“Genocide commemoration period is like a black night to me, I don’t even want to talk much about this hell month,” explains Ntakirutimana Felicien in this interview a day before the start of the genocide commemoration week on Friday.
Ntakirutimana is a nurse at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, a job he has held since 2005. He is also a Rastafarian and reggae musician. As a musician he goes by the stage moniker of 2T Reggae Man.
As a medical practitioner, he is in a league of his own. Where else in the country have you seen a male doctor or nurse spotting a thick mane of dreadlocks on their head?
Been through hell and back
Ntakirutimana (or 2T) has good reason to not want to engage in talk about the “hell month” of April.
He lost both parents and five brothers during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, not to mention “uncles, aunties and other relatives”. He was only ten years old.
This personal tragedy would later inform his decision to take up both music and medical work. Today, singing positive reggae songs and treating the sick offer him therapy for the deep psychological wounds and pain of loss.
His fondest memory is that of one of his brothers, Hategekimana Philip who also perished in the genocide. So fond (and painful) is the memory that, in 2002, he embarked on a mission to accord the remains of his brother a decent burial.
“I decided to rebury him because he was thrown in a toilet and that’s a place where nobody can wish his/her relative to be in,” he explained, adding that “to me it was a simple decision to make.”
“The torture I saw meted on my brother was enough for me to stand any other hard and bad situation that a human can face; he was beaten thoroughly, all his teeth were knocked out, and one of his eyes was gorged out. He had big wounds all over his body, hands and his ligaments were cut so he could not stand or hold anything. He was buried alive but didn’t die, I remember the killer asked me to slap him so that he dies because they had tried everything to finish his breath but in vain.”
Watching his brother succumb to his killers was a turning point in 2T’s life:
From that time is when I could face a killer with no fear and I said no, I was young but I told him that I don’t want blood in my hands, maybe he thought I could do it due to fear, I believe from that time my heart is strong enough to face different challenges of this world. So later the killers decided to throw him in a pit latrine where he stayed 3 days before the last breath (according to people who could pass near that latrine and hear his weak voice calling), for sure he was strong.
2T still holds vivid memories of his brother when he still lived:
“He was a very kind guy, very bright at school, he was friendly and so used to have many friends, he used to obey our parents, and loved physical exercises.”
Life as an orphan
Ntakirutimana holds a special attachment to all his names
‘Ntakirutimana’ means ‘nothing is above God’, and Felicien is a French name which means ‘happy’. I am a happy man and I believe that nothing is above God, so I believe in God,” he explains.
His musical stage name, 2T is a legacy of his early years as an orphan growing up with fellow orphaned kids;
“2T came from my childhood nickname –Tonto, which means uncle, because I grew up as an orphan, but an orphan who takes care of other orphans. Those small orphans below me used to call me uncle or ‘Tonto’ in Kinyarwanda. Everybody called me Tonto, although I was young. Even older people used to call me Tonto.”
He simply took out to two “Ts” in Tonto to come up with 2T.
“It was not easy at all. I remember I dropped out of school for two years because I had lost the taste of life, I could not figure out the importance of education, and in my mind I had this question (is it important to go to school? How, if my brothers who went to school were tortured and killed with their degrees?”
Music as therapy
“Music played a big role in my life to heal myself and that’s why I chose to do reggae music because it is the only style of music which allows the strong and positive messages to be transmitted through music,” he explains.
“Music had played a big role in my life since childhood. Singing was a culture in my family since I was born (in children’s choir and even at home, after genocide I could remember me and my family singing together every evening before bed time (I was born in seventh day Adventist family). Those memories touched my brain in a positive way, I remembered happy moments, the sweet and encouraging sounds of songs from hymn books positively came back in my mind, I rejoined the children’s choir again, and I have been able to open up my lips and sing again. The journey of happiness, encouragement and moving forward was felt in my heart because of music.”
Today, he owns a Music For Peace and Development (MPD), a live reggae band:
“Reggae music is the only weapon I have to pass different positive messages I have in me, like my brother Lucky Dube said: (REGGAE IS STRONG) Reggae in the bathroom, bed room, church and everywhere. As well Bob said the same: ONE LOVE.”
Away from the musical stage, 2T also spreads his reggae messages of peace and love through a slot called Reggae Vibes on both Contact TV and radio.
“I decided to become a Rasta man, a lion man, a preacher of peace and love, a friend of the poor people, orphans and widows, In short, a buddy to sufferers. My message to the entire world is: Practice peace and love, try to help those in need, and positively move forward no matter the situation.
I know I can teach, preach and influence people positively through music, and that is my mission. My mission on this earth till I die will be to teach people PEACE AND LOVE, living in harmony, fight any kind of segregation, teach the youth about being positive and development, and many more positive messages. That’s what we do with my band MPD.