In 1992, a teenage Dieudonne Munyanshoza joined Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) in the liberation struggle after he was suspected by local leaders of spying for the then rebel group.
When he returned to his birth place, Mibirizi, in the then Cyangugu prefecture in 1995 after the liberation struggle, vocalist Munyanshoza says the village was totally different from what it was before he left fearing for his life.
Friends and relatives had been killed, homes ransacked and it was no longer the same beautiful village he grew up in. It is at this point that he decided to use his talent to pay tribute to those who were killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Born in Rusizi District, Western Province, the 41-year-old songwriter fell in love with music at a tender age.
“I liked singing since I was young. I would mime songs by other artistes. When I joined the liberation struggle I started to compose my own music, especially morale boosting songs which were helpful during the struggle and later in military training courses,” he says.
Music as a healing tool
Until June last year, Munyanshoza was an officer in Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). He was honourably discharged from service after he reached the age of 40.
The now Impala music band member has established himself among Rwanda’s best musicians thanks to his unique voice, script and ability to stage live performances.
It was in 1996 when he released his first song ‘Mibirizi’ in memory of the Tutsi who were killed in his home village.
The song became popular on radios and people liked it so much he was subsequently nicknamed ‘Mibirizi’ – after the name of the song. The song earned him massive recognition thanks to the sad yet deep message therein.
As a result, people started approaching him requesting him to compose songs for them in memory of their loved ones that were killed during the Genocide.
They would help him compile lists of names of victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi while he would go on to compose songs citing the victims by name.
“The more they approached me looking to compose a commemoration song, the more interested I became and that’s when I began to concentrate on this kind of music. Each song meant a lot to me,” he told The New Times.
He has since recorded over 70 songs in five albums including ‘Duhorane Ubutwari’ ‘Duhore Tubibuka’ and his latest album ‘Ntakyambuza Kubibuka’.
Indeed some of his songs including ‘Imfura zo Ku Mugote’, Nyanza ya Butare, Mibirizi, ‘Twarabakundaga’, ‘Nyabarongo’ ‘Umunsi Avuka’ and ‘Umuhanzi Ntazima’, among many , have gone on to become synonymous with the Genocide commemoration period.
With time, Munyanshoza also started composing songs for different Government programmes like Gacaca, unity and reconciliation, healthcare and environment.
Munyanshoza says his music has contributed to the healing process of Genocide survivors.
“The feedback I get from people who appreciate my music shows that my songs have helped them come to terms with what befell our country and given them hope for the future, not forgetting that they influenced those who committed Genocide to feel apologetic for their crimes,” he says.
He says the target of his music is to help the Rwandan community understand the consequences of the Genocide and its ideology or denial to stop the tragedy from ever happening again.
The artiste has not stopped working on Genocide commemoration songs. He has three new songs in the studio which he says will be released soon.
Munyanshoza is positive that a lot have been achieved in the effort to reconcile Rwandans while the country has also progressed in all aspects of life.
He says commemoration must remain a priority.
“We cannot and will never cease to remember our people even as we focus on building our legacy and improve our lives socially and economically,” he told The New Times.
He, however, does compose love songs too, something many might not know. Some of his none-commemoration songs include ‘Umunsi Wandutiye Iyindi’, ‘Umwali’, ‘Amahoro Meza mu Rwanyu’ and ‘Narakwikundiye’.
What others say
Munyanshoza has closely worked with the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) and has shared stage with Rwanda’s finest artistes like Maria Yohana Mukankuranga, Patrick Nyamitari and Sgt. Robert.
For singer Eric Senderi, Munyanshoza is a genius whose songs have played a big role toward survivors’ recovery.
“When commemoration period comes around, people tend to turn to him because his songs help Genocide survivors and the community in general to stay strong during the difficult period. His is a unique talent,” he says.
Joselyne Mukakimenyi, a Genocide survivor, said: “Munyanshoza’s songs comfort me during the mourning period. I relate with them and their messages”.