Meet François Nsengiyumva of “Mariya Jeanne” fame

François Nsengiyumva speaks to a journalist in a past interview. / Courtesy

François Nsengiyumva is arguably one of the most popular Rwandan artistes at the moment, if not the most popular.

The 40-year-old hitmaker behind the popular song, Mariya Jeanne, has a unique musical talent mainly because he plays Umuduri, a traditional music instrument, as his main instrument.

His song Mariya Jeanne, or Igisupusupu, has crossed over 1.1 million views on Youtube and remains popular on radio stations and hangouts. He has since released his latest song, Icange.

Nsengiyumva is currently among top artistes in the country. He fuses tradition music with modern genres using Umuduri. / Courtesy

Nsengiyuma, also known by the nickname Rwagitima, last week visited The New Times’ newsroom, and caused pandemonium. Besides music, Nsengiyumva can easily curve out a career in comedy


Who is François Nsengiyumva?

My real name is François Nsengiyumva. I currently reside in Kiramuruzi Sector, Gatsibo District, in the Eastern Province, in a small village known as Nyakagarama. This is where I was born 40 years ago. My parents died in 1994, I was 15 at the time. I lost most of my relatives in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

I am a married man with a family, a father of two girls. My wife is called Ariette Musabyimana, who is not only the mother of children, but also my sweet, supportive and loving wife. In fact recently, some local media outlets reported that I was dead, yet I had gone to check on my wife who had just given birth to our second born.

Tell us a bit about your music journey. When did you start singing?

I loved music ever since I was young, thanks to my childhood neighbour. As a young boy I didn’t have any favourite genre, I liked all kinds of music. However, there was an old man in my neighbourhood called Cishahayo. It was with him that I first got to know about this instrument Umuduri. Deep inside, I really wanted to learn how to play it.

I paid Rwf200, so the old man can teach me how to play the instrument. That money was a lot at the time. I remember my parents didn’t support my idea of paying to learn how to play traditional musical instruments, hence struggled to raise it on my own.

After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, I had no place to call home or any other sort of support. So music turned out to be my only hope. Unfortunately, the man who was teaching me also died during the Genocide, which meant that I had to do it on my own.

It is in 2008 that I decided that I could use music to earn a living. I found a way of getting my own musical instrument and started playing in my local community. It was not easy to make money from music in the village sometimes but I was inspired by seeing crowds surrounding me as I performed in bars and markets.

How did you meet your manager Alain Mukuralinda?

It was by God’s grace, I would say. At some point my wife and I would pray for a musical career breakthrough. Very often people would mock my wife for having a poor husband and household.

Sometime last year, my wife told me that people had come to look for me, but I was not at home. I was eager to find out who these people were and what they wanted. I followed them and bumped into a cyclist, who also told me that some people from the city were looking for me.

I caught up with the group and they asked me to play for them a short piece of my music. I had no idea that they were sent by Alain Mukuralinda. In a few days I was given Rwf10, 000 to give my wife for upkeep so that I go to the city (Kigali) to meet Mukuralinda. This was one of my most memorable moments in my life and it has proved to be a turning point for me.

Tell us about Mariya Jeanne?

Mariya Jeanne is based on a true story. She was a neighbour in Kiramuruzi where I live. Mariya Jeanne had rejected all the young men in our village. She belittled whoever approached her or simply rejected them, until she moved to the city, only to find that nobody was interested in her. So in this song I reflect on her beauty that was wasted due to her negativity.

Apart from singing what else do you do?

I love to spend time with my family, to entertain them and looking after my daughters. I also take care of my small poultry at home, which is my other source of income. But generally, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughters and taking care of them. I also engage in farming.

What is your biggest achievement so far, and has music transformed your life?

Ever since I met my promoter Mukuralinda, my life changed for the better. It has completely turned me from being a burden to society to being an inspiration in society. I keep getting positive feedback from the public.

On the other hand, I have a monthly salary. The process of getting my own house is underway.  I just thank God for all these blessings. I guess it all comes down to my surname Nsengiyumva, which means… ‘I pray He who listens.’

Any challenges so far?

I can’t say that I have any at the moment. If anything, I am motivated by the reception I got.

What else motivates you?

Unlike most Rwandan artistes, I play traditional music, thus preserving the Rwandan culture.  A lot of people appreciate my music and relate to my songs. This motivates me to keep going.

What are your future plans?

My first mission is to keep the Rwandan culture alive. I want to teach the youth to play traditional instruments. I also want to keep producing good music for my fans.

What is your message to upcoming artistes?

Well, there is no time for talent. You can be whatever you want to be at any age. As an old man, I have received some criticism, but in the end, people love my music. All of us start small, but it is not too late to experience the impact your work can make on people. A simple message to all is that, some people somewhere are waiting to see their talents.

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