Obituary: My last moment with Mzee Sentore
Late February, 2012, The New Times’ Eric Kabeera got an opportunity to interview Rwanda’s music icon, Athanase Sentore Rwagiriza, shortly before his departure to Fortis hospital in Mumbai, India, where he died from liver complications.
Here, in his interview, he reveals how Sentore shared with him his background and what were his plans for future.
Grief and sadness filled my heart – I can still feel my heart breaking, a piece of me lost. Mzee Sentore’s death catapulted me into a time of deep grief; a time when I questioned all I thought I knew about God, while clinging to Him daily for the strength to get through the pain.
I was fortunate to have had an interview with Mzee Sentore, a week before he went to India for treatment and he promised me that he would come back. Little did I know that it was my last time to talk to and set my eyes on him!
Though he looked physically old, Sentore was still strong and he was so optimistic on returning back home healthy and concentrate on his project, which was to promote culture, especially among the youth.
The former close aid to King Rudahigwa Mutara III, said that there was a need to restore culture in Rwanda. And that he was planning to start staging sensitisation concerts where he would invite the youth, government officials and old people to edify them on how to sustain the culture.
“I have realised that Rwandan culture is gradually deteriorating, not only among the youth but also with the old people – for example, I have been seeing Rwandan women dress in revealing outfits, leaving very little to imagination,” observed Sentore.
“That’s not our culture- those are habits they copy from the West. We really have to be vigilant about anything that can destroy our culture.”
During his career, the legend won various trophies in different countries because of his original and unique compositions.
The 80-year-old singer said that local artists had diverted from the traditional music to the western genres, saying that this has no significance to the country’s growth.
“It’s not bad to practice Western music because we live in a modern world; but they [artistes] should not forget their cultural music. It would be important for them to master both western and cultural,” he advised.
He challenged present-day musicians for relying on pre-recorded musical instrumentals instead of using their own voices to sing, claiming that this has distorted the music industry.
Donned in a suit and dark sheds, Sentore said that as a youngster he performed in many countries including Spain, America, UK, China, Germany, where he won various trophies. He urged to local artistes make original music, saying it can uplift them to the international level.
He said that he would never forget the period he performed in the US in an event that was widely covered by the international media.
On colonialism, Sentore said Rwandans lived in harmony before colonisation
According to him, before the whites came, Rwandans lived in harmony and that all the discriminative ideologies that besieged Rwanda culminating into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi were down to the ideological background of colonialists.
“We lived in harmony but after independence we got leaders who were influenced by colonialists and practiced discrimination among Rwandans. That’s when the whole ethnic stuff began,” he noted.
The late Sentore trained many Rwandan artistes including his son, renowned Artistes cultural singer, Intore Massamba.
Mzee Sentore had parental care. I remember him telling me during the interview: Mwana wanjye uzakunde igihugu cyawe kandi ukore cyane, (My son, you should love your country and be hard working).
Though Sentore is no more, we shall always remember him as a man who loved his country, especially restoration of culture. Mzee Sentore was laid to rest in Rusororo cemetery, on March 26. May he R.I.P!
Artistes Massamba and Jean Paul Samputu pay tribute
Massamba said: “Mzee has left us with a cultural patrimony. He was a parent, musician, a mentor, a friend and a benefactor. He was one of the most popular and talented singers.
“He has certainly left us but he will always be with us, as we shall keep in our memories his gentleness, amiability and his experience, his knowledge of people and how to approach them.”
Jean Paul Samputu: “What Mzee Sentore did that other artistes never did, was that and he loved culture so much that he even encouraged others to embrace it. He taught very many people, including myself, and is the reason we are considered as great musicians today”.