Tracing the evolution of Rwandan music over the last 25 years

Masamba Intore is one of the music icons, whose music has contributed to the country’s liberation struggle. / File

The emotional night when R&B singer, Yvan Buravan, took to the big stage at the 2018 Prix Decouverte RFI Laureate in Paris, France will never be erased in the singer’s memory. He became the first Rwandan ever to win the French annual award, on its 38th edition, following his announcement in November last year.

The ‘Malaika’ hitmaker was awarded a Euro 10, 000 in cash prize and facilitated to do a music tour in different African countries, and one in Paris.
 
“It was, and will probably remain the biggest moment of my life. It is a great achievement for not only me but the Rwandan music industry in general,”

“It also showed me that nothing is impossible as long you do your part with determination, and that is what I always tell my fellow artists, to keep pushing our music to the next level,” Buravan told The New Times.

Buravan says the win was a historical one for him and the country because he lifted the Rwandan flag high in Paris.

“It was a great pleasure that everybody in the capital and France in general, knew that a concert by a Rwandan artiste was going to happen. It really made me proud to be Rwandese,” he added.

The achievement is one of several examples showing how Rwandan music has evolved over the past 25 years despite a myriad of challenges.

Music had a bad reputation as some artistes used it as a tool to propagate hatred and encourage people to kill their friends, neighbours or relatives during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which claimed over 1 million lives.

The genocide too had an impact on the music industry as some of the great musicians at the time like Cyprien Rugamba, Andre Sebanani, Loti Bizimana, Dieudonne Bizimungu and Rodrigue Karemera among many others were killed while others ended up in jail for inciting killings.

At the same time, during the liberation struggle, several musicians including Mariya Yohana, Kamaliza, Masamba Intore, Suzane Nyiranyamibwa, Cecile Kayirebwa among others who used their music not only to boost the morale RPF-Inkotanyi but also spread a message of peace and unity.

Indeed, when Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPA), the fighting force of RPF Inkotanyi liberated the country, Mariya Yohana’s song “Itsinzi” became the song of the time. It was more like an anthem.
 
“My song ‘Intsinzi’ always makes me proud and always takes me back to the days the country was liberated. I am happy that people continue to use it whenever victory arises,”

“I am happy that we restored country and the victory to liberation keeps giving us a reason to celebrate. The young generation, too, should use music to show love for our country, use their talent to promote and market it whenever and wherever they go,” Mariya Yohana said.

Shortly after the Genocide, Rwandans needed the kind of music that restores hope for the people, heal the wounds and artistes like Dieudone Munyanshoza, Eric Senderi, among others have contributed to the process.

While there was no trust among Rwandans after the Genocide, music emerged a key tool to preach Unity and Reconciliation and this is where a new generation had to emerge.

Starting from scratch

Like any other sector in Rwanda, the music industry too was affected. Singer Mani Martin says it has taken years of rebuilding.

“So far so good, we have reached where everyone can say we have a vibrant music scene in Rwanda today. The journey has been challenging, we started when our local audience could not believe in a Rwandan artistes, but now you can see that the audience is loving our music,” says Mani Martin.

Mani Martin is part of a new generation whose dream was to revive Rwandans’ morale and bring fresh entertainment back to Rwanda alongside the likes of Rafiki, Miss Jojo, King James, Tom Close, Miss Shanel, Riderman, The Ben, Meddy, King James, Tom Close and Jay Polly among others.

Their music earned them a huge fan base.

Since then a number of platforms aimed at promoting Rwandan music were put in place. The most prominent were Salax Awards, which was introduced in 2009, two years before the annual Primus Guma Guma Super star among other developments in the industry.

Alex Muyoboke, who has been in the music management for over ten years working with different big artistes, syas the new generation of artistes have played a key role in promoting unity and reconciliation while at the same time entertaining Rwandans.

“Some artistes used music to divide the country during the Genocide. But now, music has played a key role in healing Rwandans’ hearts after the Genocide not only through commemoration songs and preaching the gospel of Unity and reconciliation among Rwandans, but also entertaining the masses,” he said, adding that both producers and musicians have done a good job.

The emergence of Nyundo School of Music and arts has also been seen as a positive development. The school which is supported by the government has already churned out 76 musicians since its inception in 2014.

New talents like Igor Mabano, Yverry Rugamba and several bands are cropping from the alumni of the school.

Jacques Murigande, the school director, said the Government founded the school with the intention to support the industry professionally and is confident the school’s impact to the development of Rwandan music will only get better.

Investing in music

“The new generation brought hope that Rwandan music can rise again but they had limited capacity to do it professionally. The country needed a school of music where young talents could be nurtured with professional skills and it is a great pleasure that our objective is being achieved. The future of music is bright,” Murigande said.

Jacques Murigande,  the Director of Nyundo School of Music and Art, said the school is producing new music talents, hence contributing to the development of the music industry. / File

There has been considerable investment in music, such as Primus Guma Guma Super Star and Salax Awards, despite the challenges along the way.

Remmy Lubega, the brains behind Kigali Jazz Junction, says that investment in music is key.

“Music, like any other sector, is worth investing in depending on the elements that you are looking at because there is a prevailing environment, the market for show business, and the talent. I think all the three aspects are in Rwanda”

While other countries are making millions of dollars out of music that could be a different case in Rwanda, as only a few can understand why the industry is worth investing. Meanwhile, stakeholders in the industry think investors and sponsors should do better in putting their cash in music and support.

“If you ask me the potential of this business compared to other countries it is an industry that actually holds the biggest trickle down effects,” says Lubega.

In relation to that, he says, policymakers may not really take seriously as business for them, to capture and engage other stakeholders and government entities on how it can be supported and regulated as well grant it free space to compete.

Muyoboke, on the other hand, insists, although the industry has great talent in music, the future is not promising, as long as there aren’t investors yet who can understand how music can be a profitable asset.

The Minister for Sports and Culture Esperance Nyirasafari, recently said the Government is committed to investing more in arts and music.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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