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Masamba’s journey to liberation music

It is widely believed that some people tend to become what their names say, and it was no exception to 53-year-old Alphonse Masamba Butera, stage name Masamba Intore.

His father, Athanase Sentore, named him ‘Masamba’ after a Congolese politician known for his revolutionary ideas of freedom and liberty.


Sentore himself believed that a day would come where all children of Rwanda would return to the country and never be called refugees again. He would wake up early in the morning and tell his neighbours “ejo tuzataha”, meaning “we are going home tomorrow.”


Masamba was born in Bujumbura, Burundi, to a family of musicians, so his becoming one was very obvious.


“I really can’t tell when I started singing and dancing. Children normally start from dancing at any age, and when they turn 8, they start ‘Guhamiriza’. I started singing at 9, but my voice was really soft.”

He composed his first song at 13 years of age but was helped by his father, who was a legendary traditional musician.

He was known on stage since he was six, but as a dancer, and he started singing for large crowds, in concerts, when he turned 17.

As he was growing up, so was the spirit of going back home. Most of his peers, like him, had never seen Rwanda but were very interested in doing what they could to lose their refugee status. They only knew Rwanda through lyrics.

Life was not heaven in Bujumbura; many Rwandans were unemployed even when they were educated, people picked on them, and education privileges were limited, among other grievances.

Masamba says that even the songs they used to perform about how beautiful Rwanda was made them ask themselves why they couldn’t go to their country.

When he turned 23, he sneaked out of the house and went to Uganda to join fellow young men and women in Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the fighting wing of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi).

“It was very hard to tell your parents that you are leaving at that age. We were a group and had agreed where we would meet, so we secretly took off,”

“My dad was a bit flexible; I think he could have allowed me to go. But he wanted to teach me everything that he knew of traditional music, poetry… he had started teaching me how to train troupes. I thought that if I told him then, he wouldn’t have let me go.”

Years passed without any knowledge of Masamba’s whereabouts, but the time came and he would write to his parents, who thought the reason was noble enough for him to chase.

He was already doing a good job, given what he had as the Inkotanyi were fighting.

Together with other singers and musicians, they made people aware of the liberation struggle and urged them to support it as much as they could.

They also sang songs of hope and courage to the soldiers on the battlefield.

One of the most liked songs according to him, ‘Gira ubuntu’, always touched people’s hearts to support in all ways possible.

“People would cry, hold you, and give you money and cows. Parents would let their children join the army,”

Their job was to make the people who stayed back feel like they were also on the battlefield.

“We had a troupe called ‘Indahemuka’. We would sing and dance to traditional music all night long,”

The same music is still sung to date. Songs that take people back in time and the spirit they had when the songs were composed.

He misses moments with the team and other artists like Florida Uwera, Cecile Kayirebwa, Ibihangange troupe, Indashyikirwa, Jean-Marie Muyango, and Kamaliza, among others.

Most especially, he misses moments shared with his father, who he says he owes everything to, and the RPA soldiers who he says had great morale.

Masamba is now writing a book on his life as a refugee, his experience during the liberation struggle, and his music.

He hopes young artistes keep their Rwandan identity and thinks some are already doing it.

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