Gospel artiste tried vending scrap, drug trafficking but all in vain

Music, some say, is a language understood by all; it opens doors and even touches hearts. Yet today, it is one of those avenues used by some to make fortunes. For 18-year-old Merveille Musafiri, popularly known by his stage name of Dova, music has given him life and all that comes with it.
Musafiri doing what he does best, drumming. (Courtesy)
Musafiri doing what he does best, drumming. (Courtesy)

Music, some say, is a language understood by all; it opens doors and even touches hearts. Yet today, it is one of those avenues used by some to make fortunes. For 18-year-old Merveille Musafiri, popularly known by his stage name of Dova, music has given him life and all that comes with it.

A victim of a collapsed marriage at a tender age, Musafiri has been in and out of the streets, done casual labour and even a drug trafficker—all done just in order to get something to eat—until fate brought him in touch with his calling, gospel music. Today, he heads a band of nearly 30 young people.

Born in 1996 in eastern DR Congo, his parents separated when he was only five. His father, a pastor, moved on in life and remarried but life turned upside down for Musafiri and his younger siblings as their step mother did not warm up to the idea of taking care of her husband’s five children she found in the home.

Her only weapon to ensure Musafiri and his siblings left the home was to deny them the basics, food and school. Musafiri found it unbearable, and at the age of six, he fled home for the street.

While on the streets of Bukavu, he earned a living by collecting and selling scrap metal—a common trade among street children. Life, he says, wasn’t good but he had no choice, after all he could find something to eat and support his brothers who continued to brave the mistreatment at home.

“I had only done my primary one and couldn’t go back, but my younger brothers continued. However, whenever they returned home from school, they found nothing to eat. So, I had to continue working to help them because my father was always traveling on long journeys.”

But being a son of preacher, he had been exposed to church music instruments at an early age; and at six he knew how to play most of them, and very well. So, Musafiri kept around a church. “I was a little boy but I could play drums so well and I could also sing in the children’s choir.”

Turning point

One day, in 2004, there was a Christian conference hosted by a Rwanda-based Pentecostal church called Restoration Church in his neighbourhood. As a Christian child, he felt desire to go and see what was going on there.

While there, he saw various music instruments and he couldn’t resist the urge to try some of them. ”I saw the drums and I just asked if I could play a little and I was allowed to play. Everyone couldn’t believe I was that good. My age was one thing that made them really get interested in me; some even asked me if I could travel with them to Rwanda.”

Although many inquired about him and expressed interest in taking him, none of them did and so he stayed—continuing to scratch for a living, scavenging for scrap.

In 2007 he met some friends who took him to Goma where he joined a group of drug traffickers, but it was not long until they were arrested. “It wasn’t a safe thing to do and I knew it; but I had no choice but to get involved.

When we were caught, my friends were detained but I was released because I was a minor who could not be imprisoned under the laws of my country. All they wanted was to talk to my parents, so I took them to my father.”

A meeting with his father however, did not end well. “My dad decided to chase me away, saying I was already a spoilt child. Off to streets, I went again.”

While on the streets, Musafiri stayed close to a church. He was then nine years old. “I went back to church and asked for forgiveness. I started learning how to play piano and in the same church one of the people who knew me gave me a job at his small shop. He paid me $20 per month and this enabled me to go back to school.”

Schooling while at the same time working was not going to be easy and so, he could go to school sometimes only once a week. What he never stopped doing, however, was going to church and playing his music.

While still at the same church, a woman, the owner of Macadamia and Pasadena hotels, visited and was also touched by the way Musafiri played drums and offered to employ him. He accepted the invitation to shift base to Rwanda and start playing music at Macadamia Hotel. “It was one huge step for me—to work in a big hotel and be paid a lot of money. It was not only money but also an opening to the world of new opportunities.”

Playing music with all his heart was his only way of getting out of all the problems he faced; but he was also touching so many hearts through music. One of the hearts he touched was that of Dr. Iris Elton, an Englishman living in Cameroon. He liked Musafiri’s music to the extent that he invited him to play at a conference in Yaoundé and during his son’s birthday around that time.

So, on September 12, 2012, Musafiri found himself boarding an aero plane for the first time. In Cameroon he did not disappoint and as usual, another opportunity presented itself and found himself performing in Mombasa, Kenya soon after. In Mombasa, a fan loved his music so much that he donated him a house he now lives in Gisozi, a City of Kigali suburb.

“That day it was really amazing, I played and Dave Douglas, a white man handed me keys; he said ‘I am giving you a house back in your country.’ I couldn’t believe it.” When he returned to Kigali, he indeed found Dave’s people waiting to settle him in his new home. He was only 15 then.

Back to school

Despite all these opportunities, Musafiri’s heart remained fixed on going back to school; and so did exactly that.

He is now able to pay his own school fees at Ecole Secondaire Congolaise in Gikondo. “I go to school during day time and work at night and this way, I support my education and that of my brothers.”

He performs at Serena Kigali Hotel, Lemigo Hotel and Umubano Hotel on separate days—a move that has enabled him to achieve his dream, to own and operate a band.

He is now the president of the Worshippers Band with 30 members. Asked how he made the money that bought all the expensive equipment, he says with a shy smile: “I worked hard in all those different hotels and churches…at times I could make like one million francs in a month and with that money I could buy one item at ago and keep it until I had a full band with the instruments I needed.”

Musafiri is not only succeeding in music, but also with his education. He is now in S6 and hopes to get good grades in exams next year. My education and that of my siblings has been all due to my music and my hard work and that of the entire band.”

He praises the church that has taken him that far at a young age and so he wants to tell everyone about the Word of God that sets a human soul free and changes lives. That is why he has started using his band to play gospel music in hotels.

“I believe that not all the people in the hotels are there to drink alcohol and mischief. There are also people who are there to rest or on a journey. As Christians, they deserve to get what they like to hear. Some hotels have already accepted my proposal and we have tried it at Umubano and it went well. People liked it.”

Asked what fellow Christians would say of his gospel shows in circular places, he says: “Jesus came to save sinners and if they think that hotels are for evil people, then I am on the right track—taking to them the medicine they need.”

Musafiri has performed with local stars like Mani Martin. He plans to continue and achieve all that God has planned for him. He says the Word of God must reach everyone, through any means, including music.

“I started without anything but now I can say, I have achieved due to the love of God and my hard working spirit that never gives up. I wish to grow and be able to do something for other people too. I have all the equipment needed to start a printing house and I am starting it soon because business is one thing I would love to do too.”

To the youth out there, who are in precarious situations similar to what he went through, he says: “all is possible if you are willing to achieve—do not give up and say no to drugs because you will only end up destroying yourself. Continue struggling and work hard, God will help.”

Musafiri also has a message for parents: “Some parents think that music spoils children… but if a child is good at it, let them do it. Support them because you never know what lies ahead for them.”