Over the last seven years, Rwandans have been treated to various forms of electrifying musical performances on an annual basis — from R&B boybands to devotees of the traditional genre.
Arguably the biggest music contest in the country, Primus Guma-Guma Super Star (PGGSS) sees Rwanda’s top music stars battle for a grand prize of Rwf24 million.
Ten artistes are selected by a panel of professional music journalists, producers and experts who shortlist the best local artistes based on their performances and music genre.
On March 14, once again, ten artistes were selected for the eighth season of the competition.
Since its inception in 2011, Guma-Guma contest, sponsored by Bralirwa, the country’s largest brewer through its flagship brand Primus, has attracted acclaim and controversy in equal measure.
Joseph Mushyoma, the chief executive of East Africa Promoters, co-organisers of the competition, says this competition is essentially designed to help local musicians grow.
“There was a need to build capacity, and in 2010 when I presented the idea to Bralirwa, they liked it and we decided to go for it.”
He recalls holding the first roadshow (the musical shows staged in the run up to the grand finale) in Rusizi District in Western Province for the sponsors to see if the idea would actually work out.
“The turn-up was massive, people were excited. I can say it was one of the most attended shows, since then we haven’t looked back.”
But, unlike other talent shows around the world, such as X-Factor, a British reality television music contest, where competitors are an unknown talent, Guma-Guma focuses on practically established local artistes.
Mushyoma says the idea came from his own experience as a young man trying to make it in music, but his efforts were futile.
“I understand what artistes go through to rise to fame; this is why I chose to create such a platform and I am glad it is making a difference in the industry,” he says.
He says that in the past years, artistes were not valued as much and they were booked for very little money, but today, “many of them cannot perform for less than a million francs”.
Musicians are also growing as artistes. “Back then, artistes largely did playbacks but this is no longer the case, they now perform live.”
What are the pros and cons?
Winner of Guma-Guma season three, Emery Gatsinzi, popularly known as Riderman, says that, without such a competition, artistes can easily go into what he calls a ‘lazy mode’. Guma-Guma, he says, has helped many artistes to work hard and remain creative so as to give themselves a chance to win.
Gatsinzi says the competition’s strategy sweeps through artistes, which helps both upcoming and established musicians get to a higher level.
“This is good for us as musicians in terms of building our careers, but also, it is important for upcoming artistes who are trying to climb the ladder. As a Guma-Guma winner, I can say it opened my eyes and I got to see things differently,” he says.
The rapper also cites a boost in esteem that comes from performing before a huge crowd, which some artistes only get through this competition.
“It’s hard to pull such a crowd as an individual, and this has indeed taught us a lot. Also, as artistes we learn new skills, my first time to do live music was through Guma-Guma. This is a big step for someone in music and I think this is the case with so many other artistes,” he says.
And, Gatsinzi cannot overlook the financial benefits that come with it. He says the financial benefits have been of tremendous impact on the industry.
Grace Abayizera, best known as Young Grace, is one of the contestants in this year’s edition. She says she has lots of expectations and this being her fourth time in the competition her experience gives her an edge over others.
While some argue that the competition should have been more of a new talent search, Young Grace disagrees. She says the competition came at the right time, when the industry needed it the most.
“Yes we are now established artistes but previously we were struggling to make it,” she says. “It has made us superstars and I think many more competitions like this should come up as a way of continued support for Rwandan music. Guma-Guma came with a purpose and I think it has served it,” the rapper adds.
Lucky Nzeyimana, a showbiz presenter at Rwanda Television, believes Rwandans feel the impact of this competition on the music scene, citing the likes of Tom Close, Knowless and Riderman as some of the winners whose music was never the same after their participation in the annual competition.
He, however, faults artistes who tend to relax after the competition.
“Musicians should also work hard at all times and not focus only on Guma-Guma because it can stop anytime, so it’s not wise to depend or focus on it entirely,” he says.
“It is not easy for someone to travel and perform all over the country, but through this competition, our musicians are able to do this. It helps them get closer to their fans and also build their popularity.”
Nzeyimana applauds the organisers for their consistency and their interest in seeing the music industry reach another level.
“I think they are doing a good job, the fact that they have managed to organise this for eight consecutive years without a pause is admirable. Yes, loopholes could be there, but at least they are having an impact.”
