The 1994Genocide against the Tutsi left the music industry in tatters. Many of the artistes who were Tutsi did not survive the killings. Indeed some of the most popular music bands have since ceased to exist because most of their lead singers were massacred.
According to the Association of Rwandan Musicians (LIRAM) at least 14 prominent musicians were killed in the Genocide. However, several little known artistes were killed too.
Prominent among the musicians who were killed was André Sebanani, who was the front man of Orchestre Impala. He is remembered for songs like Mama Munyana, and Urabaruta among others. He was also an actor under the defunct Indamutsa Group.
Dismas Mukeshabatware, an actor remembers Sebanani as a proficient multitalented artist whose role in the troupe attracted a large audience.
“I acted with the talented Sebanani in many theatres. He was willing to take part in every session at the theatre and played different roles. Our partnership in different ‘Indamutsa’ theatres would attract a big audience. He was a solo musician and a member of Impala Music Band with other music legends like Soso Mado in the 1970s,” he says.
Cyprian Rugamba, one of the most eulogised music legends in Rwanda, was also a renowned author, poet and leader of Amasimbin’ Amakombe. He was popular for his famous songs such as Ubuhanga buhanitse, Inyigisho zokubananeza and kumuryango Nyarwanda. He was killed on April 7, 1994, along with his wife, and some members of Amasimbi n’ Amakombe.
Dieudonne Munyanshoza, a musician known mainly for his commemoration songs, describes Rugamba as a legend, whose songs had a profound impact on the people across all age groups.
“I have fond memories of him. His songs were so educative; he was an artiste of the people because all generations liked his music. His fan base was massive and I always learn from his music,” he says.
Prominent musician Rodrigue Karemera, known for his romantic song Kwibuka did not survive the Genocide either. He is remembered as a talented musician who used to sing in many languages such as English, Kiswahili and French.
A married couple Agnes Uwimbabazi and Dieudonné Bizimungu are also among the icons that were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
67-year-old Cecile Kanzayire speaks fondly of Karemera and the couple’s music: “I fell in love with Karemera and Bizimungu’s music since my teenage years. Karemera’s voice was very attractive and won him many fans, especially his song Ubarijoro. Bizimungu and his wife Agnes Uwimbabazi’s collabo also drew attention to the masses because a couple singing together was not something you could easily hear of. Their voices always blended well,” she says.
Other prominent artists who were massacred during the genocide include, Sadi Gatete, who was a member of Orchestre Abamararungu, Loti Bizimana from Orchestre Ikibatsi and famous for his song called Ntamunoza, Eugène Rugerinyange of Orchestre Ingeli, Mimir Murebwayire, one of the few female musicians at the time and a member of Orchestre Les Citadins and Emmanuel Sekimonyo, famous for his stage name Manu Tabaro.
Loti Bizimana’s brother Prof Pacifique Malonga, who survived the Genocide, describes his brother’s music as that that carried open-minded messages, as well as entertaining to the youth.
“His song Nta Munoza, for instance, was educative and a reflection of society. I get so sad every time I remember his death. I have some music cassettes of his songs and I am fighting to protect his music copyrights, thanks to its value,” Malonga speaks of his elder brother.
Jean de Dieu Dushimimana, Bizimana’s nephew on the other hand, remembers his uncle as exceptional and funny.
“He was a music teacher who had a unique style known as ‘Ikibatsi’. I have plenty of his songs on my phone and personal computer. But whenever I listen to his music, it awakens my sad feelings until I shed tears. I always feel like he was killed when people were still yearning for more of his music,” he says.
Also, among those documented to have been killed during the Genocide include, Saulve Iyamuremye, also a member of Indahemuka choir, Berchmas Rwakabayiza and Jean de Dieu Kayigamba, both members of Chorale de Kigali and Bernard Kalisa from chorale Ijuru.