It’s a long way from Rwanda to Ottawa, but The Mighty Popo has always found a way to bridge the distance with his music.

Speaking from his downtown home prior to two weekend shows — a spirited free show at the Tulip Festival and a club gig Saturday at Zaphod’s — Jaques Murigande, more commonly called Popo, is eager to talk about the power of song.

“When people come to hear me play I want them to think of cultural values and a sense of community. Respect for one another. It might sound corny, but that’s what really pushed me to play music, is bringing that togetherness,” he says.

Born in Burundi, to parents from neighbouring Rwanda, Popo has always made an effort to include the history and culture of his African roots in his sound. Adept at playing both the blues and world beats with his equally skilled band, he has been a mainstay at many local stages for years. As well, he has received broad national and international recognition.

It seems fitting to have Popo — who says he always hopes his music will make people think, as well as be entertained — bring his musical thoughts to a festival that celebrates ideas.

“My music is happy, but I want it to be inspiring and healing. We have a responsibility as musicians to inform ourselves so we can inform others,” he says.

Part of his own journey to become informed came in the lead up to his most recent album, Muhazi, for which he won a 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award. The album, named after a tranquil lake in Rwanda, was inspired by Popo’s travels throughout the country, as he aimed to learn more about the musical and artistic history of his people.

He says he likes to take a lot of time between albums — often three to four years — and not be rushed with the music. But he is often writing new material, some of which he promises to showcase at both concerts this weekend.

Whether it’s new tunes or old familiar songs, he always aims to put on a good show.

“Every concert for me is as great as the next one or the last one and I take pride in it. No matter where we play, we’re always there to celebrate life.”

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