The faces behind popular liberation songs and inspirations behind them

It’s been 26 years since over one million people lost their lives in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The effects of the genocide still ripple through the daily lives of those who survived it.

If the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) had not liberated the country, nobody knows where Rwanda would be today.


Apart from the courage and patriotism of RPF-Inkotanyi’s fighters, which was inspired by a clarity of purpose for the mission at hand, music played a role in boosting the soldiers’ morale as the face the hostile government forces of the then divisive President Juvenal Habyarimana.


Below is a list of songs composed by iconic musicians during the liberation struggle which went on to be popular till today:


Intsinzi by Mariya Yohana

Nearly every Rwandan has either hummed, danced to or just simply heard the song, “Intsinzi”, which is regarded by most as the country’s ‘song of victory’. It is fair to say that it is the ‘unofficial’ national anthem.

Maria Yohana Mukankuranga, the composer, earlier told this publication that “Intsinzi” crossed her mind when she tried to come to terms with the sacrifice her two sons and many other young Rwandans in exile had made to join the liberation army.

“My sons had joined the liberation war and all we got was just scanty information about how they were and if they had the morale that they needed to continue with the war. This song was supposed to boost the soldiers’ morale,” said the 76-year-old iconic musician.

The song talks about the singer’s aspirations for the country and how she believed that victory was imminent.

She used to sing the song with no other instrumental other than the traditional clapping and ululation until she travelled to Kampala, Uganda to record it in 1993.

Speaking of liberation, the singer has fond memories with the song which has always had a revered place in society.

“I remember sometime in 1993 in Mulindi, Byumba when we sang that song for the very first time. Everyone was excited, hugging each other, happy faces and tears for some but at the end, we were asked to keep it until the time was right.

“Eventually, that time did come and it has been played over and over again, home and all over the world,” she says.

The song only gained more popularity in the aftermath of the RPF-Inkotanyi capturing Kigali in July 1994, and has since taken up space on the country’s top list of victory songs.

Gira Ubuntu by Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa (Isamaza)

Gira Ubuntu” is among key songs performed at every concert that were aimed at raising funds to support the RPF-Inkotanyi liberation struggle.

The song was originally composed by Belgium-based Jeanne Karigirwa, but folk music troupe, Isamaza led by musician Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa, redid it.

“Gira Ubuntu”, loosely translated as ‘have a helping hand’, was so crucial in convincing people to make pledges to support the struggle during the fundraising concerts.

“It helped us a lot in raising funds. We raised a lot of money to support the army through fund raising concerts and. You could even see a person pledging 100 of his 200 cows or sell some of their houses as a result of the song’s message,” Intore Masamba, one of the popular musicians during the liberation struggle said.

People would make more pledges whenever they would hear in the song how the RPA’s youthful military had given up their all to join the very harsh conditions in the struggle to liberate the nation.

Humura Rwanda by Kamaliza

By the time the liberation struggle was close to conclusion, late musician Kamaliza sang ‘Humura Rwanda’ to encourage the RPA’s army to accomplish the mission to find home to their country of birth after years in refuge as well as console Rwandans who already lost hope to survive from the Genocide against the Tutsi.

The singer and her troupe, Indahemuka Cultural Troupe, were crucial in boosting the morale of RPA fighters during the liberation struggle.

Kamaliza, born Annonciata Mutamuriza, played her role in the liberation war not just singing to boost morale but also herself participated in the war as a soldier with the rank of Sergeant.

Kamaliza had a mannish character that allowed her to do anything men did, according to those that worked closely with her.

Her songs reinvigorated downtrodden-hearted soldiers on the frontline as well as sowed solace for Rwandans in the country and refugees.

After the genocide, she organized free concerts for genocide survivors to comfort them. Her song “Humura Rwanda” was also aimed at bringing comfort to survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi.

Kamaliza and Indahemuka troupe organised concerts to raise funds for the liberation struggle and they performed across the world.

