Inanga is my guitar, says Umushakamba

Umushakamba, whose real name is Maniraguha Maurice, is only 23 and his musical career is just slightly past take-off. However, he easily stands out from the pack of up-and-coming musicians on account of his singular dedication to Inanga, a traditional Rwandan music instrument.

Umushakamba, whose real name is Maurice Maniraguha, is only 23 and his musical career is just slightly past take-off. However, he easily stands out from the pack of up-and-coming musicians on account of his singular dedication to Inanga, a traditional Rwandan music instrument.

Moses Opobo traced the roots of his obsession…

When did you start singing?

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Umushakamba stands proudly with his Inanga. (Moses Opobo)

I started singing at the Catholic Church, Muramba parish in Nyundo diocese at the age of eight. The choir master wanted to recruit talented children; so they organised a singing competition and I was among those selected.

In the choir I learnt the discipline of singing in a large group, for a large audience, and I also learnt how to hit higher musical notes.

Even in school I was a singer and dancer doing both traditional and contemporary dances. I liked the Intore dance, which I took part in from primary up to high school. In the church where I sung, I joined the Intore troupe to improve my skills.

In 2013, I finished my studies and decided to continue with my mission to learn and play Gakondo style.

What is Gakondo style?

It is traditional Rwandan music accompanied by traditional music instruments.

Why Gakondo style?

In high school, I created a club, Rwanda-Africa Identity Club (RAIC) to do both traditional and modern styles of African music. We held concerts at school and outside, and used the money we collected to help needy students in our school.

In the end we took part in a national competition against drug abuse, and emerged winners at the district level. I also registered as a solo performer, and won in both categories.

At the national level, the group came fifth, while I was third in the solo category.

What was your winning strategy?

Being unique helped me win because I sung the Amahamba style. Amahamba is a style of singing which originates from herdsmen who do it while taking a break from grazing their cows.

Why Inanga, of all instruments?

After the music competition where I emerged third, I was told I did not win because I had not played any traditional instrument.

At that point I vowed to learn Inanga because it is the most popular traditional music instrument in Rwanda.

My first Inanga was a gift from an old man called Mugabunyuzaha. Unfortunately he did not know how to play it. Instead he referred me to someone who could teach me. This person taught me many tricks of the inanga but he was too busy to give me enough time.

I decided to teach myself by listening to radio shows in which inanga music was played, and then tried to imitate what I heard.

Then I heard of Sophia, a guitar expert who gave free inanga lessons to the youth at the Kigali Music School during holidays.

When I played some Inanga songs for Sophia, she immediately accepted to help me for free. From then on, I stopped miming other people’s songs, and started making my own inanga music.

Soon, I was looking for a studio. I contacted Jimmy Pro of Celebrity Records because I knew him as a fan of inanga music who loves working with young artistes.

His vision:

To continue doing music that is youthful and vibrant, but using a traditional instrument.

What upsets him:

The media has sidelined traditional music to the extent that it is only played on specific cultural shows at night, so there is little exposure for us.

Whenever I play at weddings, everybody is excited and they ask where they can get my music. This is proof that inanga music is still appreciated.

Lastly, tell us anything interesting about the inanga.

It comes from a special tree called umwungo, which is found in Gishwati Forest, in Gisenyi. One inanga goes for about Rwf 50,000.

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