Old is gold: Why folk music nostalgia is on the rise

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Deo Munyakazi. / File

Deo Munyakazi is a fast rising traditional music artiste. The 25-year-old is passionate and proud to be identified by this genre. His undying passion for the Inanga music instrument is a contrast of what people his age prefer.

Although most youth prefer modern music, Munyakazi is among the few of his generation that are determined to promote and preserve the cherished folk music, which is an embodiment of the values and traditions that define Rwandan people.

Indeed the Inanga has become his preferred mark of musical identity and point of uniqueness.

At his concerts, Munyakazi occasionally surprises his audience by performing cover versions of popular Rwandan folk songs that date as way back as the 1970s, way before he was born. He currently performs at weddings, festivals and social events. The level of folk music nostalgia at any social event is a pointer that the space of traditional music can never be occupied by any other genre.

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Cultural dance troupes play a key role in passing on the tradition. Net photos

However, the Munyakazi warns of the threat from modernity as more youth look to modern music leaving him with a tiny audience of mainly the older generation.

“My audience is mainly mature people. Sometimes when I go to the countryside, I perform for the elderly because this is their culture and they appreciate folk music,” he says.

However, cultural activists say traditional folk music occupies a unique place that cannot be easily taken. This view is held by Eric Karengera aka Eric Soul, a cultural activist and events organizer. The son of Rwanda’s legendary traditional singer Cecile Kayirebwa, organizes the annual IngazoyaKayirebwa concert, which was inaugurated in 2014.

He reveals that his concerts attract a multi-generational audience, “because the young people are adventurous.” He is however quick to add that foreigners tend to attach more value to these concerts because “they are about the authenticity and uniqueness of our culture.”

He argues that this could be explained by the fact that the West is increasingly interested in global arts, including African traditional music.

Karengera wonders why in Rwanda it is all about following international stars- a trend that is common among the youth.

In a similar tone, Miss Heritage 2017 and Miss Rwanda 2017, first runner up, Guelda Shimwa, says folk music is unique and people of all ages should embrace it-the young and old.

According to Shimwa, the youth are key in preservation of folk music. This calls for creating a space for young talented Rwandans to keep age-old traditions fresh, but also relevant through music.

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Gakondo Group perform a traditional Kinyarwanda dance. Net photo.

“Our culture is very rich but some Rwandans are clueless about it. This is the time to know deeply about our culture through different mediums that are sustainable. Through loving and showing pride in it, the world will come to know of it too,” she says.

It’s not only about the conservation, she adds. “It’s about traditions, but also about the way today’s young generation interpret those art forms. There are several ways that these artists can incorporate innovative forms of entertainment to keep the young audience entertained.”

Jules Sentore is one of the 21 grandchildren of the late Athanase Sentore, the tunesmith who was well known for his exceptional traditional music.

He believes that even though this genre has enabled him earn revenue, more needs to be done, in terms of attracting more youth.

The 26-year-old is one of the biggest traditional artistes in Rwanda who started as a traditional dancer at a very tender age before embarking on a singing career.

“Slowly the younger generation is beginning to accept my music because they recognize the passion which I have,” Sentore explains adding that there is need for investors to support traditional music.

Like for other young musicians into folk music, many people get surprised when they see a young person like Sentore doing traditional music, but “I want to see that change. We still need many artistes whose passion is directed towards traditional music,” he says.

Hope for the music genre

Munyekazi says Rwanda’s music scene is entering a “really interesting stage,” where cultural revival efforts are converging with the global music scene to produce an entirely new style of artistic expression.

He cites the current trend of young people using traditional instruments to create new rhythms and new sounds.

“A growing number of people have started to appreciate its beautiful rhythm and stage show. They also realized the importance of passing down such an ancient form of art.”

The Inanga star reveals that many young people are approaching him to learn the instrument. He introduced his sister Esther Niyifasha 18-year-old to the Inanga instrument.

Munyakazi has performed at different events and festivals with some of the leading traditional musicians, such as famous Rwandan vocalist and composer Cecile Kayirebwa, and Guy Beaujot from Belgian. He has also worked with Henhouse Prowlers- an American band, during their tour of Africa. He also did a fusion with the band in a mixed sound of Inanga, violins, acoustic, and banjo.

“I try to create other Inanga styles and incorporate it within different styles of HipHop, Reggae and zulu and also release videos of my songs. I also have a dream of setting up Inanga School of music and I’m teaching interested people how to play the Inanga on YouTube. I’m using social media to spread our spirit of the Rwandan culture all over the world,” he says.

Sentore has also had the chance to extend his music beyond just the borders. He participated in FESPAM in Brazaville and several other concerts in Germany and USA.

Emmanuel Ndayizeye has been a passionate traditional dancer since he was a child. Together with his wife they founded of Intayoberana cultural troupe that he founded in 2010 after he left IngazoNgali, another cultural troupe.

Ndayizeye says his troupe has trained a number of young people as the art must be passed down to younger generations. His troupe now boasts of 85 members, mostly youth.

The troupe also stages performances and concerts as a way to pass on the art and enrich their lives, in addition to festivals outside the country like the Livingstone International Cultural and Arts festival in Livingstone, Zambia and in Cote d’ivoir.

Revenue sustainability

Ndayizeye reveals that even though staging a traditional concert is costly in terms of costumes and performer payments, the shows are worth it.

Our expenditure sometimes goes up to Rwf 5 million but in the end, a good performance will pull a bigger audience. We get weekly gigs for weddings and festivals abroad and are paid handsomely, he says.

He adds that the youth should not shy away from these traditional performances if they have the talent as it can improve their lives.

Karengera however argues that talent is not enough.

“A number of factors should be considered and not just the talent. The relevance of the artistes as regards the industry is a serious issue, music promoters, marketing and communication or the lack of it, all lead to how people react to cultural music festivals,” he explains.

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YOUR VOICE: How can folk music be popularised among the youth?

One of the challenges that Rwanda has is the space. Other countries have vibrant cultural centres, a number of recording and dancing studios, and also innovative spaces where artistes can meet, rehearse, and discuss a number of projects. If we can have such spaces, we will be able to do cultural entertainment professionally.

Derrick Kagabo, IT specialist

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It’s important to reach out to children at an early age because they can be less open to new experiences as they get older. Most talents develop at a young age and therefore grooming these talents in schools and training young children can help sustain the tradition.

Clarisse Kamanzi, business lady

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People don’t just decide in one day to go to such concerts. It takes exploration and exposure and increasingly, younger people want that exposure via social-networking tools before they’ll go to a live performance. It should be up to the promoters to scale up their marketing strategies to ensure that more youth are involved.

Solange Kiiza, student

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By incorporating other musical styles, traditional music could attract the millennials. The music can be blended with international songs to give it more exposure.

Jean Pierre Muhumuza, event decorator