Pascal Bizimana’s typical day revolves around anticipating and receiving calls from clients (both old and new), and rushing to their residences as and when they need him, writes Moses Opobo.
Pascal Bizimana’s first major musical break came in 2007, when he joined the Christ Church Rwanda’s Christ Dove Band. Two things worked in his favour then: First was the departure of the band’s main pianist to India. Being a gifted pianist himself, Bizimana found himself being called upon to fill the void left.
Secondly, the band was priming itself to be the first live rock band in Rwanda. Easily impressing his band mates with his skill at the piano, Paco, as he is fondly called, was soon staging live concerts with the band, in church and in crusades across the country.
“At the church, I was working with so many foreigners,” he recalls fondly, adding; “One day, one lady approached me about the possibility of offering private piano lessons to her daughter from her home.” He obliged, and followed the woman to her home. Terms of payment were quickly negotiated, and Paco immediately went to work. Several music lessons later, and after receiving his modest pay for his efforts, an idea struck his mind. That idea was to continue what he had just started, and make it a formal means of livelihood.
The early days
Paco knew that to make his new business big and known, he had to make a deliberate effort at earning visibility before his potential clients. “The first thing I did was to post my contact information and the nature of my services on KigaliLife, a local expat blog,” he says. This was a smart move that almost immediately started to bear fruit, as the calls for enquiries started trickling in.
Another thing he did was to establish the nature of his clientele, which drew heavily from the foreign expat and diplomatic community. Since most of these already had their own music instrument at home, they preferred to take the lessons from the comfort of their private living and study rooms. Most of them wanted the lessons for their pre-teen children, and indeed, to this day, his clientele is made up mostly of school-going children.
But the private lessons come at a cost: not only does one need to have the requisite instruments first, you need to fork out Rwf5,000 per hour, or Rwf50,000 for a month, on top of covering other logistics like transport. While all these may be within the means of Bizimana’s core clientele, he had to devise a means of catering for the less moneyed potential clients.
So in mid 2009, he decided to get a permanent base for his activities. “I talked to my pastor at All Christ Church about the possibility of getting a room at the church from which to conduct music classes.” He explains that this was also partly because most children are very difficult to teach from home as they have so many distractions that affect their concentration.” His plea was answered by his church, and in May 2009, he started offering music classes on the church premises.
Just like the private lessons he takes to people’s homes, the classes at the church are all arranged on schedule. Each client calls the teacher and they negotiate the time frame in which they will work, which can change from day to day. “On average, I have about 20 individual classes here every week,” he notes.
But by his own admission, the home classes are the real deal. Not only does he bag the occasional tip for a job well done, the pay is “good for a person of my age and for a person that only works on short appointments”, he says.
Paco may have a base for his music at the All Christ Church, but his real office is his mobile phone. Basically, his typical day revolves around anticipating and receiving calls from clients (both old and new), and rushing to their residences as and when they need him.
When I asked him about the possibility of joining him in one of his private home classes, he quickly dialed a few of his best students or their guardians to seek permission for a media interview. Some were willing to be snooped on by a journalist, while others were reluctant, and Paco had to respect each view.
On a hot Wednesday afternoon, he invited me to one of his private classes at a posh residence in Gaculiro. Here, two girls aged nine and seven are under his charge. I find them engrossed in a piano class, still in their school uniforms. It is clear that the happiest man in the room is their dad, who is beaming with proud smiles:
Speaking for himself and his wife he says: “Any parent wants their child to grow in all dimensions, and you can only know a child’s talent if you allow them to try something. Music gives children a broader perspective of things, and ignites their creative instincts away from the class. In public they are more expressive and confident, and their Mathematics has improved.”
Speaking specifically about the younger Michelle, he says: “She’s naturally a show girl, and the music classes have helped her to be more expressive of her feelings, to be confident, and to “show what she has.”
Turning to Elna, the elder of the two, he says: “As for her, music has helped a lot with her Maths. She was not totally bad at it, but would take long to grasp some concepts.”
When her father is done showering her with praise, Elna runs across the living room and returns with an old issue of The New Times newspaper. Then she proceeds to display the page on which she is named as winner of the Mother’s Day essay writing competition organised by this newspaper in April. The win came with a fully paid flight for two to the Volcanoes and Akagera national parks, courtesy of Akagera Aviation.
Then she says dramatically: “I love competition. At school, I enter all sorts of competitions. Even when I lose, I love it. One day, I lost a running competition at school, and I was laughing all the way because I had lost.”
Asked to rate her music teacher, her response is instant: “He’s so fun …and by fun, I mean funnn…! He makes piano fun. In fact, I was supposed to go to a music school, then they found teacher Paco! We knew him because he taught our elder cousin.”
But Michelle, the younger one took the day when asked to say something about her teacher: “Paco is always kind, polite, fun, and not too strict like a mean teacher. He’s a special gift to teach piano, and he teaches me well. One day, I’m gonna be a singer, and the whole wide world will come and chase all presidents and tell me: “you’re the leader of the world!”