At the age of eight, he was already playing the guitar and by the time he turned 10, he knew he wanted to be a musician. Many know him by the stage name Mighty Popo, others just as Popo but his real name is Jacques Muligande. He is mostly known for being the brains behind Rwanda School of Creative Arts and Music, formerly Nyundo School of Art and Music, and also KigaliUp, the music festival which debuted in Rwanda in September 2011. In his own words, at the tender age of 10, he was already immersed in music and no wonder all his entire life, music has been his passion. It is fair to say he lives and breathes music. Born in 1966 in Bujumbura, Burundi where his family had fled to, Muligande grew up loving music, mainly because the neighbourhood they lived in had a lot of musicians and instrument players, particularly the guitar, which he would later fall in love with. “By the time I was 10 I knew I wanted to become a musician,” he says. As fate would have it, everything fell in place at the right time and his family moved to Canada where he was able to kick-start his music career. “Canada is where my music career started. I didn’t start working as a professional musician till the early 90s,” recalls Muligande. But it didn’t just start there. It seems music runs in the blood. His mum told him that she used to play the guitar and an aunt told him his dad used to sing when he was young. It goes to show how he had a musical background early on. For the artiste, being a professional musician was never the dream but rather music has been part of his life, influenced by the surroundings he grew up in and whatever was happening in the world at the time. “We grew up as refugees listening to revolutionary music. I am talking about Jimi Hendrix, I am talking about Carlos Santana, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters, Fela Kuti, and Miriam Makeba. “People like that for some reason naturally appealed to me. They kind of touched my soul and my psyche in a way that I said to myself ‘this is really what I want to do’,” he says. In Canada, Muligande went on to establish himself as a musician, a career he says he built through learning, and a few years later he was bagging awards in the North American country, including a prestigious Juno Award. The artiste, whose music is categorised as ‘world music’, got nominations to other world class music awards during his active days. Known in French as ‘musique du monde’, Muligande’s music has a local and continental touch but with a hint of blues, R&B, and reggae, which really makes it ‘world music’. He composes the music himself and plays the guitar, which he describes as his instrument of love. Some of his songs people in Rwanda may recognise include the rendition of ‘Agasaza gashira amanga’ which had considerable airplay locally. The majority of his songs got to be known in Canada and his album ‘Dunia Yote’ at one point was number 18 in Germany, on the world music playlist category. He has done over 100 and so songs. Journey back home Muligande’s journey wouldn’t be complete without him coming back home, where his heart was. “The journey brought me back home, a home I had been dreaming about since I was a kid,” he says, adding that upon arrival, his next mission was to start a music festival, which is how KigaliUp was born in 2011. Since then, he has never looked back. With his experience and know-how, Muligande was entrusted with the task of establishing the first public music school in Rwanda, which started out as Nyundo School of Art and Music and later expanded to Rwanda School of Creative Arts and Music. The school which has so far churned out a cohort of young and talented musicians has become synonymous with his name. For him, returning home to participate in the building or rebuilding of the Rwandan music industry was not a dream, rather, an obligation. “As a Rwandan artiste, I would be worthless if I didn’t participate in the rebuilding of the music industry,” he says, adding that the only way for him was to do it organically, starting from the roots—the youth. The vision is to instil the love of music among young people, teach them to play instruments and also understand that they can use music to promote the wellbeing of their communities and not just singing to be superstars. Muligande says that since the beginning of music school, the industry has seen big changes and the vision is paying off. “Now we have Rwandan youth playing music live again, and by playing live I mean instrument players, real singers. Before the programme, most of the music bands that were performing in Rwanda were either from Burundi, Congo or Uganda. “Now you have all those three neighbouring countries bands’ here, still around, but also you have more Rwandans playing live music,” he says, something he attributes to the school. The graduates are singing at events, conferences, weddings, big concerts, while others like Ariel Wayz, Igor Mabano and more, have gone on to become music stars. This is what makes him happy. He is optimistic that there is still a lot more to do, in terms of having a supportive private sector, investment, infrastructure and more, to fully tap into the talent available. He believes once this is done, Rwandan musicians can rival anybody. The return of KigaliUp Muligande recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic set the music industry many years back, setting back the gains registered over the years, but that does not mean that it was the end of it. Of course, KigaliUp, like many other festivals and annual events, suffered the brunt of the pandemic but four years later, the festival is returning. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival had not happened for two years over what Muligande describes as lack of partnerships. “We couldn’t really find sponsors and then Covid-19 came, everything was brought down to the ground. Now we are coming back with more enthusiasm,” says the veteran singer in reference to the festival scheduled to take place on Saturday, August 6. Unlike the previous years where KigaliUp was a two-day festival, this year’s festival will be just one day and in a much smaller family setting. The inaugural audition took place at the Primature Roundabout in Kimihurura. This year’s festival will take place at Centre Culturel Francophonie, located in Rugando, Kimihurura. Dubbed ‘Music Made in Rwanda’, KigaliUp will bring together Rwandan artistes, mainly graduates of the music school. Muligande says these are talented artistes who don’t have a platform to showcase their talent. “Right now, we’re trying to showcase this side of Rwandan music that otherwise doesn’t get showcased much on this platform today. We are promoting Made in Rwanda music. “It’s again in the line of trying to get international investors to turn their eyes towards Rwanda and see how we can start to export music,” he says, adding that some of the artistes lined up include Igor Mabano, RSAM, Umuriri, Shami, Methusela, RSAM Choir, Karigombe, Umutoni Milly, Shauku Band and many others. Veteran American musician and music professor Joey Blake, who has graced many KigaliUp stages in the past, will be the only non-Rwandan musician performing at the festival. He has also been instrumental in the nurturing and training of artistes in Rwanda. To enter, you will part with Rwf20, 000 and enjoy a family experience; poetry, food and music. There will also be reading for kids. Muligande says they are now focusing on quality over quantity.