To be a musician in the modern era, you have to stay on your toes, releasing song after song, to remain relevant and keep your fan’s expectations met. With many upcoming musicians almost on a daily basis, the pressure on already established artistes is real. Remember Rihanna and the push by her fans to give them a new album? Well, Rihanna is not the only artiste that finds herself in such a tight position, always working to satisfy the demands of the fans. It can be truly depressing for musicians going through this phase, but how long can they sustain this pressure? Unless you choose to do things your own way, chances are you will forever succumb to the demands of your fan base and cease to focus on you and that can be a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, musicians have lives too. Right? Such is the case for Shanel Nirere, one of the pioneering artistes who dominated the airwaves over a decade ago, making a major breakthrough in the music industry, propelling her into the region and beyond. Today, the ‘Ndarota’ singer maintains that despite not releasing music that features on local radio stations or TV, she remains an active musician and continues to do music on her own terms. On a recent Sunday evening, The New Times visited Miss Shanel, as she is commonly known, at her place of abode in Kacyiru, where she is currently putting up, to see what she is up to, her current activities, life and music in general. The singer, who is in the country as part of the judges of ArtRwanda Ubuhanzi talent search, says she understands when people keep asking for new songs while others think she has given up on music for good. “It is true that sometimes people think I have given up on music and singing but that is not the case. Even when I went to study music, I was still doing music,” Shanel says, adding that the fact that there is no new song playing on radio doesn’t mean she stopped doing music. “I do music in films and I’m very mindful of what I do. Sometimes it takes me so much time to finish a song or I will start in one studio and then I won’t be satisfied and I will do another studio. “I like to work with different musicians also, and so all of that takes time,” Shanel says, responding to those wondering why she hasn’t released new music recently. Shanel says at least she makes sure she releases a song in one or two years but at any given time she is working on a musical project, or a movie soundtrack, so far, she has done three, or a planned performance here and there, but generally she continues to do music professionally. Not yielding to pressure, new music coming It is a tough call to not succumb to pressure because after all, what is a musician without a fan base? Not for Shanel. Hers is to continue doing things at her pace and those who understand what she does will always know what she is up to. “As an artiste I don’t like to be pressured into doing something. I do something in my own time. Sometimes maybe it doesn’t match with people’s expectations,” she says, adding that she is also working around finding a team of people to accompany her. Beyond that, Shanel says she also took time off to focus on personal projects including her family and raising kids, alongside other priorities. However, she adds that her fans should not despair as she is working on a new album and EP (Extended Play) which will be coming out soon and she promises ‘it’s going to be beautiful’. “I can say that because I like what I am doing. I’m having fun,” says the ever-smiling beauty. On the EP, she will feature a Rwandan artiste, a rapper to be specific, whom she doesn’t want to mention at the moment. “It’s going to come out next year,” she reveals, adding, “I’m planning on doing a concert next year, around summer.” For Shanel, it hasn’t been an easy journey, having started out at the time when society thought girls become spoilt when they join the music industry and end up doing drugs. Having started out singing at a very young age, her aim was to join the music industry, nurture her talent and do music professionally, defying odds and then she would get the support she needed. Being among the pioneering musicians, the pressure to live up to expectations has always been there, being in the footsteps of the likes of Kamaliza, who started modern music in Rwanda. “It was not easy to start doing music as a woman, as a young girl, because music was not seen as a profession. Musicians were considered as people who drink or do drugs,” says Shanel, adding that her parents were worried initially because the music industry works at night. Though these are mere stereotypes, she knew what she wanted and went after it and didn’t have to drink alcohol or do drugs to achieve her musical dream. She started off doing music professionally around 1998, at the age of 13, particularly focusing on commemorative songs about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and later ventured into music played at weddings and events, juggling it with studies. When Shanel released her first songs including ‘Ngukunda byahebuje’ which aired on radio and TV, her parents came on board and started supporting her and she never looked back, eventually releasing her first album ‘Ndarota’. It is at that point that she became popular, getting nominated for different awards and in 2012, she got an opportunity from the French Institute. Relocating to France In 2012, Shanel got an opportunity to go and study music and it is then that she got the real understanding of what music is, how to improve herself and what one needs to do music professionally. The opportunity reshaped her music career in many ways, including turning her into a versatile musician, she noticed there was much more to doing music than just hitting the studio. With marriage setting in, Shanel had to find a way to juggle music with family, especially having children and focusing on her family, as well as knowing what to do and when to do it. Now that the younger of her two daughters is five, Shanel has found more time to focus on her art and it is no surprise that new music is on the way. When she was coming back home to be part of ArtRwanda Ubuhanzi team, she explained to them what it means for them and herself and they reached a consensus, and that is how she travelled. Inspired by talent Shanel says being part of ArtRwanda has been an honour and an opportunity to witness the immense talent Rwanda has. “The second edition of ArtRwanda Ubuhanzi is going well. I am having so much fun and being inspired by these young Rwandan stars either in music, in painting, in acting also and in sculpture. “I appreciate that Imbuto Foundation with the Ministry of Youth and Culture are doing this, giving this space to young artistes and from districts all over the country, to be able to showcase what they can do,” she says about the talent show. Becoming a feminist On social media, Shanel expresses herself as an unapologetic feminist, making her voice heard on gender-based violence, women’s rights and other vocal issues and it is something she sees as a duty as an artiste. Previously she did a song ‘Atura’ and a social media campaign, encouraging people to speak up against gender-based violence, and even though she was not in the country, she believed in using her platform to make a difference. As a result, people opened up and told their stories while others managed to leave toxic relationships they were stuck in for a long time, and that gave her the courage to do even more. “I think that’s what we are here to serve. Even if it was one person that was able to leave a toxic relationship, or who was able to say what happened to them for the first time, getting it off their chest, gives me strength and makes me feel like what I do is meaningful and makes me want to continue,” says the 35-year-old singer and actress. In fact, her upcoming EP is about women’s place in society and their freedom of expression. The singer believes in collaborations whether it is art, fashion or charity, and has also done a number of collaborations herself, including one with a teahouse in France which looked at supporting Genocide survivors and ‘Our Past’, a non-profit initiative in Rwanda. Born in Kigali in 1985, Shanel is married to French national Guillaume Favier. The singer is currently based in South Africa, where she says she relocated for professional reasons and is loving it there.