Stanza, new face of Afro Jazz

Singer Stanza during an interview at The New Times offices on March 13. / Emmanuel Kwizera

It was just two years ago, in 2017, when fast-rising Afro-jazz singer Stanza dropped his first song, Mama Africa.

In a space of two years, the singer, born Gospel Mata Muvandimwe, has managed to release three more songs; Hands in hands, Summer rain, and the most recent, Irya mukuru (Elder’s prophecy), which he released early this week.

Although he has not shot accompanying video clips to any of the songs yet, the 22-year-old is already basking in the international music lime light as his singles continue to draw huge interest from different corners of the globe. Besides singing, Stanza also writes songs and plays the guitar.

Barely a week after releasing his debut single, Mama Africa, Stanza received a message from Voice of America, the largest international broadcaster in the US. The subject of the message was his song, and a few days later, he was granted an interview on the station.

The experience seemed too good to be true, especially considering that Stanza had just embarked on his musical journey that same year. Prior to it, he had been into poetry.

“I switched to music because the market for poetry or opportunities to expose your ideas in poetry in this country are somehow limited compared to the music platform.”

Mama Africa was recorded at a small backstreet studio whose name he has since forgotten.

“I just wanted to show the world that not all Africans are proud of who they are. At the time I was so into social media and could see frequent posts about racism, and illegal immigrants dying on their way to Europe. I wanted a song to prove that at least there are some Africans who despite all the shortcomings on the continent are still proud to be African.”

Stanza is currently studying Mass Communication at the University of Rwanda (Butare Campus), thanks to a scholarship from the Swedish Embassy in Rwanda.

However, like many other up-and-coming local musicians, he has got some bones to pick with the local media and music industry, who he accuses of not giving new comers a chance. Some sections of the media also tried to convince him to sing in Kinyarwanda as a pre-condition to playing his songs.

The artiste sings in Kinyarwanda, English, and Swahili, languages he is equally conversant with, although he does not mix languages in a single song.

“Before my interview on Voice of America, my song had been rejected by radio stations in Rwanda. When I shared the link to the interview, some stations started playing it.”

The song was a defining moment at an early stage in his career.

“Before, I had written some love songs but didn’t even record them. After Mama Africa I decided to abandon them because I’m not so much into love stories.”

Today, two things define Stanza’s music; the message, which has to be inspirational, and the style, Afro jazz.

His follow up song, Hands in hands was just as inspirational as the first.

“Hands in hands for the sake of the planet because one person cannot save the world.

“Hands in hands, let’s fight against violence”, goes the song’s hook.

“Even this song wasn’t given enough attention and air play because it was in English and I was a breakthrough artiste. I want to explore a wider audience beyond Rwanda because even online I can see that a large percentage of my followers are not Rwandans.”

In the East African region, he credits Kenyan media for giving him the biggest airplay and media exposure so far.

Strangely though, Stanza is yet to hold a stage performance, two years after breaking out.

“Performances so far have been only on radio shows. I can only do live shows, because you can’t perform jazz to playback. The sound also has to be good. So my work now is mostly between studio and the media to gain more exposure, and, once I get someone to work with I will start doing performances.”

As a student at university, he has to divide his time and resources between school and music, travelling to Kigali over the weekends for the latter. 

However, his biggest challenge is the lack of professional management, about which he laments.

“What our local promoters fear in signing me is that I’m doing serious music that some people even say is beyond my level. I’m doing different music from what people’s ears have been trained to listen to, so promoters wonder how they will make money off my music.”

Instead, he is trying it on his own, “investing and not thinking of making a profit at this point”.

Currently, he boasts a catalogue of about 35 already written but yet-to-be-recorded singles.

Last year, one of the prominent local music bands reached out to Stanza with a view to working together, but the two parties are yet to agree on terms.

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