If you have ever attended any guitar lessons, learnt the first, second and third chord, you know how difficult it is. Yet sometimes you are required to put all the three together—so imagine doing that when you are visually impaired.
For a man who commands huge admiration, Alexandre Mwitende, a renowned instrumentalist and vocalist, comes across as down-to-earth.
The 39-year-old exudes an aura of confidence not the arrogance associated with most artistes today. Looking confident and yet ambitious, Mwitende has proven that indeed, disability is not inability.
The Nyakabanda resident in Kigali plays quite a bevy of musical instruments.
“I play several musical instruments. I play drums, guitar (both bass and acoustic), and the piano,” he says.
“I studied music. The other thing is that when you get used to the instruments, you don’t have to see since you have mastered where the strings or cymbals are placed,” he adds.
Born with a poor eyesight, Mwitende became permanently blind at the age of two. At the age of six, his parents took him to a musical school, where his talent for music was discovered and the teachers helped him to nurture it.
He later joined the school’s orchestra and got access to all the instruments. By the time he completed after six years, Mwitende was empowered with the skills that would help him support his family.
His story epitomises the power of positive thinking and determination, refusing to sit back and accept to be a victim of circumstances.
Today, Mwitende is credited for being among the artistes who have gradually redefined Rwanda’s music scene.
He is the vice president of “Heroes”- a 10-man band. Out of the 10 members, seven are visually impaired and three have sight. They guide their visually impaired colleagues and also collect entrance fees at concerts.
Through music, the father of two managed to build a house and pays school fees for his children. He also teaches instruments to young people interested in doing music.
Like most visually impaired people, Mwitende faces challenges, though he takes no delight in living a life of regrets about his condition. “Yes, sometimes it’s hard,” he says, “But on few occasions. For instance, sometimes it happens that I tell someone in a bus to notify me when we reach such and such a stage, he does not. When such things happen, I just choose to educate him on how he would have treated me,” he says before adding that stigma cannot move him.
He cites Rodrigue Karemera and Aaron Niyitunga as his greatest musical influences in Rwanda, and Celine Dionne and Don Williams as his favourite foreign singers. Apart from music, Mwitende loves football and he is a diehard fan of local football club Kiyovu Sport and Arsenal in England. He also loves adventure and is sociable.
Message to people with disabilities Mwitende encourages people with disabilities to work on their dreams and not stereotype themselves: “They should know that when you get a disability, it is not the end. I do not believe in begging. We should love responsibility for instance, I have children and I have to work to provide their needs,” he says.
He also urges society to support persons with disabilities so they can realise their dreams, citing an example of the inadequacy of funds in their band that hinders its progress.