Drug addiction: The cancer eating up musicians

It’s no secret that artistes make up the biggest number of professionals that are constantly hit by drug-related incidents. Music sensation Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning which shed light on the excessive partying some artistes get into.

It’s no secret that artistes make up the biggest number of professionals that are constantly hit by drug-related incidents. Music sensation Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning which shed light on the excessive partying some artistes get into. One of the greatest voices of all time, Whitney Houston, died after a long string of drug abuse and sadly, her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also met her demise after abusing drugs.

In Rwanda, some artistes are slowly heading down the destructive road of drug abuse.


James Gisa, popularly known as Gisa Cy’Inganzo, was rushed to Gikondo Transit Centre last year over heroine drug abuse. He was later taken to Iwawa Rehabilitation Centre for over three weeks after friends realised that his problem was getting worse.


Samuel Uwihanganye, aka P-Fla, a rapper, has also battled drug addiction over the years.


P-Fla has had stints at Gikondo Transit Centre and Iwawa Rehabilitation Centre too.

The problem of drugs within musicians is not a new case, in the region; reports have been coming through from Uganda about musician Jackie Chandiru’s battle with drugs which is threatening her life. Last year, rapper Joselyn Keko, also from Uganda, had the same problem.

Urban Boyz at the Explosion Concert in Kigali in 2014. It is said that some artistes use drugs to boost their performance. 

Drug abuse in the music industry is thriving. In Rwanda, one man is putting in place measures to help artistes quit a habit that is threatening their lives and their careers.

Eliel Sando, a music videographer and manager, has established a project that seeks to help people with addiction, but his main focus is on musicians. He started the project after seeing his friends from high school and people he looked up to eventually destroying their lives by using drugs.

“I started this project under Eliel Entertainment and after working with numerous artistes, I realised that there was a big problem. So, I began by befriending most of them in order to be able to help them and I started with Gisa. I do all this because I want them to continue successfully with their careers and have healthy lives because this industry is relatively young and it needs to grow but it can’t grow on the backbone of drugs,” he says.

Sando says that artistes are usually deceived by their colleagues who say that if they consume drugs, they’ll appear cool and put on mega performances. To this, he says it’s wrong because drugs don’t help these artistes, but destroy their lives and their careers. Musicians are often given examples of other musicians who consume drugs and are big stars but forget that their health is not good.

“I decided to focus on artistes because they are easily misled by other people yet they are mirrors through which the youth see themselves because most of the youth look up to them. The transition most musicians make when they are starting their careers matters a lot. If a musician joins a group and finds members indulging in drugs, chances are that he/she also ends up using drugs to fit in,” he adds.

Rwandan artiste Gisa Cy’Inganzo has battled drug addiction.

He further says that most musicians use drugs as a pastime activity without knowing that the repercussions could be severe. He gives an example of heroine which most artistes are addicted to that drives them to the extreme point of selling their household items just to quench their addiction.

“Most drugs used include weed, alcohol and heroine. However, the scariest thing is that there are some drugs inform of tablets which most people don’t even know about. The less popular drugs tend to calm people down which is why it’s difficult to know that certain people are addicted, they’ll only exhibit signs that they’re addicted when they feel the urge to use the drugs again,” he says.

Sando gave an example of heroine, which when consumed a person is calm but the urge to consume it shakes them hard. Sando says that the issue of drug abuse should be addressed because most artistes who are talented are actually victims. Having done research when he was putting in place his project, Sando realised that the number of victims is on the rise.

“The number of victims among the most talented artistes in the country is high; at almost 90 per cent. Other artistes also use drugs but they know how to control their consumption. Some artistes have failed to make it to the top because of drugs”.

Rwandan artiste P-Fla has battled drug addiction.

Why drugs?

Musicians have always justified their use of drugs for reasons ranging from confidence, fame and creativity among others but Sando doesn’t agree because he says that drugs, such as heroine, originated from the Caribbean and these drugs have destroyed great careers in countries all over the world.

“ We have successful gospel musicians and I don’t think they’ve made it far because of drugs. Drugs just destroy careers; musicians need to build their self-confidence without using drugs,” he adds.

The point is further supported by rapper Emery Gatsinzi, aka Riderman, who says that use of drugs, even among ordinary people, is too dangerous. Riderman emphasises that drugs have never helped anyone succeed in their career, and it’s more practical in the music industry.

“We have gospel musicians who are doing well but they don’t use drugs. I think the problem concerns all people who use drugs but musicians are pointed out because of their fame and their stand in society as role models. I urge, especially upcoming musicians, to steer clear of any drugs and find good mentors to help them with their careers,” he says.

