Mukurarinda on his plans to safeguard Rwandan music

A lawyer, singer, and songwriter, Alain Mukurarinda does not strike as someone passionate about music especially when he is in court wearing lawyer gowns prosecuting cases.

A lawyer, singer, and songwriter, Alain Mukurarinda does not strike as someone passionate about music especially when he is in court wearing lawyer gowns prosecuting cases.

Although he took leave from his legal profession to join his wife who was transferred from Bralirwa to Heineken in Holland last year, for many years Mukurarinda pursued his musical and legal careers concurrently.

The 47 year-old has six albums to his name and they include: ‘Stop the drugs’, Tribute to the Impala Orchestra, ‘Madoudou’, ‘Teta’, ‘Igitego’ and ‘Murekatete’.

He also brought to Rwanda great international artists such as Kassav , Oliver Ngoma and Jacky Rapon. He also organised modern dance competitions at the Centre culturel Franco-Rwandais in 2005, modern dances and traditional dances competition in 2007 and 2008, a concert for Peace and in 2005 won the Best Artist Award.

The last four albums are a compilation of the songs he wrote during his years practising law. Many of his songs like Murekatete, Musekeweya, Gloria have become and are still hits, some of his other songs ‘Tsinda Batsinde’, are very popularly used when football teams win matches. He sung it when Rwanda qualified for their first ever African Cup of Nations football tournament in 2004.

His departure however, followed with silence from the music scene.

“For me,” he says,“it was inconceivable to live apart from my wife and my children. As for the musical career, we never leave it, at certain moments in life we can exercise it differently but when you have the art in you or it runs in your blood, it’s for life, so writing songs, and singing cannot escape from you.”

Mukurarinda in studio. / Courtesy

He adds: “It is true that for some time I have not personally done much about my music except to record some songs that I do not have on an album although I released them on different radios across the country, but that does not mean that I have dropped the mic or dropped my fans.”

Grooming young talent

For him, changes in the Rwandan music ‘that is so rich but unfortunately not exploited properly or as it deserves,’ he decided to put his music career in a state of parenthesis to help young aspiring artists, across the country, who have real talent but cannot afford to grow it. That’s how he created a contest called ‘HangaHiga’.

“At the moment, the Rwandan music industry is disorganised, which is why we do not really have any artists capable of competing with their peers in neighbouring countries or elsewhere.”

“We will not have a real music industry in Rwanda as elsewhere in the world as there will be no artists who can boast of living their art.

When I say live their art I mean an artist capable of rehearsing every day like a football player trains every day, having artists being able to perform concerts all year round without being accompanied each time with a group of other artists, an artist capable of producing albums and video clips, sell them and derive an income that allows him to live decently and even apply for a loan from the bank for other projects because for me a singer who lives only to participate in competitions, an artist who only lives to advertise, is not an artist worthy of the name.”

Mukurarinda began his music career at a young age. / Courtesy

He goes on to retort: “We will have a real music industry when artists have understood why they want to make their art a job and benefit from their work.

I do not denigrate works from elsewhere, but ask ourselves a simple question, when a Rwandan artist wants to sing for Rwandans and he sings in Kinyarwanda but on a hip hop rhythm, or from Nigeria or elsewhere, who is he singing for ?Yet when we invite international artists and they come to us, don’t they play for us in Swahili, Lingala and especially in their traditional rhythms that they have simply modernised?”

“So we will have a real music industry in Rwanda, the day the artists will have made works in which Rwandans will really find themselves in, like the so-called “Igisope” (folk music) because at that moment, Rwandans will have no other choice than to support their artistes by buying their music and going to support them in their shows.”

“We will have a real music industry when those who play music from artistes, namely radios, televisions, nightclubs, DJs, and studios that make copies across the country, understand that they have to pay for the music that they play. We will also have a real music industry when the culture of free concerts through various competitions that are organised across the country are gone because an artist whose people have seen them perform for free, whether he wants it or not, will never be able to pay for his concert even if they are his fans.”

Muku was a prosecutor attached to Gasabo District. / Courtesy

To remedy this, together with some artists, he set up a music competition dubbed ‘HangaHiga’ to identify and recruit new talents from different age groups who do not have the means to record in studios, or have the opportunity to showcase their skills singing or song writing skills but do not have the possibility to promote their work.

Hanga-Higa helps young people to develop talent from Rwandan songs, music, and traditional dance that will allow local artists to cross borders with their work, develop, modernise, and protect artistic work - music, song writing and traditional Rwandan dance which will be supported by traditional and modern instruments.

It further gives them a dream to become musicians, the confidence to perform in front of big audiences and an opportunity to penetrate into the music industry.

The winners then sign a five-year deal with Rwanda Music Production, a music label affiliated to Hanga-Higa.

“It is not understandable how Rwanda doesn’t have renowned international artists yet Rwandan music, songs and traditional dances come among the best and most varied in Africa, the reason why the African Union entrusted Rwanda to organise the Pan African Dance Festival (FESPAD) that takes place every two years ´ we have, more than other African countries, a bigger variety in terms of music, songs and dances, there is no single artist renowned internationally from Rwanda.”

“I decided to slow down on my music so that I could dedicate myself to the safeguarding of our Rwandan music by helping young talents across the country because I feel that if we artists do not do this ourselves no one else will do it for us.”

Mukurarinda performs during a past concert. / Courtesy

At the moment the project is seeking out for a sponsor to continue developing raw talent because, ‘following the organisation of three editions of HangaHiga, the project became big and exceeded our financial means.’ 

“When this goal that I set will be achieved I will naturally return to my own musical career. I urge my fans to be patient and to continue listening to my music that I made available on my website because what interests me currently is to help the modernisation of the Rwandan music and its worldwide outreach, helping young talents who cannot afford to make their works live from their art because I am convinced that the talent is there,” he says.

About the singer

Mukurarinda was born in Kigali in 1970. When he was nine years, he sang in the children’s choir at Paroisse St. Michel church and at the end of his high school in 1990, he created with his friend Nsengiyumva Jean-Jacques, Galaxy Band orchestra that became very popular. 

Besides music, which has always been his passion, he is also passionate about law and holds a degree from the Catholic University of Louvain. Since 2002 he was a prosecutor attached to Gasabo district until 2016 when he left the country to join his family in the Netherlands

“I have the chance to practice the two jobs I love. So when I go from one to the other it happens naturally without me having to think about it and it costs me no effort,” he says.

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