Knowless is not a stage name, for those of you who used to think like me. It’s real. But since everybody seems to like her, and although this column is about stage names, which she does not have, we shall make mention of her.
Knowless has no extra name for stage but if I were to come up with one for her, it would have to come from the name we already know. The easiest way to do it would be to cut the name into two equal parts, in which case we would wind up with “Know Less”. But common knowledge shows us that such a name carries unnecessary negative undertones. We can call her “Know More” instead. That Nzaba Mpari tune qualifies her for the last option.
Knowless may not be my tight yet (she has refused to pick my calls so far), but I have still managed to cultivate a fairly decent circle of musician friends in Kigali. I have this feeling Rwandan music is more melody-conscious than the Ugandan pop sound I had grown accustomed to.
Ugandan pop borrows heavily from the crazy Jamaican dancehall sound, and is typically characterized by hoarse voices, swearing, flossing, chanting, and of course, semi-nude video vixens popularly known as “queen dancers” gyrating their hips on a sandy beach.
Rwandan pop music on the other hand borrows heavily from American hip hop and R&B influences. While the Jamaican sound dominates Ugandan music, Rwanda can safely be called R&B country.
But perhaps one thing that musicians in the two industries share is their affinity for stage names. A stage name is that thing you call a musician instead of their birth name, and which usually has no meaning at all.
In Kenya, there is a popular artiste who goes by the name Nameless (if that can actually be called a name, that is). One wonders; if you are nameless, then how do you expect me, your fan, to address you?
The need for a stage name usually arises when a musician wants to project a certain persona or brand him/herself a certain way, usually different from what they actually are. This is why stage names are more evident among pop musicians, whose musical influences draw heavily from a borrowed Western culture.
For the artistes that are singing who they are, the name on their birth certificate or identity card is just good enough. Some familiar names come to mind; Kizito Mihigo, Jean Paul Samputu, Intore Masamba, Gaby Kamanzi… Would you ever imagine Samputu or Masamba going by some flowery stage name?
Singer Eric Senderi (he of the Sukura Umujyi fame) recently added both spice and length to his stage persona; he now goes by the more flamboyant “Senderi International Hit”. He penned the song in 2011, as a tribute to Kigali City Council’s cleanliness campaign, which a crew from CNN’s Inside Africa programme came down here to document.
CNN did not play the song directly as Senderi would have us believe. Rather, it was the raw audio blaring from the speakers as captured on camera.