Singer Gaby Umutare has set out on a mission to make Rwandan music reverberate across the globe. He says South Africa’s Kwaito or Nigerian pop music sell abroad and there is no reason why Rwanda should not have its unique music version to sell globally. The singer’s solution to this challenge is aggressive promotion of Gakondo- fusion which is a blend of Gakondo music (traditional music) and other foreign genres.
“We don’t have to sound like Americans, that’s not what we need to develop our music. Youssou N’Dour and others didn’t do modern music to sell, so we need to base it on our culture and do the best we can,” Umutare says.
Gakondo-fusion was popularised by artiste Eric Mucyo and it has helped to strike a balance for listeners torn between Gakondo songs and music with entirely foreign beats albeit sang in Kinyarwanda.
“People like that music, when they hear it, they can relate. It’s just like Uganda’s Kadongo Kamu, a genre based on storytelling. It sells because people like it,” he says.
He admits that the love for more energetic beats is a challenge to overcome but the likes of Fally Ipupa and Kabo Snoop have showed that such a genre can play in clubs.
Umutare’s music also has a heavy influence of zouk and is inspired by the likes of Gabonese Afro-zouk and reggae singer, Oliver N’Goma. In his songs, he talks a lot about love and relationship issues.
“I start with the subject, and then the melody comes. I go to the studio and we start on something, the subject goes with the sound. Some subjects may not work with the zouk sound,” says Umutare.
And his subjects are not entirely focused on love but the youth in general as well. Last year Umutare participated in a United Nations Women’s drive to address the issue of harassment in public places and this year, he keeps getting invites to perform at schools.
“The youth get the message we spread, and they like music, so when we talk about drugs and HIV, and the need to focus on their studies, they take it,” Umutare says.
He adds that it’s an opportunity to tell them to like music because some of them will be the artistes of tomorrow, but not just any music.
“I want young people to venture in music based on their identity and culture,” he says.
Artistes like Jules Sentore has taken the sound countrywide in his Primus Guma Guma performances but Umutare believes that it is time artistes got together to promote it across the region.
“I want to see how I can work with other artistes to get our music past East Africa like the way South African, Nigerian and Kenyan artistes get a lot of air play outside the region. It’s about coming together. We need that for Rwandans to sell their music abroad,” the singer says.
In relation to the challenges in the music industry, the singer says, “The private sector’s involvement in the music industry is not massive, we don’t have big companies managing or promoting artistes, save for Bralirwa’s Guma Guma which supports artistes. Other big companies are not very much involved. It’s up to the artistes to do most of the activities themselves.”
The 25-year-old started singing in a church but didn’t step into a studio until 2011. His break came in 2014 and that was the same year he shared the stage as a curtain-raiser at Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platinum’s concert at Amahoro Stadium.
Umutare is known for songs like Ayo Bavuga, Ntunkangure, Mesa Kamwe and Injyana but he hopes to do more in Kiswahili and English to sell abroad.