His first two opening lines for this interview perfectly summarize his persona and different faces:
“My real names given to me by my parents are Ntakirutimana Felicien. ‘Ntakirutimana’ means ‘nothing is above God’, and Felicien is a French name which means ‘happy’. I am a happy man and I believe that nothing is above God, so I believe in God.”
As an artist and singer he is known as 2T Reggae Man, or 2T Rwanda Reggae Artist. Some simply call him 2T, and others ‘Reggae Man”.
“2T came from my childhood nickname – Tonton, which means uncle, because I grew up as an orphan, but an orphan who takes care of other orphans. The younger orphans used to call me uncle or ‘Tonto’ in Kinyarwanda. Everybody called me Tonto, although I was young. Even older people used to call me Tonto.”
He simply took out the two ‘T’s in Tonto to come up with his musical stage name.
Orphaned at ten
2T lost both parents in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and hastens to add that it is this tragedy that sparked the reggae musician in him.
“I’ve been a musician since I was born. I was born in a Christian family where both parents were choir members so since I was a child, I was involved in a children’s choir at Church at a place called Kabuga.”
Upon joining high school, he sought out and worked with different choirs like Bon (Good friends), Victory Choir, and in different groups like T-Soul and New Guys Group.
Upon completion of his high school he decided to do music on his own and chose reggae music.
“I have been listening to different genres of music as a young man, but in reggae I found that there’s message.
As an orphan who grew up in a difficult life I could not afford to sing nonsense. I found that reggae is where you sing for other people – orphans, widows, street children, for disadvantaged people.”
“When you talk about reggae most people think of Bob Marley and Lucky Dube. Even me these two people influenced me greatly, because I could follow the lyrics and messages in Bob Marley’s songs and hear about how he speaks about Africa, about people uniting, slavery, I could hear different messages he gave to young people and also messages about God like in Jah Live, which means God lives.
For Lucky Dube I drew inspiration from songs like Different colors, one people, My brother, my enemy, and different situations which we face as Africans, like genocide, which happened here in Rwanda when Rwandans killed fellow Rwandans for senseless reasons. That’s how these two influenced me but even others like Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and many others mean a lot to me.”
Reggae music in Rwanda
2T feels that this genre of music is not yet as famous as it should be in the country, “not because people don’t love or know it, but they don’t have it.”
He pauses to ask rhetorically; “For instance who is the premier reggae artiste in Rwanda? In South Africa we have Lucky Dube, in Ivory Coast we have Alpha Blondy and Ticken Jah Fakoly. In Rwanda who do we have?”
Still he decided to go into reggae, “because I decided to go into it not to get money, but to teach people to share my experience. That is my main goal. If I die without getting money from doing reggae music but have told a positive message to people and have changed their lives in different ways, I will be happy than dying with money but without leaving a message.”
He has more than ten recorded songs to his name, and an even bigger cache of as yet un recorded material.
Radio and TV
Away from the musical stage, 2T also spreads his reggae messages of peace and love through a slot called Reggae Vibes on both Contact TV and radio. He started off with TV, about five months ago. The TV show runs every Sundays between 5:00-6:00 pm, while the radio slot runs every Friday between 2:00-3:00pm.
“I saw in Rwanda there are no shows about reggae. People don’t get that message, so I tried to find ways to get this message across. I can be on stage, I can be on radio, TV, so that people get the positive message.
Nowadays there’s different music with good melody but the message is not okay. People sing about love from the first to the tenth song. Do they forget that we have street children in Rwanda, orphans, widows, poor people, unemployment, sometimes there’s fighting in Rwanda among Rwandans?
In the US people can sing about love and all that because they have everything but I think in Rwanda we’re not yet at a point where we have to sing and say ‘rubbish.’”
Music for peace and development
About four years ago, he started a live music ensemble to help propagate his messages and music more professionally.
“I created a band because in Rwanda there is a problem of playback music which is not good, which is not smart and which is not professional. Live music is live music, and the opposite of live I think is dead.
2T the nurse
After completing Primary and High School in Rwanda, 2T moved to Nairobi, Kenya to study nursing at The Nairobi Hospital’s Cecil McDonnell School of Nursing.
He has worked as a nurse at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Kigali for the last ten years, having started in 2005.
At the time, he had just a High School diploma for academic qualifications.
He is immensely thankful to the management of King Faisal Hospital for the scholarship he was offered to study nursing in Nairobi.
“It’s good to also serve people by treating them. I usually tell people that music and nursing go hand-in-hand. As a nurse you treat people physically. You have pain, I give you an injection and you get better.
But sometimes you have stress and need to relax, and you need something which is not an injection or a tablet, but you need counseling. Music can counsel you. If you’re an orphan I’m able to tell you through music and a good melody that don’t worry, everything will be okay.
If you’re breaking up with your husband or wife I’m able to give you counseling and here an injection or tablet won’t work.
Music can make you relax because hospitals can give you stress as you’re dealing with sick people, people in pain, those that have broken their limbs … so after a hard day at work, music is like medicine.”
A medical professional –nurse at that, spotting bold dreadlocks is quite some sight, a coming together of two extremes, so to speak.
“I’m sure it’s not just me and it’s not just limited to Rwanda. Different people in different parts of the world face this,” he begins to explain his predicament.
“Let me use the word ignorant. Ignorant people think that the physical appearance measures to one’s output in work, which is totally untrue, because you can’t judge a book by its cover. A cover of a book is designed also depending on a reason.
That’s why somebody can choose to have trimmed hair; another can choose to have a bold head, another person likes dreadlocks, and all for a reason.
If you start to judge and say that anyone who doesn’t have dreads does not think right, or that one with dreads does not think right, or everybody should look like me because my hair is trimmed, that is selfishness and it’s not right.
What you should think about instead is the output of this person. Is this person working? Are they a responsible citizen? What do clients talk about him? Are they helped at the end of the day?
So it was a hard decision to maintain my dreadlocks because of different people who still think like that.”
To him, dreadlocks mean everything:
“They mean freedom. I’m free because I look the way I am. That is freedom. If someone came and told me to cut off my dreadlocks that means I’m no longer free because I have to look the way another person wants. That means I am a slave.
I could do that because I want a job, but I would not be in that job as a free person but as a slave.
I cherish freedom because when you’re free you think well, you have creativity, because you are you, but when someone is holding your neck down you can’t think.”
2T is a happily married man, with one daughter.
He is all praises for Professor Emile Rwamasirabo, the CEO of King Faisal Hospital “who decided to make me free”.
“Professor Rwamasirabo is a big man and very intelligent, very smart. Since he made me free is when I became me. It’s when I got married, planned my life, and my creativity increased, because I was being me.
He taught me something – I should make other people to become free. I should not teach people to look the way I look. Even my children, I won’t tell them I’m a nurse and a musician and so you should also do music and nursing.
As long as what they are doing does not harm them and does not harm society and they’re developing, making a step ahead. So the lesson I learnt from Prof. Rwamasirabo – let people be free.”