The earliest I could remember listening to Rwandan music was post-genocide1994 when we returned to our homeland. I always knew I was Rwandan but that was in the abstract.
Rwanda to me was a country just like any other. Some cousins of mine were actually disappointed when on crossing the border; there was no sharp contrast between Rwanda and Uganda.
They had expected something dramatic like snow or something close to that and they made no bones about their disappointment.
However we did notice the bullet holes in most of the buildings, the different language used and the dress code was unlike what we were used to.
People donned in ‘Lesu’s’, (a kind of traditional wrapper) as skirts was quite the norm and the Kinyarwanda we could speak was limited to salutations.
My first forage onto Rwandan music was shortly after we got into Rwanda where songs like Intsinzi were played everywhere you turned. Then I heard the late Kamaliza’s songs playing too and I was hooked.
Then other musicians kept hitting the Rwandan scene; those that had fled Rwanda earlier on and those that were returning having fled the genocide.
Jean Christophe Matata from Burundi was especially lauded for his Amaaso Akunda then there was Cecile Kayirebwa’s various songs that hit the local scene with a bang. Then there were the cultural troupes springing up everywhere.
The first I came in contact with was the Indahemuka with Massamba as one of its lead singers though he later went solo as all great voices are prone to.
I used to watch this troupe perform and practice and the rudimentary Kinyarwanda dance moves I can now pull off, I learnt from the Indahemuka.
There are now numerous cultural troupes that when it comes to choosing which will perform during introductions, wedding and other ceremonies, one is usually spoilt for choice.
The few that come off the top of my head are; The National troupe, Inganzo Ngaali, Imena, Urucyerereza, Abatangampundu.
We also have various artistes in their own right like Jean Paul Samputu who is not only an acclaimed artiste but also an ambassador for Rwanda in that wherever he performs he speaks of his motherland, the atrocities that befell its people and the forgiveness that they are trying to realize so as to forge a way forward.
We also have musicians like Massamba, Patrick Gihana, Papy John who has perfomed songs like Umutima Ukunda, Alline Gahongayire, Ben Ngabo Gipeti, Mako Nikoshwa ,one of my favorites, with songs like Agaseko, Akunda Kuragira amongst others.
There also the young and upcoming artistes like Miss Jojo with songs like Mbwira, Miss Shanelle with Ndarota, Dr. Claude with Contre Succes, Rafiki with Igikosi, Kitoko with Ikiragi, Tom Close, Ryderman, among others.
Writing about the music industry without mentioning where all this is produced would be negating the work of the producers. Some of the music studios that I have heard of or come into contact with are FishneXt Audio Solutions owned by Isaac Rucibigango of the LimitX fame with the producer being Shema Youssouf, One Way Studio, MP Studio with its producer JayP, Contact Fm Studio owned by Albert Rudatsimburwa, Narrow Road Studio owned by Ezra Kwizera and the producer Pastor P to mention but a few.
What really drew me to all this was the 15th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when songs were sung and poems recited depicting the genocide and way forward.
Two songs in particular got my attention; Hora Rwanda which was beautifully executed by talented Rwandan artistes and Never Again by East African artistes. These two songs were particularly the brain-child of Jean Paul Samputu.
I listen to them as often as I can and they bring home to me, as no other genocide songs have before, the atrocities that were committed in our land 15 years ago and the avowal that it shall never happen again!