Clement Ishimwe, the manager and proprietor of Kina Music, says that the problem is not as bad as it is in other countries. But that even the few cases need to be sorted out before the problem spirals out of control. Ishimwe also added that musicians have to understand that they don’t have to use drugs to have successful careers.

According to Jacky Iribagiza, a seasoned and Martyrs Secondary School in-house counselor, the main problem is trying to imitate their friends by thinking that if they don’t do what others are doing, they won’t be friends. Most upcoming musicians always try to align themselves with established musicians to help them develop their careers but this usually ends up being dangerous in most cases when they start doing what other musicians are already doing.

Jackie Chandiru (L) was part of Ugandan pop trio Blu*3 before her solo career. It is said that she is now battling a drug problem. (Net photos)

She adds that how they are groomed matters. She says that most of them lack proper knowledge and mentoring before joining the music industry which would go a long way in educating them about the dangers they might encounter. She also added that they have to build their self-esteem to ensure that they don’t rely on drugs for confidence.

“The only solution I see is to incorporate God’s laws in their lives and this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be born-again. At the school where I’m a counselor, some artistes come to help students with drama but I always make sure that everything is done in a saintly manner. We need to educate our artistes about the dangers of drug abuse if we are to build a creative industry that is sane and sober,” she says.

On the other hand, Sando believes that it will take concerted efforts and mass sensitisation to solve this problem once and for all. He says that he finds it surprising that organisations which donate money to such causes usually know very little about how deep the problem is. He also adds that most efforts go towards solving the problem at the surface instead of digging deep.

“These efforts should begin with students joining secondary school because that’s their first feel of freedom when there’s money at their disposal and most of them end up using the money for the wrong reasons. We need to understand the problem and where it begins if we are to put an end to it,” Sando says.

However, according to the Police spokesperson, Chief Superintendent of Police, Celestin Twahirwa, when they are looking into the issue of drug abuse, they look at the broader perspective of how it affects the youth in general since most musicians fall in same category. Twahirwa says that it’s an issue that requires more effort if we are to put an end to it.

“When we look at the youth today and the trends worldwide, we realise that it’s an issue that will require effort from every concerned person so that we can have a generation free of drug addictions. We closely monitor drug abuse and addiction and also partner with other players such as schools to sensitise students about the dangers of drug abuse,” Twahirwa says.


YOUR VOICE: Why are musicians prone to drug addiction?

Anaclet Mugisha

Anaclet Mugisha

People copy behaviour based on what they intend to gain or how the said behaviour motivates them. Musicians use drugs because they think they have a lot to gain. Why do people have some habits, positive or negative? How are they are adopted? For example, obesity is general. Once your friends become obese, you sort of accept it, and so the motivation to work out or stay in shape goes. The same applies to musicians; their world largely supports their habit.

Keith Tumwesigye

Keith Tumwesigye

The music industry is different from other industries. Most of them use drugs because of scrutiny by the general public, loneliness, depression and bad publicity. Therefore, musicians find themselves leaning towards drugs as an escape route from everything that is going on around. Of course, not all musicians are drug users but the issue lies in how they handle the situation. Most of them get exposed at an early age which comes with temptation, instant fame and wealth. If they are not handled well, or groomed by a responsible person, chances are that they’ll self-destruct. 

Olive Higiro

Olive Higiro

I think the main issue here is a lack of a sense of identity and conflict of culture. Our music is now largely mainstream-based whereas back in the day, it leaned more towards the cultural aspect. So, mainstream music originated from the Western world and our young people have not only taken a liking towards it, but they have also taken to doing everything portrayed in the videos. Our cultural songs usually have people dressed in traditional wear, dancing gracefully and without consumption of drugs. A music video from the West is incomplete without indecently dressed girls, swearing, drug consumption and provocative dancing. We need to build own music industry without adopting the Western culture of music.

Eva Kami

Eva Kami

Honestly, I believe that it’s just a habit and whether or not they joined the music industry, they would pick it up at some point. There are several musicians out here who don’t use drugs and they are doing well. For example, it’s like blaming friends for a smoking habit when none of them actually forced you to smoke. Instead of putting it on the profession, let’s also look into the background and upbringing of these musicians because that’s where the underlying causes are found.

Nora Mbabazi

Nora Mbabazi

I think the biggest problem is probably constant nights of performances. After performing at more than five venues, for the musician, it becomes normal whereas for the public, it’s a whole new experience. So, to keep up with the crowd, despite the musician’s fatigue, they’ll probably resort to drugs to keep energetic. For example, when they go on tours, it consists of hours on the road, less sleep and dozens of public appearances; it’s a health hazard and in my view, I think that’s why they turn to drugs to keep alert.

Compiled by Dean Karemera

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