Jean-François Uwimana: The rapping Catholic priest

Uwimana with a microphone during rehearsals in Germany recently. / Courtesy

A video tune is running on my screen - its rap and dancehall. The brisk instrumental typical for such music is rocking my ears as the artiste belts out some decent rhymes to accompany it. 

The audio track is catchy – more so for youths. The video is vibrant with dance moves by the artiste and a group of youngsters by his side.

Strange as it may sound, the main artiste is a Catholic priest! A cleric that has chosen to take on music; rap, RnB, dancehall.

This is Father Jean-François Uwimana, a Parish Priest from Nyundo Diocese, who has for about 4 years been taking a humble - yet significant journey in music.

The 32-year-old has about eight songs to his name, 3 of which are rap. His explanation for venturing into this kind of music is quite simple: he wanted to help the youth to have something that will keep them singing about God, even when they have gone out of church on Sunday.

Uwimana clad in his clerical attire. / Courtesy

It all started in Rubavu 2014, on a particular Sunday after a mass service when he found children standing outside church dancing to “Kanda amazi,” a song that talks about addiction to alcohol and womanizing – things that are not connected to Godliness. 

This worried him.

“I wondered how someone goes out of a mass service and immediately starts to sing things like ‘When I don’t get alcohol or a woman I feel like dying,” he said.

When he talked to them, he found out that they wanted fast-paced music, and he realized he needed a way to make such music for them. Fast-paced, but with good lyrics of praising God.

“I realized that I needed to bring a style of music for people to enjoy even when they are out of the church. I wanted to have something that will make them linger in church mood.”

That year, he recorded his first song, Ugusenga, a rap and RnB song that encourages Christians to pray because God hears prayer.

He later would later find more encouragement to record more songs when he came to Kigali and surprisingly found journalists that already knew about his songs,

“They (journalists) made a big deal of it. They later called me and asked if I would record more tracks. I told them that if I want I can. That also inspired me,” he said.

To date, he has had two concerts: one in Kigali, another in Rubavu and they had a good turn up. He has also performed in Canada, Germany, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Challenges 

“When starting, some people didn’t understand how a priest could start making rap music,” he said.

“Some thought I would eventually drop out of the priesthood. But now fellow priests see that it helps the youth.”

He highlights the support fellow priests are giving him in his music. He says that they have lent him a hand in organizing a concert in Kigali. He is also happy that top clergies give him time to go perform abroad when he is invited.

However, he highlights a couple of challenges in his musical activities. He says doing music as a Catholic father is a demanding task especially as far as time is concerned.

“We have clerical programs that we must handle. And these are the principal things for us. However, after doing my clerical devotions, I get time for music. 

Sometimes though, I sleep less as I try to write songs,” he says. Nevertheless, he notes the pleasant part of it. He says it gives him more audience for preaching especially to the youths.

Although he started recording only a few years ago, his love for music started way back - when he was in secondary school when he would compose Catholic mass songs. He also plays karate and football.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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