Karahanyuze: Rwanda’s captivating folklore music

Veteran singer Abdul Makanyaga performing during a concert in Belgium in May this year. courtesy

The world of music evolves with generations which come and go. Rwanda’s music, too, has a history which is hard to write off no matter how many years it lasts, it remains in people’s hearts.

That is what is exactly happening to Rwanda’s old school music, which is commonly known as ‘Karahanyuze’.


“Every generation has its favourite music. But that doesn’t mean that the music of the past generations has been forgotten. I can never miss performances of Karahanyuze songs from my favourite musicians. I really like it,” says 62-year old, David Mugemana. 


While modern artistes use electronic instruments to produce their music, Karahanyuze musicians used Guitar, Trumpet and piano as well as drums which were all manual.


They only had one audio recording studio which was at Radio Rwanda, where, until now, their songs are stored.

A big number of Karahanyuze Musicians have passed on while others either are out of the country or quit music and only a few are still active.

Makanyaga, 70, is one of the artistes who is still actively singing and regularly performs at local concerts or out of the country. He says his love and passion for music led him to becoming one of the most popular artistes of Karahanyuze music.

He started his music career at the age of 20 after he was inspired by ‘Rumba’ music, which has Congolese roots.

Sudi Mavenge (L) performs alongside his son at a concert. Karahanyuze music is still popular despite not receiving a lot of airplay on radios. Courtesy.

The love he had for music made Makanyaga walk miles to study music at Centre de Formation de Music in Nyamirambo before he embarking on singing career in 1967 at the age of 20. He is now one of Karahanyuze music legends.

Some of the big names in Karahanyuze music were Abdul Makanyaga, Loti Bizimana, Sudi Mavenge, Soso Mado, Rodrigue Karemera, Masabo Nyangezi, Mihigo Chouchou, Fidele Shyaka, Francois Nkurunziza, Dieudonne Bizimungu, Andre Sebanani and Safari Suleiman among many.

How ‘Igisope’ has boosted Karahanyuze

Igisope, which means a live band performance of mainly old school Rwandan songs, is one of the reasons Karahanyuze music is still popular even with the youth.

Dauphin Ayabateranya, is one of the renowned Igisope performers who made a name in different places around Kigali. He has been singing Karahanyuze songs since 2001 during live band performances in different bars and at concerts.

Ayabateranya further reveals that he learnt from big name artistes like Abdul Makanyaga and Andre Gromico who used to perform at Chez Lando Hotel before he decided to perform Karahanyuze at different places and is now a regular performer at Fantastic Restaurant.

“The love I have for Rwanda’s Oldies was the main reason I thought of performing this kind of music for years. I loved to see the live performances of Karahanyuze because there was a spectacular atmosphere among the audience. Since then I thought there were so many people who love this kind of music and that inspired me to perform whatever song they like. I really enjoy it, not just because they pay me for that but because I am having fun with people”.

Munyanshoza believes Igisope will keep Karahanyuze music alive for years and help generations and generations enjoy and get inspired by such kind of music.

Veteran singers are complaining that local radio presenters play more music of youthful artistes like Bruce Melody (pictured) ignoring Karahanyuze songs. File.

However, Makanyaga wants those who perform Igisope to first approach the owners of such songs to discuss terms and conditions of the copyright of their songs.

“We are not against Igisope because we recognise the performers’ role in making people keep falling in love with our music but they should do it professionally. I would therefore advise them to consult us, song owners, before performing our songs. They are our property and no one should joke around with our sweat,” he says.

Although Karahanyuze music still thrives, singers of this type of music complain that media gives little or no space to their music and people who love their music struggle to listen to them, which is a different to modern music.

Mavenge adds that radio presenters, most of whom are youth, are only interested in giving airplay to modern music while ignoring Karahanyuze.

“This is a very big problem we have with local media. Yes, they have the right to play music of their generation, but at least they should remember that there is a segment of people who love our music, which is why they should play it for them”.

He further says that their music could disappear or lose its originality if they do not get a way to archive it.

“The majority of our music is stored at Radio Rwanda, which was our recording studio. What would happen if they lose our music? Is it really safe?  I am worried that our music will disappear if there is no way of keeping it for generations and generations and I would be glad to hear institutions in charge of music thinking of the most efficient ways of archiving our music because it is our identity and a national heritage, as well,” said Makanyaga.


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