There is an obsession that has taken over night life in Kigali – Karaoke. It is known to be one of the grounds for prospective musicians or those that seek to earn a living from the industry besides serving as a source of entertainment.
But karaoke isn’t a new thing in Kigali. Jane Lucky Uwimana, a karaoke host at Rosty says she used to hear about karaoke even as a child, usually at Hotel des Mille Collines, mainly done in French and Congolese, though it wasn’t as popular and versatile in terms of language and creativity as it is today.
In Kigali alone, it is known to be in places such as Car Wash, Micha’s Bistro Café, Rosty’s and the Grill & Barbeque in Kacyiru among many others. It seems like an overkill to attend all the shows within the same week because one is almost as good as the other.
Peter Rotaracter goes to Grill & Barbeque usually on Fridays because of proximity since it is in the neighbourhood of The Indian Cuisine restaurant where they usually gather for Friday fellowship.
At Rosty’s, the show takes place on Tuesday and Thursday from 7pm till 11pm. By dusk, the parking outside the club is full and an hour later into the show there is hardly a spot for late comers to park.
Uwimana says it has seen her rise to a considerable level of musical growth to the extent that she holds similar shows beyond East African borders; her latest being a gig at a function in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Uwimana’s co-host, Phionah Mbabazi, is a former Tusker Project Fame 6 contestant. She says the show has become very popular especially among the corporate class over the past one-and-a-half years since its inception. She asserts that besides being a source of entertainment, it is where many have discovered their singing talent and is therefore a good ground for scouting untapped talent.
She says karaoke is one reason she has built confidence over time to make a mark in the music industry. Much as she hasn’t lived in Rwanda until recently, she knows of other musicians that started out from karaoke shows like Juliana Kanyomozi and Irene Namubiru, both renowned musicians in Uganda and Rwanda’s Bruce Melodie as well, among others.
Usually, the ambience at these shows is always quite satisfying; enough seats and waiters that meticulously execute their duty. In a way, karaoke boosts sales at the bar it is hosted since it attracts many revelers that spend substantial sums of money on meals and drinks as they enjoy the show.
The audience is usually responsive and always in a jovial mood. Those that need to test their vocals are given a chance to charm others with renditions of classics that at times sets the rest of the audience in deafening applause or sneers!
Brenda Umutoni says Uwimana has this haunting, almost hypnotic voice that grabs and takes her wherever she is going with a song. Almost as similar as the original versions, it is always Jane’s voice that really captivates her especially when singing Adele’s Set fire to the rain or her favourite classic - Joe Le Taxi. “Fiona is quite the performer too,” says Umutoni.
Joram, a karaoke fanatic and a regular at Rosty’s says he goes to the show to relax and unnerve his troubled mind from a hard day’s work. He sings for the fun of it but complains that he is never given his preferred genre - Rock.
Alex, a journalist, asserts that karaoke has actually grown in Kigali over the last couple of years with many shows coming up almost everywhere. He says it has an impact on the growing music industry and it may not surprise him when random karaoke singers turn out to rise to stardom in Rwanda over the next couple of years.
“Congolese music isn’t as common as it used to be in Kigali,” says Amin, a Congolese reveler at Rosty’s.
But a good show never comes without challenges, says another reveler, Fiona. There is a lot of training and rehearsals involved just like live jazz bands do. Besides, at times the audience gets less involved and it virtually affects the morale of the hosts let alone the entire show. The rainy season affects the show especially when there is a heavy down pour prior to or during the show.
According to Dr. Jean Sheila Uwera, singing is always therapeutic. It relaxes the mind. Disorders like autism, bipolar and many other illnesses can be unnerved by singing and it uplifts one’s spirit. She attends karaoke to relax.