Johnny Uwizeye: A musical talent gone too soon

Johnny, who was killed at the age of 37, was among celebrated musicians killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Courtesy.

Born in 1957,in Rusororo, in the current Gasabo District, Jean Baptiste Uwizeye, also known as Johnny, started his music career at the age of 15 in 1972, and went on to become a household name until 1994, when he was killed in the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Evanice Mukamusoni, the widow of the singer, told The New Times in an interview, that her husband was axed to death on April 14, 1994.

His wife and four children survived, and are still at the very place where they lived before the Genocide against the Tutsi. They shared the music part of life to this news paper.

 Uwizeye was exposed to music at a very young age by his brother Aloys Gasana, who was good at singing and playing the saxophone at the time.

 His widow also attributes Uwizeye’s musical success to the fact that his family was financially stable. His father, who loved music, would provide him musical instruments, which Uwizeye would use to hone his talent.

 “The father had studied in Germany and had a well-to-do family. I think that’s why Uwizeye focused his songs on appreciation of life, about such topics as love and happiness” she said.

 At the age of 15, Uwizeye had a guitar and started playing it— that was in 1972. Since then, he never looked back, writing and recording a number of songs which appealed to many.

 His brother Gasana was a saxophonist, performing with the best music bands in Kigali in the 1970s and 80s.

 Uwizeye’s famous songs, Ku Gasozi ka Rusororo, Umugaragu w’Urukundo, and Umwiza w’i Bwanacyambwe are today considered among Rwandan all time classics.

 His family describes him as a man, who could “compose, play the guitar and sing”. His songs were purely written and composed by him in their original form.

 Some of his greatest hits, including Ku Gasozi ka Rusororo, were released in 1975 although, according to his dairy that the family has, he had composed the song in 1974.

 Uwizeye’s passion to compose songs was immense and sometimes he would wake up deep in the night and get his pen and diary to write songs.

 “He had his separate room where he could go whenever inspiration came to him and could note down some lines. He was passionate about composing music,” said his widow.

His idols were Bob Marley, Hamisi Canjo (a Burundian musician) and Sebatunzi, a famous Rwandan guitar player.

 Whenever at home, he could give his family acappella, or take up his guitar and play music.

 “He used to sing Ugaruke mugore mwiza” to the wife and to the family, Bob Marley’s Redemption was always on his playlist,” his brother recalled.

 He is described as a great guitarist who taught several friends, including Sam Gody Nshimiyimana, a journalist, how to play the guitar.

 Nshimiyimana says that Uwizeye was one of his great teachers of a guitar as well as other aspects in music.

 “Uwizeye helped me to release my first album titled, Sekera mu Gicumbi in 1987,” Nshimiyimana recalled, adding that, for Uwizeye, music was not a job but something he was very passionate about and his favourite pastime.

 For six years, from 1975-1981, Uwizeye worked as a branch manager at TRAFIPRO, a cooperative of traders who had stores around the country.

 “He could be transferred to and from upcountry to manage the stores, and he was earning good money,” the family said.

 During the weekend and holidays, he would return to Kigali to perform either in solo performances or an orchestra. Most times he brought over his family.

“I remember we could go to Hotel Impala and watch him perform. It was beautiful always,” the wife recollected.

 After leaving Trasfipro, Uwizeye engaged in agricultural marketing as well as set up a carpentry workshop in Rusororo.

 He was one of the pioneers who started APERWA School in Kabuga.

 His songs have in recent years been plagiarised. And his family is concerned that the songs of the late Uwizeye are played live in concerts and weddings by people without prior permission from the family.

 “Sometimes they even alter some elements in the song. They are paid even after distorting the song. There are no loyalties paid for using his intellectual property,” a family member said.

 The family is currently working on a plan to ensure that Uwizeye’s intellectual property is protected. At the time of his death, Uwizeye was in his prime.