Dressed in a crisp white shirt, a pair of navy blue trousers, a black tie and neatly polished black shoes, Patrick Imanishimwe gives the impression of a teenager basking in the glory of everything contemporary.
Far from it. The 15-year old is impeccably dressed for spontaneous street performances in traditional music. He’s headed to the Biryogo market in Nyamirambo where he expects to perform for onlookers around the area.
Some will pay on their own volition, others won’t.
But that wouldn’t dissuade Imanishimwe from doing what he loves to do: to play his umuduri, a traditional music instrument with a string that’s supported by a flexible wooden string bearer or bow.
It’s from street performances that he earns his keep. Despite being a student, he’s the main bread winner at his home.
In old times, the umuduri was used to entertain kings.
His songs appeal to society to live in peace and harmony.
“I earn a living from playing the umuduri for people. My talent makes me money, but I also use it to call on society to live in peace and unity. This traditional instrument is a reminder of our culture, the original Rwandan music,” he says.
He adds: “I can guarantee that the use of umuduri in Rwandan society will never be gone. I am a culture lover and very many people are too.”
Imanishimwe, a student at Groupe Scolaire Sainte Famille in Kigali, was introduced to the umuduri when he was seven years old by his mother, Erose Nyirampumukwa, who also inherited the gift to play it from her father.
His journey to Kigali
In 2009, Imanishimwe and his mother left Karongi District in the Western Province and moved to Nyamirambo in Kigali. They moved with the intention to make money from their talent.
In just their family, Imanishimwe, his mother, and older brother Claude Ntaliyimana, are good at playing the umuduri.
According to Imanishimwe, in Karongi, the pay was insufficient, owing to people’s lack of interest in the traditional instrument.
“Many people look at the umuduri as just another instrument. They even call you a fool when you tell them you play it. But in Kigali, we realised the situation is quite different,” he says.
He adds that in Kigali, not a day goes by without making some money. Because of this, he moves to all corners of Kigali playing the instrument and singing for people. He charges if someone makes a particular song request.
“I charge Rwf300 per song. If the requests are many, I make some money. But mostly I just play and let people offer what they can. Some are very generous,” he says, adding: “I use the income to help my mother pay rent, pay for my school fees, and also buy food.”
Promoting Rwandan culture
“Back in the day, Rwandan culture was stronger; there were no pianos or guitars then? The umuduri was the in thing. I believe that it’s our duty no uphold this instrument, to conserve our culture,” he says.
For him, the beauty behind playing the umuduri is that it tells the story of Rwandan culture. He insists the traditional instrument should never be played with another instrument to produce music.
“The umuduri has its own sound. It delivers a beat which reminds you of our original traditional music and you don’t need to add anything else to it, it’s complete on its own”
“The umuduri is easy on the ear, its soothing. Even when foreigners hear it, they immediately stop and listen. They appreciate its sound and the accompanying the melody”
In his songs, Imanishimwe talks about peace and unity among Rwandans. Muhoza, Sarafina, Ubandutira and Ntimugatane are among the songs that he has composed and performed on the streets of Kigali and other urban centres. Apart from Kigali, he also often travels to Rwamagana, Bugesera, and Ruhango, among other places, to play his instrument.
“When society lives in harmony and unity, it becomes stronger family. That’s what I believe in and it’s the message I spread in my performances”.
“I am also sure that with love and unity, Rwandans will never go back to the haunting events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” Imanishimwe says.
‘I bring something different’
Describing his seven-year ‘calling’, Imanishimwe says that it hasn’t been a walk in the park. He hopes to win awards some day and maybe even get to meet famous traditional artistes.
“When an artiste interacts with people who share the same passion and are in the same field, it really improves them. For me, it is still a challenge because I have not established any contact with our famous traditional artistes. I’m hoping I can learn from them one day, firsthand, it would really take me to greater heights,” he says.
Imanishimwe says he draws inspiration from Sophia Nzayisenga who plays a traditional Rwandan guitar, known as iningiri.
He adds that both instruments (the umuduri and the iningiri) are a great symbol of Rwandan culture and should be preserved.
Some of the traditional Rwandan artistes that he says he wished to meet include Sophia Nzayisenga, Intore Massamba, Jules Sentore and Mani Martin.
Imanishimwe cites lack of professionalism as one of the main challenges facing the local music industry.
“Some musicians are doing things they do not even know or understand. I do not play the umuduri because it is just unique, I play it because I am good at it and want to give people the best,” he says.
Imanishimwe says that one of the best ways to strengthen Rwandan music is to embrace traditional instruments.
He says that many Rwandan artistes have forgotten the value of local instruments.
“I’m ready to bring something different to the table,” he says.
Imanishimwe says he has so far taught three people how to play the umuduri and is looking forward to teaching more as part of his contribution toward promoting the traditional music.