At 28, Patrick Nyamitali has 10 gospel songs in a single album to his name, and it looked like his star was just starting to rise in as far as gospel music is concerned.
But the man who is best known for his hit songs such as Ishimwe, Niwe Mesiya and Uri Imana, recently stunned his fans when he announced that he is shifting focus from gospel to secular music.
For an artiste who until recently used to turn down any financially juicy offer to perform in “ungodly” places such as bars and night clubs, his sudden u-turn came as a big surprise to everyone.
But Nyamitali says his move is a mere change of strategy intended to help him develop further his music career.
“I decided to quit gospel music to concentrate on secular music after realising that [the latter is] profitable. So, I am now looking at my music and my career as serious business,” he says.
But don’t be quick to draw any conclusions. Nyamitali is not running away from Christ in a bid to chase for earthly possessions such as money.
“To my understanding, secular music is non-religious music — which means being different from praise and worship. I don’t think singing secular music means quitting Christianity,” he says.
“People should not misunderstand me and think I have weakened in faith. I am still a Christian and music is my job but the two are different.”
Born a singer
Born in 1986 in Cyivugiza, Kigali’s populous Nyamirambo suburb, Nyamitali started singing at an early age.
“I started my career with Ubumanzi Gospel Choir at the Kacyiru Dominican Church. While a student at APAPER and Saint André secondary schools, I was a worship leader, singer and guitarist. That is the foundation that has pushed me to where I am today,” he says.
Other than singing, he is also a good dancer whose talent was spotted at a tender age. According to the artiste, several local big names in the Rwandan music used to tell his mother that young Nyamitali would be a good musician in future after listening to his vocals.
This indeed encouraged his mother to support him in his music career.
“It wasn’t easy for me to release my first songs and album because I had no financial support. The only help I got was from my family until I made a breakthrough in the local gospel music industry,” Nyamitali reveals.
He says life began getting better when he started being invited to perform at public and social events. His star continued to rise when he was first nominated for the annual Salax Music award.
“I won several awards in the gospel category and this always encouraged me to focus on my career even the more,” Nyamitali adds.
Change of approach
But as time went on, the award-winning gospel artiste’s vision started taking another shape. He started looking at music from a different perspective — that is more of business than the praise and worship that he performed while still a high school student.
“I came to realise that secular music was the best in terms of earnings than gospel music in Rwanda. Therefore, I decided to take music as a serious career and business. I also quit my job at Prima Safaris, a local tourism company that operates around the country,” Nyamitali notes.
This however, did not go well with a section of his fan base. “My fans were so shocked when I announced I was quitting gospel music. Most of them hated me for that — something that made me unhappy at that time.”
But why were his fans shocked by the revelation? Nyamitali personally knows the reason and he says: “Sometime back I wouldn’t accept performing in bars and other places because it was forbidden under Christian norms. But I came to realise that music is my job and most of the big offers to perform come from secular individuals and organisations,” he explains.
When Nyamitali decided to participate in the last season of the Tusker Project Fame — a music competition sponsored by a beer company — the writing was on the wall for all to see that Rwanda’s celebrated singer was drifting towards the secular world.
“It was a great opportunity for me to qualify for the Tusker Project Fame competition following auditions. I was so happy to make it because I was to compete against other competitors from the East African region.”
Even though he was not voted as the best, Nyamitali says he benefited a great deal from the competition.
“I learnt a lot and I also gained something in terms of experience because of the people I met there. For example the coaches were wonderful people and were good to me. I consider that competition a great opportunity because I was also able to market my name and my music in the region. Therefore, it will now be easy for me to penetrate the East African market because I am not a stranger anymore,” he says.
“The other things I learnt from Tusker Project Fame include how to live with people from different cultures and backgrounds. I also learnt the virtues of being a good listener — to listen to other people rather than being a speaker and performing on stage.”
Using that experience, Nyamitali says he now knows how to handle his audience better while performing on stage. “Before that, I would somehow get nervous whenever I met the audience with all eyes on me — waiting to see what kind of performance I would put up on stage.”
“Ever since I left Tusker Project Fame Competition, I just keep it going through while on stage until the end of the performance. That’s part of the experience I gained from the Tusker Project Fame competition which I refer to as confidence,” Nyamitali concludes.
Rehearsal, future plans
In order to build on the confidence he gained from the Tusker Project Fame competition, Nyamitali says he rehearses four days a week —two times with a band and two times on his own. He also spends two hours daily doing vocal training.
He is currently planning a pre-launch of a new album at the end of this year and the official launch next year.
To his fans he says: “My fans should always expect the best music from me because music is my life and it flows in the family.”