By Moses Opobo
As a Dancehall musician, Davy Ranks cuts a different kind of image from the slackness usually associated with the genre.
He is clean-shaven, speaks straight English off-stage, and on a typical working day, you are likely to find him spotting a sleek, business-like look. All this is thanks to the fact that he holds a regular day job –and not any other job.
Davy Ranks is his artistic moniker, but away from the music, he is David Kamurasi, the Head of Operations at Sky Net Rwanda, a local courier company. I meet him for this interview at the company’s offices in Kacyiru.
In his office, he is clad in a three-piece suit and cuts an urbane corporate image. He talks gently.
This makes it hard for me to reconcile this image with his onstage persona when I last saw him on stage at the Nyama Choma festival in Kigali a week or so ago.
It’s safe to say he is one among a new breed of Dancehall musicians in Kigali that are striving to break free from the traditional rugged, tough guy image closely linked to the genre.
“I believe in doing everything in its right time. When it comes to my corporate job, that’s the personality I will come out with, and when on stage I will come out with a different personality as well. If I can win on both sides, the better for me.
In the office you have to do things professionally, then you’ll move from one position to the next. I don’t want to show up in office looking like a Dancehall artist because I’d like to win and get business from them. And it’s the same as music. You have to impress so that you are assured of the next gig.”
Ranks’ musical journey started in high school, pretty much like that of most artists in his genre;
“We used to buy cassette tapes and they had some instrumentals which we used to sing at school,” he reveals.
“When I completed high school I teamed up with some people and we formed a Dancehall crew called Demolition Base in 2002. We were three and we all stayed in the same neighborhood here in Kigali so we decided to try things out. We recorded some songs like Hot City that became a hit on radio.”
The song’s moderate success buoyed the group to push on. Soon, however, school beckoned and the boys had to go off to different schools. Ranks headed to the former School of Finance and Banking (SFB), from where he would later obtain his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. After this separation, Davy Ranks took a decision to pursue a solo music career. However at school, his studies had to take precedence over music until he graduated.
He believes that enrolling for a degree was one of the best decisions he ever took;
“I could not focus on a music career alone. The thing is music in Kigali at that time was not financially rewarding. I decided to get a regular job so that from work I could be storming studios to come out with more hits.”
He soon joined Narrow Road Records, a local music label owned by Ezra Kwizera. Here, he teamed up with other Dancehall musicians like Gabiro, Syntex, TBB, and City Yankees under the umbrella of Narrow Road Empire.
It’s with Gabiro that he collaborated on one of his earlier songs, Amahirwe. Then he again came together with Syntex, Gabiro and TBB on the song Fantastic.
One more collabo followed after this, and it was Ndabikunda, featuring Sparks, City Yankees and Vaga Vybz.
“After these collaborations I went low because I was busy with work, but this time around I’m back now,” he reveals.
His latest song is called Akuye Ibintu, and the video is in the making, to be released soon.
Apart from Narrow Road Records, he also works with Tyco music promotions, made up of Tyson Ngarambe, Mike Buwatete and Mitari David.
“Yes, I’m signed to Narrow Road Records, but at the same time I have to get promoters who are going to work on my music and finance it, circulate and sell it, At Narrow Road we have departments –administration, finance, human resource, production, marketing –these people of course promote my music, like whenever Ezra Kwizera goes for an interview he has to mention my name. They distribute my music to town DJs and clubs so I don’t have to move around myself because that would undermine my name.”
“All the years I’ve been into this thing I was looking for the right people and the right label but today I think everything is moving in the right direction. I think there’s something that is coming that is going to be good.”
He is part of the Zion Train, a loose grouping of like-minded fellow Dancehall artists that frequently stage free shows around Kigali in an effort to further popularize the genre.
“What people expect from a Dancehall artist is message and dancing. But if you come up with vulgar words and naked women in the video, that is not what people expect from me. They look at me as someone who is respectable, corporate, and sharp. I always want to come out with something good because that is what people expect from me. I’ve got reggae on the side, which has got life preachings and God preachings.”