Tom Close's return to the music scene has sent shockwaves through Rwanda's music industry. After a two-year hiatus, the artiste, whose real name is Thomas Muyombo, has made a grand comeback with his latest album, 'Essence'. In an exclusive interview with The New Times' Jade Natacha Iriza, Tom Close opens up about his musical journey, the inspiration behind the album, and his absence from the limelight. Tom Close explains the process behind the creation of 'Essence' and how he spent his time carefully crafting each track, with the support of renowned Rwandan producers, including Knox, Bob Pro, Producer Clement, and Producer Kenny. 'Essence', a 13-track masterpiece, pays homage to the pioneers of the Afrobeat genre, with special recognition given to the legendary Fela Kuti and his band, Africa 70. The album features collaborations with different artistes from Rwanda and across the continent, making it a fusion of culture and Afrobeat sound. With 'Essence' already climbing the charts and making waves on major streaming platforms, Tom Close says that he is not retiring anytime soon. Excerpt What was your inspiration behind 'Essence'? The name, the songs, ... I wanted to try something I'd never done before. I've been making music for 17 years. I've done albums in the past, some of which became the best albums of the year at the time, and I've done hit songs too, but this album, I wanted it to be like another chapter in the book of my music career. I wanted it to entertain not only Rwandans but also audiences from other countries. Now, because all of the songs on the album deserved to be the main song, I couldn't pick one to name the entire album after. So I named it Essence since it is meant to be the essence of a new chapter in my career. How would you describe the overall style and sound of the album? We've always tried to make good music in terms of lyrical message and melody with our previous releases. But, for this record, I wanted to emphasize the African identity. I believe that Afrobeats has become a global genre; the style is literally taking the world by storm, and I couldn't stay behind. When you listen to what I created on this album, it's obviously Afro beats, but it has its own unique feel that makes it special and comparative in a good way, competing with other albums that are coming out, not only in Rwanda but also on the African continent. How would you respond to people who believe that, given your long-standing career in music and the success you've achieved, it might be time for you to retire and focus solely on your career as a doctor? If that was worth a shot, you wouldn't be seeing the likes of Masamba or Makanyaga. So, unless someone dies, there are no retirees in the music industry. I believe I'll be here until I no longer have time to go to the studio, I’m no longer able to sing or until I feel I've done enough, which I doubt I'll ever feel. I'll keep making music as long as I have new ideas to sing about, inspiration to go to the studio, and as long as I'm able to wake up. It's said that staying relevant and keeping up with current musical trends may become challenging with time. As an experienced musician in the industry, have you ever felt discouraged by anything like that? I am not discouraged; rather, I am motivated. For any kind of business to survive in the industry where new or similar businesses come up each day, you have to be on top of your game. That's why if you listen to Essence, you will find that it is up to date. What I did with this album was push myself to stay on top of trends, which I believe I will continue to do in the future. Because Afro beats may be a thing in 2023, but it may be something else very soon. And, in order to thrive as a top artist, I must stay on top of my game and relevant in terms of what I put out there. Essence is a remarkable blend of Afro beats, afro-fusion, jazz-influenced melodies, Amapiano, and RnB rhythms. How do you feel about the current state of Rwandan music, and where do you see it headed in the future? There's a remarkable improvement in terms of music production, video direction, and the artistes, and the way they're doing things which is becoming more professional. We see several of them trying to push their music beyond the borders, which is exactly what they should be doing. Because once you move past the comfort of your country, you begin comparing yourself with the best from other places. Also, following the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, we see things in the industry have started going back to normal. We can travel, host big concerts and connect with other artists and a wider range of fans. So I'm excited about what the future holds for us. Lastly, what can fans expect from you in the future, and are there any upcoming projects that you're excited about? I'm definitely watching the space and taking the time to observe what the fans need. I may even release an EP soon, and more videos for the songs on the album. I'm more determined than ever to win over a broader base of fans across the continent and beyond. However, as a musician, I do not want or can go out there alone. I need all the help I can get, and I want to go alongside my fellow musicians. Everyone who works hard deserves to be recognized. So let us support our own and make sure that our music gets out there and competes with the finest.