Meet Joel Ruti, the next ‘gakondo’ star

Joel Ruti plays a guitar after an interview at The New Times offices on October 13. Faustin Niyigena.

With creative energy shown through his vocals, charismatic personality, focused work ethic and a creative blend of afro soul and traditional, 23-year-old  Joël Rumata’s unique sound is one that can’t easily be ingored on the local music scene.

Joel Ruti, as he is commonly known, is one of the fastest rising traditional Rwandan artistes. 

The singer, ventured into music in 2012, when he joined Gakondo group, where Jules Sentore and iconic traditional musician Intore Masamba are members. He started off as a backup singer for different local artistes at concerts. 

He is also a member of Ibihame cultural troupe. Performing traditional music is something he has done since he was a little boy. “I used to dance Intore, my grandfather loved it so much when I danced for him.”

He has three songs to his name, Diarabi, that he sung with Jules Sentore and King Bayo, La vie est belle and Rusaro, one of the singer's most played songs on the local airwaves at the moment.

Rumata said his lyrics are honest. “My music is based on touching you in a certain way,” he says, adding, “I don’t have a wall, that’s my brand.”

The singer went to Ecole La Colombiere in Kigali for his nursery and primary education, then joined Sonrise High School for O-Level, before enrolling in Glory Secondary School for A-Level. Joel Ruti is now a student at University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB), pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Management.

In the interview below, the singer and songwriter spoke about his music journey, and shares his hopes about the future, among other subjects.

How did you get into singing?

I knew I could sing and dance since I was a young boy. I used to love mimicking Usher Raymond and Shaggy’s songs and to dance like them. I was very good at breakdancing, and I used to enjoy dancing for visitors at home.

I also used to perform in a drama club when I was in primary. There was a play called, Abidishyi, that the team and I played in. It was a very funny and interesting drama.

So you write your own songs? 

I do.

Why did you choose to do gakondo music?

Gakondo is something my family loves and value so much, because it’s an important part of our cultural heritage that we have to embrace and promote. Also, my grandfather used singer and dance, and my mother used to perform in a traditional dance troupe when she was younger. Our house had gakondo artistes, dancers and instrumentalists. So I fell in love with the genre, and then decided it was the style of music I wanted to do. 

What is your biggest memory when you just started singing?

When I joined Gakondo, Sentore kicked me out of the troupe. He said I couldn’t sing, and urged that I should go and first work on my vocals. I was so hurt and decided to report him to his mother (may her soul rest in peace). Despite his mother talking to him, he refused and insisted he wouldn’t take me back. Sometime later, he saw me singing somewhere and said he was happy that I could now sing, so he called me back to the troupe.

What was the biggest challenge when you started singing?

I was a very shy guy. I always found it challenging to sing in front of big crowds. But not anymore, because I was determined and passionate about music.

Who is your role model in music?

I look up to Intore Masamba and Fally Ipupa. They are great musicians.

Do you do music for a living?

Yes. For now I do music to meet my needs, but I intend to apply for jobs when I graduate from university, and continue doing music for passion. 

What songs are your all-time best?

I love Sinakwanze by Kamaliza, and all songs played with Inanga, (a traditional oval-shaped harp that is made out of wood with strings fastened at the edges and produces musical notes). 

Any message to your fans?

I would urge my fans, especially the youth, to support the local music industry and to be custodians of the Rwandan culture. They should know that we are the future of this country, and hence the culture is with us. If we lose it, we won’t find it anywhere else, because there is only one Rwanda.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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