Gaël Faye, 34, is an international recording artiste and writer with roots in Rwanda. His life-long passion for writing peaked with the official launch of his first book, Petit Pays, a 216-page book unveiled in August 2016.
The New Times’ James Karuhanga caught up with him to get a firsthand account of what inspired him to retrace the footsteps of his past through a work of fiction.
Your book, Petit Pays, what is it really about?
It’s a story about a group of kids living in the dead end in Bujumbura during the 90s. Their childhood life is a paradise; they live near nature, in a friendly atmosphere and then, war breaks out.
One of the characters, Gabriel, tries to stay away; he doesn’t want to be a Hutu or a Tutsi. He just wants to remain a child. He finds that his way to avoid the violence is to read books. In spite of his effort, however, the war is a reality he has to face. Then you have another character, Gabriel the adult, 20 years later. He reflects on his story earlier. He now lives in Paris and wants to go back to the dead end and find answers to his fears and questions about his childhood, and to find the people he left there.
Was this tale inspired by your own life story?
Not totally. But I use some of my autobiographical elements in the novel to have a realistic and concrete basis. It was my first and I wanted my writing to be real, give an authentic atmosphere. The main character is Rwandan French; his father is French and mother Rwandan who was a refugee in Burundi just like in my case. It was important to put the main character in my main junction of origins.
What then was your true inspiration?
I wanted to write something about our own humanity, and cowardice. All humans are cowards, a bit. Gabriel, my main character, in a way, is a coward who wants to say ‘this is not my problem’ and not face the real world. But the problem is here and he is part of it and must face it head on.
I also wanted to write a book about what we call in French, Le paradis perdu, or the lost paradise. This is a story about a lost paradise; as people often want to remain a child. I put this story in the context of Burundi, and Rwanda, during the 90s; the war in Burundi and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Is it more of a Burundi experience? Isn’t it?
But Rwanda is very present because the mother of the main character is Rwandan. The Genocide happens and when the mother goes to Rwanda, she becomes almost crazy as she lost a lot; family and friends, and this context is not lost in the story.
What then are the similarities, or differences, between the novel and one of your songs, Petit Pays, seeing that they have the same title?
The song is about the two countries. Why I call the song, Petit Pays, it’s because in the chorus the singer says, Agahugu Gatoya [a small country]. There is no real link between the two.
Besides the Gaël we’re used to as a singer, are we now going to see more of Gaël the writer?
Yeah, definitely. Before I became a singer, I considered myself an author. My first job is writing. I mean my job because I lived with my pen for seven years. I write for the theatre, small movies, poems and short stories. Sometimes I do journalistic articles. You have to find your own way of expression. Novel is a new way but it was already inside me. Now I want to do new projects; movie series and so on. I have plenty of ideas. For example, I want to do a series about policemen here in Rwanda; about crime and putting in the historical background of the region.
I read you now intend to settle in Rwanda. Is that so?
Yeah, I’ve been in Rwanda for more than one year now.
Are you making Rwanda your permanent home?
Nothing is definite in my life, like everyone. [Laughs] I feel good here. I wanted to know this side of my origin because I’m French and Rwandan but grew up in Burundi. I didn’t know this country except during vacations.
What future do you envision now?
To improve this world. I want to give love to my family, my children. A good education and also to improve the society where we live. And continue to create stories, songs and novels.
Do you recall exactly when your love for music started?
At 13, when I arrived in France. I was a bit lost as a kid. I arrived in a new country with cold weather and everything changed. I started to write. I had no friends. Writing became my friend. Afterwards, I discovered rap music. Before music, writing is my real pleasure.
When exactly did your first song get written?
I was 16, but the first time I felt that I want this [singing] to be my job was when I was about 21 and, I wrote the song, A-France, on my album; Pili pili sur un croissant au beurre. I wrote this song when I was a student in Lyon. I felt it was magic and I said, ‘I want to do this every day.’
Besides music and love for writing, what else did you do then? What about academics?
I have a masters in finance. Before really deciding to live with my pen, I worked for three years. I was in an investment firm, working in risk management. Two years in this company, and then afterwards, one year in an insurance company.