Meet Esther, the fast rising “Inanga” star

Esther Niyifasha has a passion for traditional music, and wants to do music for a living. /Sam Ngendahimana.

Esther Niyifasha, a 20-year-old girl ventured into traditional music in January, this year. She can play the piano, guitar, and inanga, a (traditional Rwandan oval-shaped harp that is made out of wood with strings fastened at the edges and that, are plucked to produce musical notes).

She is the sister of the famous inanga player, Deo Munyakazi, and the second female Rwandan to play inanga as a career, after Sophie Nzayisenga.

Niyifasha is the lastborn in her family of eight children. In her childhood, music was a hobby. She sung in children choirs since she was four, and when she was eight, the choir for the adults asked her to join them because she was good with singing.

The youngster visited The New Times offices last week.

She started to play instruments when she was only thirteen, in her secondary school, and concentrated on inanga when she was fifteen. She then started playing in public, but not as a career. She started performing in events like traditional weddings and other social functions in 2016.

She also thinks inanga is harder to learn, than other instruments. “Although I believe it depends on the person, there is uniqueness on inanga. Firstly, the way you carry it on the laps, and then playing. What you play with the right hand, is far different from what you play with the left. It requires deep concentration”.

Niyifasha decided to focus on traditional music, because she thought Nzayisenga needed company, since she was the only female playing inanga for a very long time. “As you know, only men played inanga in the past, but I realised Nzayisenga is the only woman playing inanga and if she retired, no woman would be there to play in the whole country. I then decided to do it. Even when there are two different concerts, she can play in one while I play in the other. That way, we would sustain our culture”.

She learned to play from her brother, Munyakazi, who has been doing it for a while. “I used to come home during holidays and find him playing. But because the holidays were short, I would take like two hours a day for practice”. It took her almost three years to master the inanga.

Munyakazi has done a big job in influencing her sister to play. “He bought me a gift, inanga, and told me to play like he does. He would also take me in concerts that he had been invited to, just for me to see how it is done. He would also tell me to play the little that I knew. This highly boosted her confidence to play, because people liked it.

Some of the challenges she has faced include discouragement from her friends and other people, who told her she was young. She was also told she could have chosen another instrument, other than the inanga because they thought it did not sound well. They told her it would not earn her money.

However, she had her family and some friends on her side. Her parents and siblings made sure she had what she needed, for her to sing. Her other brother, Albert Niyonsaba, became her manager.

Apart from playing, she has written songs of her own, and one that is to be released soon, having final touches in studio.

Niyifasha’s dream is to become play in a very big place with so many people. And she wants to inspire women to be confident, because they are powerful.

She wishes to motivate “young women and girls to be confident, and show them how talent is so powerful that someone might depend on it for their entire lifetime”, and also “help children, especially the ones on the street who have talents that can support them, exploit them”. She thinks if she becomes successful in her career, she will help them

Niyifasha says she will never stop playing other instruments. “I love the guitar, the piano, sometimes I play in church. I don’t see myself only playing the inanga. I want to be a very prominent inanga player, known for that, but it doesn’t mean I am putting an end to playing other instruments”.

She went to primary school at Fondation Sina Gerard, in Rulindo, where she did her O’Level as well. She then went to APADE in Kigali for her A’level, majoring in accountancy. She completed her secondary school in 2018.

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