When the Genocide against the Tutsi broke out in 1994, Jean Claude Yvan Akirimari, alias Engineer Kibuza, was only four years old. They had been living peacefully in Kigali but on the fateful day the Genocide started, they had to flee.
Akirimari fled with his mother and three siblings while his father, who was a marked man, tried to hide from the killers.
Their house was reduced to rubble, while the killers looted all their household items, reducing the family to paupers.
Akirimari says that his father was hit on the head with a blunt object. But they were lucky to reach Kamonyi in the Southern Province where they were rescued by RPA soldiers who had set up base there.
Today, Akirimari is among the artistes who are using music to pass on the message of peaceful co-existence.
During each commemoration period, he makes sure that he produces and performs a song to promote the message of reconciliation and forgiveness.
He turns philosophical when explaining why he does commemoration songs. “The message is to tell Rwandans sunrise is always preceded by darkness.”
He adds, “In that period we were in darkness but now we are in sunshine which is evidenced by the amount of tremendous development the country has achieved, rising from the rubble to a country the world is now proud of.”
Among the songs he released include, Amateka aduhe umutekano, Umurage, Kwibuka ni ukwiyubaka and Inkovu, which is about remembering the dark past so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
“It’s impossible to remove a scar and when you see it, it tells you not to make the same mistake that led to it since you’re going to have a similar one,” he says.
Akirimari also has a number of albums to his name, including, Umurage W’Ab’ejo, Umunyamahirwe and Tears of Africa, among others.
He also has a troupe of Intore dancers who perform on special occasions, like wedding ceremonies.
“Each country has its own identity and Intore is ours. I use the voice of an old man when we are performing Intore because this is the way I want to preserve our country’s heritage. I feel proud since I’m one of those people who have committed to promoting our culture through traditional music,” he explains.
He also mixes Rwandan traditional instruments with modern ones. He explains that when a person listens to such music, they will definitely know of its origins.
Akirimari urges local artistes to restrict themselves to promoting Rwanda’s authentic music, saying that when they copy Western music, they lose their identity.
“When a Rwandan musician travels abroad and starts playing hip-hop, he will lose out since there are many hip-hop musicians who do it better. But when musicians like Teta Diana, Jules Sentore, Mani Martin and Sentore Massamba perform on the same stage, they attract a crowd since they are bringing in something unique,” he says.
He also encourages the youth not to be swayed by the Western music they see on TV and YouTube since they cannot relate to it.