Kamaliza died in a car accident in 1996.

Inzovu by Indahemuka

According to Masamba, the song “Inzovu” referred to then President Habyarimana to describe the big influence he had on his ex-FAR army.

We were not frightened by how strong Habyarimana’s army was and we were determined to defeat them.

It was so sad to see them ruining everything in the country and the song was a wakeup call for Habyarimana that RPF-Inkotanyi were coming for him and putting things back in order.

“We wanted to address the message to then president Habyarimana that we would triumph over him and defeat his regime no matter how big and strong his army was, we did it,” he said.

The song went on to be popular among the communities and is often sung on liberation day.

Abiwacu Muraho by Masamba

Masamba released the song as a result of the Arusha Peace Agreement or Arusha negotiations signed on August 4, 1993, to end the then.

According to Masamba, he composed the song after the pronouncement of the ceasefire agreement in celebration of a triumphant return of Rwandans to their birth country after decades in exile.

The peace deal was aimed at bringing to an end the then three-year liberation war but was soon violated by Habyarimana and his regime.

“I attended the signing of the peace agreement in Arusha.  We all returned with belief that we were going to return home after years in exile, then the inspiration came by and I dropped the song,” he said.

Dushengurukanye Isheja by Indahemuka

The folk music troupe Indahemuka is credited to have played a crucial role in boosting the morale of the RPA soldiers during the liberation war through their songs.

The troupe was made up of legendary musicians Jean Marie Muyango, Suzane Nyiranyamibwa, Mariya Yohana, Kamaliza, Masamba Intore, Florida Uwera, Aimable Twahirwa and Patrick Gihana.

One of the most popular songs composed by the troupe together is ‘Dushengurukanye Isheja’, a song that they performed along to pay tribute to the courage of the RPF-Inkotanyi’s soldiers who were sacrificing their lives to liberate the country until they pushed the regime to the negotiating table in Arusha in August 1993.

According to Mariya Yohana, seeing the work that the RPA soldiers were doing made everyone believe that they would return to their country.

“The ‘enemy’ was so strong but our army was never afraid of them and that made everyone believe that coming back home was a matter of when and not if. We could not thank them enough but compose this song for them,” she said.

To date, the song always features prominently on the liberation day playlist thanks to its popularity.

Intare by Kamaliza

One of the war songs that instilled energy in resilient RPA fighters. They felt so powerful that no one could touch them and that the victory of the liberation war was knocking.

Kamaliza referred ‘Intare’ or ‘lion’ to the RPF-Inkotanyi to celebrate their resistance and resilience towards the enemy during the liberation war.

She composed the song in 1993 to salute the RPF-Inkotanyi’s quest to bring life back to Rwanda through the liberation struggle.

Fourteen by Masamba

Composed in 1993, the song became popular in the early days of the struggle given that the fighters would sing to it whenever they conquered new territories.

“The track ‘Fourteen’ refers to a type of a motorised gun. We wanted to tell the ‘enemy’ the kind of weapons we had to fight him. The opponent would threaten us telling us that he had strong weapons and I composed the song to tell them that we also had tough weapons ready to fight back,” Masamba said.

Masamba recorded a new version of the song with Jean-Paul Samputu in 2004.

He is now working on the final version of the song. It will mainly be focusing on quest to the national development and what the future of Rwanda looks like now that the liberation war has successfully been accomplished.

Iya Mbere Ukwakira by RPF-Inkotanyi military band

The song was made for RPF-Inkotanyi’s forces in tribute to their efforts after conquering Kagitumba (currently Nyagatare), Gatuna (Gicumbi) and the Volcanoes’ region (Musanze) on their first day of attack on October 1, 1990.

The forces were looking to conquer the country from Uganda during their quest to pave the way for a possible return of thousands of Rwandans after three decades in refuge.

And by the time they took over Kagitumba and Gatuna, a new song came to mind.

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