The singer first dropped a hint about this new project during his surprise appearance at the monthly Kigali Jazz Junction at the Kigali Serena Hotel in May.
It was the first time he was singing at the Jazz Junction, although he had attended previous editions as a fan.
In May, perhaps to reward his loyalty but most importantly as a vote of confidence in his musical abilities, the Neptunez Band invited Martin to headline May’s concert. He did just that, accompanied by his Kesho Band.
His fans and music lovers got more than they bargained for when the singer capped his performance with an announcement about the impending release of his new album, Afro.
At the time I asked him why he had chosen the Jazz Junction to announce the name and release date of his album. He said simply that ‘it was the right occasion to do it”.
The singer has successfully curved out a niche as one of the best contemporary live acts on the local music scene, with his signature Afro-fusion style.
“As organizers we believe jazz is very dominant in Afro fusion music or what you would call world music like Mani Martin does. This is a platform for him to assert his artistic power to lure more fans towards his art and music because jazz fans are people who really love their music in-depth as opposed to pop music fans,” Remmy Lubega, the Managing Director of RG Consult, which organizes the jazz junction told me.
In 2012, he started his own live music act, the Kesho Band, and in an earlier interview had explained to me why; he was very tired of performing without letting his heart speak to people.
“We play both traditional and modern instruments, which makes my music to be different but also unique.”
Since then, he has developed a special love and interest in live performances as opposed to CD playback:
“I also sometimes do playback when it’s necessary. However, playback could never let my heart speak to people. Say you recorded a song in 2005, and then we are in 2010, you just bring the same CD and play it, make some gestures for the crowd, but your heart is not really with them.
I believe that for an artiste, singing is when you let your voice and your heart and your everything speak to people, but playback is when you show yourself to people and let them just see you.”
That was way back in May, and from the look of things, the singer must have hit the right chords with that debut appearance.
When I called him up for this interview earlier in the week he asks me to meet him at this month’s edition of the Jazz Junction which took place on Friday at the Kigali Serena Hotel.
I politely declined the suggestion and we arrange another schedule, but it’s obvious the new music platform is working for him.
“To me, Afro means a lot. It means everything related to African beauty and pride,” he begins to explain when we finally met.
“It stands as a wake-up call from a young African artiste as a voice to the whole African continent why we can’t just get together as a community in the name of ‘ubuntu’ for the sake of humanity? I believe we can be who we want to be if we can embrace who we are now.”
The singer tackles a host of themes on this album; love, life, people, places, beauty, nature, imaginations …
It has fifteen songs; Africa Ndota, Mwalimu, Kinyaga, Rubanda, Umumararungu, Ndaraye, Karibagiza, Afro, Same room, Serafina, Chalala, Sogea, Baba Ni Nani, Akagezi Ka Mushoroza, and Iyizire.
“I sing about the Africa of my dreams, where speaking a foreign language doesn’t mean smart, where we embrace our diversity and celebrate our unity.”
The singer even quotes Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader and freedom fighter to drive his point home.
“As Lumumba wrote in his last letter to his wife back in 1960 before he passed away; ‘there will come a day when history will have its own say, when Africa will write its own history’. I believe the time is now, when we should write a new narrative, when the world should let the lion tell its own story. It’s an inspiration of my art speaking to my heart, my heart speaks to me, and I speak to the whole world about our story in this album.”
It’s the kind of rhetoric I got from the singer in February last year, when I called him and asked his opinion about the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
At the time he was busy with exams at Mount Kenya University where he has been pursuing his media studies, and also he had a concert dubbed Lover’s Evening on Valentine’s Day eve.
That was enough to keep him occupied as opposed to getting lovey-dovey with someone, but he had another reason for shunning that year’s celebrations:
In his view, the celebration was “something very tricky for Africans”.
“To me it’s good because at least lovers find a day to celebrate, but it’s really a Western concept. It’s good, but I think it’s not something that everyone should concentrate on so much especially when one can’t even trace the history behind it.”
Then came his conclusion: “I think that we should nurture a culture where we celebrate our own history, men, people who did or said great things other than merely duplicating western cultures.”
It’s the same spirit and tone of voice he replicates in his latest album.
Martin sings in Kinyarwanda, English, French, and Swahili. His music espouses a blend of Rwandan folk music and Afro-Soul. His strongest musical influences are Rwandan folk music legend Cecile Kayirebwa and Jean Paul Samputu. Internationally he looks up to American RnB super star R. Kelly and Ismael Lo from Senegal.