Empra Jahboy’s long walk to Dancehall fame

Empra Jahboy (real names Bonny Gakunde) believes he was born a musician. However it wasn’t until 2011, while in high school that he came to that realization and he has never looked back.
Jahboy during a recent performance. / Courtesy
Jahboy during a recent performance. / Courtesy

Empra Jahboy (real names Bonny Gakunde) believes he was born a musician. However it wasn’t until 2011, while in high school that he came to that realization and he has never looked back.

His turning point came while watching a television show in Kampala during school break.

“Coco Finger, a musician and guest on the show was asked for his final remarks to viewers and he said; wherever you are, always ask yourself what you want to be, take your time and think of the first thing you can do best and perfect, take time to do it, develop it, and that will be your destiny,” he explains.

“I picked from that and realized I was a musician. I won’t say the day I released my first song is the day I became a musician. I became a musician the day I realized that music is what I can do best.”

Even as he returned to Rwanda to embark on his A-level studies, his mind was already made up. Soon, he would find himself dividing his time between school and his musical pursuits, despite the risks it involved.

Soon, however, his efforts paid off when he walked into a recording studio for the very first time, culminating in the release of his first single, a dancehall track titled BOND (Beginning of a new day). Unfortunately however, the song did not see the light of day:

“The producer stole the song from me before I could not release it and took it to Burundi,” Jahboy explains. Between then and last year, he literally took a break from music to reorganize his private life and also to complete his degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Jomo Kenyatta University.

Last year, he recorded My life, his first official release as a solo artist.

“Music is like any other business out there –you have to be strategic and work smart. I asked myself what I could give to the Rwandan audience that was not there before. I came to the conclusion that I have to give them dancehall music and that’s what I have done from the first song,” he pointed out.

He has amassed an enviable catalogue of songs so far, with some of the most popular being; Envy, Growth and fame, and One in a million. Other titles to his name include; Omulele, Try me, and Jah love, among others. He has many more titles that are still in the works in different studios both in Kigali and Rwanda.

With his Ugandan connection (his mother is Rwandan), Jahboy occasionally tailors some of his songs for the Ugandan market. He sings in Kinyarwanda, English, Luganda, and a splattering of Jamaican patwa and Swahili.

I ask what his dream as a dancehall musician is and he retorts:

“My dream was and still is to modernize Rwandan music to an international level. We have never had a musician representing the country at international awards like BET and AFRIMAA, and the main reason for this is not that we can’t sing well; the reason is that our music does not reach there.”

Still, he laments the generally lukewarm reception accorded to Dancehall as a music genre in Rwanda. This, he says, is the first challenge. He cites the media as another challenge:

“I thought that by doing something new people would embrace it, but the problem is with media. Media should be the one linking us to the public, but they too are yet to embrace what we’re doing. They are yet to understand why I’m not doing what other musicians like Tom Close and The Ben and Bulldog are doing.”

Jahboy believes that the media’s role is just as important as the public’s in supporting and popularizing the genre, if not more important:

“The public will not take us there (international scene). It is only the media which can take us there. When I do a song here and the media plays it, it’s making it a success. Booking agencies that look for songs that can be featured on these international awards move around looking for songs that are on power play.

That is how musicians end up at these awards. Otherwise, no fan is in a position to take a musician to the BET or any other awards, however much money they may have. Even when it comes to people’s choice awards, where it’s the public that votes for the best songs, still it comes from the media playing the songs and making them known to the public.

So, according to me, the media is still the biggest challenge. If they can call I-Octane from Jamaica, Wiz Kid from Nigeria and Bebe Cool from Uganda, it means that even a Rwandan artist who has something to show can also be called.”

The other major hurdle he cites is that of lack of support structures for up-and-coming talents:

“Management of artistes has never been a profession here. We know only one manager in Rwanda –Muyoboke Alex. It is every upcoming musician’s dream to be managed by Muyoboke but one man can’t do it alone.

It’s unfortunate that investors always think of other things and not music. In other countries you have talent scouts moving from studio to studio looking for new talent to sign.”



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