SMS is not the only man in uniform that also doubles as a musician. As Moses Opobo writes, he works closely with two other members of the armed forces – Sgt. Robert Kabera of the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), and Sgt. Ngoboka of the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS).
On stage, and to his music fans, he goes by the acronym of SMS, but the shirt pocket of his navy blue police uniform proclaims his official name, Samora M.
And that is not all regarding the name of this singer-turned cop. His full name is Samora Machel Sharangabo, from whose initials he derived his stage name.
He explains that Sharangabo is a family name he took after his late grand father, adding that; “there is a big family of abasharangabo out there”.
What about Samora Machel? We know the name to belong to the former warlord and eventual president of Mozambique. SMS is quick to reveal that indeed, his name bears all the connections to the former politician.
“I was born in Nairobi, Kenya on January 1st 1982, the day when Samora Machel was visiting Kenya for the first time. My mum was in the hospital, expecting me when Samora arrived, and when I was born, my dad gave me the name.”
Indeed, he was born and bred in Nairobi, Kenya, a fact that becomes evident whenever he opens his mouth to speak in his heavy coastal Swahili accent. After completing his primary education in Kenya, he relocated with his family to Tanzania, where he was enrolled at GKT school for his secondary education.
It is in Tanzania that the artist in him started to manifest. He started getting himself to local gigs in his locality, and soon, spurred on by his heightened interest, he enrolled at the Bagamoyo College in Dar es Salaam, where he studied brass-based music.
“I wanted to know everything that I could about music, and this was the perfect opportunity,” he quips. At Bagamoyo, he took particular interest in one instrument, the Trombone. Indeed, when he left the school, he went on the search for musicians to work with. One of his very first songs, Mtoto Idi, is actually a collaboration between him and a famous Tanzanian rapper at the time, Juma Nature.
This was a dream come true for SMS, having idolized the Tanzanian rapper for long before his eventual breakthrough.
Otherwise, his other musical inspiration is the late south African reggae kingpin, Lucky Dube, whose skills on the Trombone inspired SMS to learn the instrument while in Tanzania.
In 2006, at the age of 23, he returned to his motherland for the very first time, having had about Rwanda only through stories and news before.
“I returned with my entire family and some members of our extended family. I found my country progressing well after its terrible history, with only a few pockets of insecurity. On the music scene, I found that there were very few rappers in Rwanda, and there was none of them rapping in Swahili, yet it is the language of East Africa”, he recalls, adding that; “I wanted to use my musical talent to promote use of Swahili.”
At home, he made his rounds on the musical circuit, doing his research and looking for important contacts in the industry with whom to push his music further.
His first instinct was to join a professional music band, a dream that he realised after clinching a deal with a local orchestra, the Best Sound Band. The band hired him on the strength of his mastery of the trombone, and the fact that he could drop his rhymes in Swahili. He was both singer and instrumentalist. He stayed with the band for two years, before throwing in the towel, taking his superiors in the band unawares.
“In the band, we were playing mostly covers of reggae songs, while my interest had always been in hip hop. Going solo was the only way out for me, so I had to quit the band and move on.”
And move on he did. Not only has he gone on to establish a fairly decent name as a solo musical act, he has also tried to diversify the scope of his music. “My music is now a fusion of different styles like Afro-beat and R&B.”
Policing and singing
Sharangabo is a Police Constable attached to the Police Headquarters in Kacyiru. Asked why he opted for such a strange combination of careers, he says after a long pause: “I was once in a bad life, and that’s why I want to use my police work and music to communicate a positive message to the youth.”
A look at his repertoire of songs easily reveals this fact. He has such song titles as; Mtoto Idi, Uwezo tunao, and his latest, Urubyiruko, a duet with Jabba Star, an upcoming singer.
The last song is enjoying decent airplay on local radio and TV airwaves, thanks to the accompanying video clip, which is more appealing than his earlier low-budget projects. In all, he has 12 music videos out of 18 songs recorded so far.
The other of his songs are more martial in appeal, with themes like nationalism and unity running through them.
One of the songs, Asante, is a tribute to the president, but when I ask him if the president has had a listen, he says evasively that “the video is playing on TV and I know that the president sometimes takes time to watch TV, so he may have seen it.”
In the Police, his musical skills are always on call whenever there are community policing initiatives or official ceremonies like Liberation Day.
SMS is not the only man in uniform that also doubles as a musician. He works closely with two other members of the armed forces – Sgt. Robert Kabera of the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), and Sgt. Ngoboka of the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS).
When they come together to perform joint gigs, they go by the stage name of Kama Jeshi, which is Swahili for “like a soldier”.
He laments at what he terms the public’s ignorance about the police’s work. “Most people don’t know our work. They just see us in uniform and think we are just machines always on the defensive and ready to strike, but there is an important element of sensitisation which is part of police work. Our work is to educate and also to listen to every complaint.”
He is happy whenever people spot Samora M in the course of his police duties to tell him that they saw him (SMS) on TV, and demand for more songs. Also, because he is “the law”, he gets his way in situations where other people would face hurdles. For instance, he reveals that he does not have to tip radio presenters and DJs to play his songs, as they accord him the courtesy that is worthy of a uniformed officer. Who in their right minds would have the balls to ask for gitty from a cop anyway?
Music and his police job aside, Sharangabo is also hard at his studies, currently pursuing Law at the Independent University of Kigali. When he graduates, he hopes to become a youth counselor in addition to the singing.
“I want to be something like a singer, counselor and judge, to counsel youths through my music, and to judge and guide young musical talent.