When the Genocide against the Tutsi broke out in 1994, Rwandan cultural music icon Jean-Marie Muyango was in his early 20s and living in Belgium.
We met the legendary singer at his home, where in a calm tone, he narrated how his career into music unfolded and how their songs contributed in morale boosting among Rwandans abroad and the soldiers who fought to liberate the country.
“Living in the diaspora, we often heard stories of a group of people that were planning to go back home and liberate the country. We were overjoyed but we didn’t know how we could offer our support since we couldn’t join the battle,” he recalled.
Before he left for Belgium, he lived in Burundi as a refugee. His family, however, kept their Rwandan roots alive and were known for their talent in traditional Rwandan music and dance. That is how he was introduced into Gakondo music, a passion that he pursued into adulthood.
“I continued to sing because it was my passion. In Burundi I would perform at any opportunity I would get. I had a troupe that I trained for about two years before I left for Belgium where I joined another troupe known as Imitali. So, we rebranded it Muyango n’Imitari,”
That was when we began to become famous for songs like ‘Sabizeze’, and other songs that were funny. We worked together and produced our first album and eventually formed a boy troupe called- Ishyaka,” he said as he narrated his career past.
With so many Rwandans living in the diaspora at the time, he added that they had a wide audience all over Europe that contributed to their popularity in the 1980s and that they were soon doing music tours all over Europe.
“We didn’t stop at performances though. We used the opportunity to inform diaspora Rwandans about a group of young Rwandans that was the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi), that was planning to liberate the country and we performed songs like, “Twatashye Inkotanyi zamarere.”
He said their songs were a morale booster for those who were on the battlefield because they made them feel like they had support from other Rwandans even when they were not physically present.
“The songs we sang were inspired by their bravery to liberate us from refugee status. As we sang to encourage them, we were also encouraged by their heroism. “We would send the money from the shows to support the liberation cause. This was our only contribution since we couldn’t all join the liberation struggle physically,” he said.
The group split after he returned to the country, but he is hopeful that a young Rwandans will take over.
For Muyango, nothing can be compared to the RPF soldiers’ efforts to liberate the country. He will forever be grateful.
“Like we always say ‘Imana yu’Rwanda’, that day God was in Rwanda and he told us to enter our country. They sacrificed a lot, and we are so grateful,” he said.
Advice to the younger generation
“Young people should learn from our history and aspire to be heroes of their country like the people before them. Being called a refugee for 40 years was something unbearable. In Burundi, we were called all sorts of names young people should be grateful to God for the country they have now,” Muyango said.
“They should also strive to learn Kinyarwanda and speak it so well because it is what identifies them as Rwandans. As Rwandans living abroad at that time, Kinyarwanda was the bond that kept us together,” he added.
The legendary singer currently working with the Ministry of Youth and Culture, under the National Ballet Urukerereza, said that there were so many people who came back to the country that didn’t know Kinyarwanda, but took the effort to learn their language so well.
“As young people strive to learn foreign languages, they shouldn’t forget their own language and culture,” Muyango urged.
For Rwandan artistes, Muyango advised that it is important to integrate the Rwandan culture aspects in their work rather than borrowing from other countries in order to go with the trends.
“We copy other cultures, incorporate them in our songs, but even though they give you a big audience, we should not forget our culture. Young artistes should carry on what we started and do it with pride,”
“I have seen a few of them who sing Gakondo (Rwandan traditional music) and we hope more will come up,” he said.Follow https://twitter.com/SharonKMugabo