 is female (Ruterana). According to a separate case study mentioned by Ruterana, children as young as four years old can begin to identify supremacy and dependency with male and female characters. The researcher then goes on to state, “The exposure to female as well as male characters presented in positive and non-traditional roles is likely to alter children’s perceptions of the roles as males and females in society” (Ruterana). The video for Stromae’s hit song highlights the traditional roles of men and women, however, it does so in a light that is not positive and makes you want to reinforce the respective ideals by stating “they are all the same”. Also, he ensures he highlights that relationships are not always rainbows and butterflies.

Much like the video, the popular fairytale focused on in the study, “Ndabaga”, emphasizes the need to break these expectations because of how harmful it is to individuals and society as a whole. As quoted from one of the Rwandan primary school subjects “Men too who did not have any son were also discriminated: Ndabaga’s father was not considered as a man in the society and he was even going to die in the camp because he was not a man (BU6)” (Ruterana). How is it that only having daughters leads young children to associate it to not being a man, why is being a man defined as having sons? Whenever I read or hear things like this, I question why men were ever put as the superior gender, considering that without both it would be impossible to reproduce. Join me next time to continue to delve into the deeper meaning of “Tous Les Mêmes”. Be sure to check out the music video embedded here on my blog!

Ruterana, Pierre Canisius. “Children’s Reflections on Gender Equality in Fairy Tales: A Rwanda Case Study.” The Journal of Pan African Studies, National University of Rwanda, Jan. 2012.

Breaking Down: Unite et Litre by Baloji

The Congolese-Belgian artist, Baloji, discusses the economic struggles of his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in his song “Unite et Litre”. The lyrics of the song are written in French, the official language of the country as it was inherited during its colonization period. While I don’t speak French, the language barrier doesn’t take away from enjoying the upbeat elements of the song and the music video. The aspects of both make you want to learn exactly what Baloji’s words are.

In the music video, the main focus is on a young woman dancing in different locations, including that of which looks like the building of a brewing company. Baloji’s lyrics aim to critique the economic conditions of the Congo, with telecom companies (unit) and alcohol breweries (litre) possessing significant power on the continent. In fact, these two products became the cheapest available on the continent as of 2015–the title of the song refers respectively to these two industries. Through the choreography in the music video and the lyrics of the song, I decided to analyze the Zairianization and economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the Republic of Zaire, was under the rule of Mobutu. Following the nation’s achievement of independence from Belgium, Mobutu’s actions of the privatization of assets worsened the economic crisis, which led to the people conjuring up the strategy known as “debrouillez-vous”. This phrase translates to “you are on your own, fend for yourself”–similar to Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. This strategy led to the connection of community groups s a result of the people needing to provide for themselves.  The poverty that the nation faced, and continues to face as a result of expansion and globalization, is a situation where the state is failing to provide assistance for the basic needs of its people. African women have been forced to break their normal gender roles in order to discover their capabilities so that they may be able to provide for their families, instead of depending on the government and their husbands. As more and more men have become unemployed it is especially important for the women to step up to the plate, during the nation’s economy continuation into a downward spiral.

Through the economic downturn, a woman is often still expected to be the submissive, stereotype if her husband so chooses. As I read in, “Survivors of Sexual Violence Narratives on Women’s Livelihood Strategies in the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC Prior to the 1996 War”, Dario claims that “individuals, when facing life challenges, deploy different coping strategies to achieve an objective […] This objective is also subject to geographical location and socio-economic status issues that influence the adoption of any coping strategies” (Zihindula). To continue on, the feminist theory of rape is explained in connection to female dependence on their male counterparts, stating that “…dependence on men for their livelihood is related to male domination and men’s intention to continue excluding women from accessing and controlling economic resources” (Zihindula). The explanation of the feminist theory of rape abled me to make a connection to the dependence of the poor onto their elite counterparts–it is a never-ending cycle through lack of education and opportunities on both spectrums.

Next, I would like to discuss Zairianization and how this impacted the Republic of Zaire. For those of you wondering what Zairianization is, it was an ideology created by Mobutu in the nation of Zaire. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary, Zairianization, or Mobutuism, was originally based on a uniquely Zairean identity and increased the focus on Mobutu’s role in the nation. Throughout Mobutu’s time as ruler, he stole heaps of money from the country’s economy, and due to the theft, the economy collapsed–which of course connects to the trust of the “common people” in the “elite”. This leads to his Zairianization ideology, and created many nationalized companies that soon went bankrupt. Although Mobutu eventually turned over many of the companies back to the people. What I have found particularly intriguing is the fact that the country’s economy was never able to recover–which leads us to the economic struggles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in today’s day.

Today, the Congo maintains “an extraordinarily high unemployment rate” (Kim). Further into this article, “To Grow the Economy, Support Female Founders” by Jim Yong Kim, he advises that in order to achieve a common goal of ending extreme poverty, the amount of women-owned businesses need to increase. Kim believes that through investing in women in this manner, the goal will be achieved much faster in that these businesses create jobs and break societal norms and laws in countries that block them from being independent of a man (Kim). However, while businesses in general clearly create more jobs and grow the market, I do not see how strictly investing in women-owned businesses would at all initiate an end to worldwide poverty. An alternative that I see better fit, in connection with the issues Baloji highlights through “Unite et Litre” would be to open the market to more businesses in general in order to lessen the domination of telecom companies and breweries in the Congo and other countries in the center of the continent of Africa. Furthermore, Kim states that through training and mentoring programs it has proven to build up businesses run by women, and they have created great results. If these strategies were opened into workshops for all people, I think that it would lead to a jumpstart in the economy and create a better variation of wealth distribution and product options.

Through new policies and business-building workshops, I believe that the economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces a better chance of climbing its way back up the ladder. As of now, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries, still suffering from economic impact under the rule of Mobutu. Baloji’s critique of the economy in his home country is a fair one, in that the two cheapest products remain to be considered luxuries. How is it that the telecom companies and breweries have made their products the most accessible? Join me in my next post to critique and discover, alongside Baloji, just how despite the nation’s independence of European colonization, lead them to be under the control of these industries that are able to dominate and maintain low prices in Central Africa.

Make sure to check out the video imbedded here on my blog!