When the trio of Safi Madiba, Humble Jizzo and Nizzo Ka-boss met in 2007 in Huye, no one knew that they would achieve what they have achieved so far.
But the common understanding was to do music as a career and make a difference in the industry where only hard work can take you places.
Today, their hard work has paid off after nine years as a band. Urban Boyz recently won the sixth edition of the annual Primus GumaGuma Super Star, a local music contest that aims at empowering local artistes and promoting the Rwandan music industry. They bagged a cash prize of Rwf24 million.
The group, known for its unique RnB Afropop, is composed of James Manzi (Humble Jizzo), Safi Niyibikora (Safi Madiba) and Muhammed Nshimiyimana (Nizzo Kaboss).Their music has a certain influence and it appeals to the public as it depicts and delivers messages of love and society related lessons.
“We have had a long journey, facing ups and downs in our daily activities. We have tried to market our music outside Rwanda by doing collaborations with numerous local and regional artists in East Africa and West Africa, and we have done a number of performances in Europe. However, not until we won the biggest music competition in the country did we realise that the hard work had paid off,” says Safi.
The group has collaborated with Ugandan’s Jackie Chandiru, Rabadaba and Goodlyfe crew of Radio and Weasel. They have also been to Nigeria featuring popular artistes like Timaya and Iyanya. They have released more than 80 songs and five albums. This is just a bit of how far they have come to emerge as the “country’s leading music group”.
“Despite having been competing along with other talented artistes, it was clear our music has made an impact in the whole country. I must say this is indicative of the work we’ve done all the way from the university in Huye. This is, however, the beginning of the journey,” noted Humble, who recently got a Bachelor’s degree in economics from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences.
Since winning the Guma Guma music competition, the trio has been busy working on music projects in refugee camps.
“We are touring different refugee camps in Rwanda and this is part of talent search project where we are looking for talented kids who will be supported at the end. We have so far gone to Kigeme and Mugombwa. It’s empowered by Plan International Rwanda,” explained Safi.
What winning PGGSS 6 means to them…
“This is another grade that we have added to our music career, and this is an opportunity for us to challenge that perception where people have always said it’s a long way to go. If more than five Ugandan artistes can be nominated in MAMA Awards, MTV, BET and other international awards, why not us?” wondered Nizzo.
He added that there was need for more institutions to invest in such competitions to develop the industry.
“I think the importance of participating in this contest is clear. I remember when it started, that’s when artistes started buying cars, houses, land… this shows the value they gave to the local music,” said Safi.
“Before PGGSS was established, there were few concerts where artists earned six figures. I therefore think other companies need to come out and help artistes,” he added.
For Humble, winning this year’s prize is way beyond helping the growth of the music group.
“Yes we are excited for people who have believed in us and supported us to win the prize. However, winning means a lot more than growing our music as a group, but making unprecedented contribution to the whole music industry,” he said.
Conquering East Africa
Winning the Guma Guma has also given Urban Boys confidence that they can take their music to a much bigger audience outside Rwanda.
“We are keen to play a big part in the music community. I want to say that what’s next now is taking our music to another level and compete with people like Sauti Sol, Chameleone, Eddy Kenzo, Wizkid and others,” Humble noted.
Although it is interesting to note a smattering of African artists making a big impact in some of the biggest markets in the world like the US and UK, there are no Rwandan artistes.
People like Nigeria’s Wizkid, P Square, D Banj and Tanzanian Diamond Platinumz are no strangers to the Billboard charts and other international chart lists.
Safi says they’re on the move and that with time they will get there.
“At least we are grateful that our people understood music that they even pay for it,” he says.
Building the local music industry
Although the debate on who is responsible for the development and growth of the Rwandan music industry has always divided opinion, the trio believe that there should be collective responsibility.
“I will not blame the government for not supporting the local music industry as many do. Personally, I feel that the country is doing much given the unique history that we have had - we are trying to build everything from scratch and maybe the music industry is undoubtedly the next sector to be invested in. I must say that artistes themselves have a critical role in the music industry,” says Humble.
However some people have criticized artistes who get to certain level and decide to leave the country to do their music abroad. Singers like The Ben, Meddy, and K8 Kavuyo are among those who left the country when they had built a huge fan base.
Nizzo has a second thoughts about Diaspora artistes.
“Commercial success overseas can only lead to the growth of our industry back home, but it doesn’t necessarily mean artistes have to stay outside their countries for their music to be heard,” he noted.
They are all in committed relationships but Safi is adamant that he will soon tie down the knot with girlfriend Parfine Umutesi, who is currently out of the country.
Safi dated songstress Butera Knowles who recently got married to renown music producer Clement Ishimwe.
Nizzo is in a long distance relationship with his China based girlfriend only identified as Yvette. The duo is usually seen together when she is on holiday.
“My fiancée is at the university and I’m proud to say that we’ll be engaged as soon as she completes her studies,” he said.
Humble G has been in a long term relationship with girlfriend Amy Blauman, a consultant with USAID and like his colleagues, he says he is thinking of walking her down the aisle.
Advice to upcoming artistes
“Be humble and disciplined, and then work hard. There’s nothing impossible if you have a goal. However, do not look on us if you want to achieve big; emulate those beyond us,” said Nizzo.