Danny Nanone, real name Danny Ntakirutimana, appreciates the work done by Guma-Guma but thinks more needs to be done to make the competition more interesting.
“From the beginning, it was a good idea because it was coming to help artistes, but now they have to change it a bit because it is now in its eighth year and people will get bored if it’s done the same way,” he says.
Former PGGSS contestant Senderi International Hit, known for his entertaining performances during the road shows, has missed out on the competition twice – this year and last.
The artiste expressed concern over missing out on the contest.
Organisers barred any one above 35 years of age to participate, something that did not go down well with him.
He slammed organisers for setting unrealistic standards, saying that music shouldn’t be about age, but performance.
Alliance Isimbi, an actress, suggests that for the organisers to give a chance to all artistes to take part, the age limit issue should be removed, arguing that talent is talent regardless of one’s age.
She says that just like other internationally acclaimed shows, for example, America’s Got Talent and X-Factor; it should be open to people of all ages.
She says that it must be done in fairness, and that people should understand that there can only be one winner.
Artistes are paid up to Rwf1 million a month during the course of the competition, a period that changes from season to season. This, Isimbi says, could use some adjustment.
“I think the way the artistes are paid needs to improve. They should increase the money because I think having all these stars advertise for you is profitable. They deserve an increase because they do work hard,” Isimbi says.
Investors in showbiz argue that concert goers tend to evade other concerts waiting to watch the artistes during the competition for free.
On the downside, in an interview last year, Alex Muyoboke, a music promoter, said that it gets harder each year to organise a music event in the country and charge an entrance fee even as low as Rwf2,000. People will not show up since they are used to the free shows.
Also, accusations of sabotage emerged last year when R&B singer Christopher Muneza claimed that there was a campaign by some people to disgrace him. He mentioned road shows in Gicumbi District where a group of people hurled insults at him as an example.
While panicky soliciting for Guma-Guma support is common among the contestants, organisers have cautioned contestants against engaging in anything that could tarnish the image of the competition.
Lucky Nzeyimana, a showbiz journalist, said in an interview with The New Times last year that ‘it has always been an ‘open secret’ that some contestants pay fans to support them, but it hasn’t been common to see fans abusing artistes on stage.
He said in the interview that from his perspective, Christopher’s unfortunate incident in Gicumbi seemed like a well organised activity.
“I think it is okay to have campaigns when it comes to the competition, but it’s not right to pay fans to abuse another contestant,” he was quoted.
Clement Ruhumuriza says such contests are good for success; however, the unfairness that reigns at times tends to overshadow the relevance.
“At times there is lack of fairness and this is not right. Such competitions mean a lot when it comes to building a musician’s name, I think it is only reasonable to declare winners in objectivity,” he says.
Vanessa Iriza, a university graduate and a big fan of Rwandan music, says more is needed to grow Rwanda’s music.
She says that even though Guma-Guma may not be perfect in the way things are done, its impact on Rwandan musicians is a big one.
“The local music scene has literally changed thanks to Guma-Guma. Artistes are making money and they are now producing good music. This is what is needed if artistes are to grow and compete on the international scene.”
Who do you think will win Guma-Guma season 8?
I think it is Bruce Melodie. That guy is talented, hardworking and real. He really has a good voice and I think he deserves that money. He will win because on that list I don’t see any one who is as good as he is, may be Christopher, but still, Bruce Melodie deserves it this time round. I wish him the best.
Well my best musician in Rwanda is Meddy Ngabo but in this case, I think I will choose Christopher. He will win this year’s Guma-Guma competition. He has a good voice and his songs are really nice to listen to.
Bruce Melodie will win because he knows how to sing and knows how to perform with a live band. He has ‘melody’ just like his name, besides, his experience in the competition will also be an added advantage.
Roger Seam, Boutique Owner
To be honest, I think Bruce Melodie is the projected winner of this year’s competition, basing mostly on the last competitions he was involved in. You can see that he missed winning by an inch. Secondly, the hit songs he released last year like Ikinya, among others, will give him another advantage other artistes don’t have albeit it won’t be easy because he has competition from Uncle Austin and Jay C. They both have great songs and are also famous up country. There is also Young Grace, who I think now has the most experience in the competition.
Nice Budandi, Event organiser at Smart Africa Secretariat