“Beauty For Ashes is a verse that comes from the bible in the book of Isaiah chapter 61 Verse 3,” explains Olivier Kavutse, the founder of Beauty For Ashes band.
“It says; I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. That’s the background to the name. We believe that everytime we sing, God is taking ashes from his people and is exchanging it for beauty.”
As a band, Beauty For Ashes comes from way back, and is actually more of a personal story for Kavutse.
“I’m a genocide survivor. I was here during the genocide and I survived through hiding, going from bush to bush. When the genocide ended I was adopted into my brother’s home and I was really angry -angry at the people who killed my family, angry at all the other circumstances of life because even after the genocide things weren’t perfect. The anger and bitterness that I had, I’d always sought revenge. I was thinking I’m going to grow up and probably get a gun and revenge.”
While in high school, he became a Christian but retained the bitterness and thoughts of revenge. He kept praying though, and not long after, started feeling like he had a gift for writing songs.
“I started writing whatever that was in my heart - most of the songs were real stuff that was going on inside me. I felt I was writing songs but they weren’t really good songs. I was just emptying myself -getting out what was inside of me.”
Before long, he had written ten, fifteen, twenty songs, but hastens to add that “most were not even real songs”.
“But some were good songs and I compiled them into my first personal album.”
“In the middle of all this I started feeling different and asked myself why I wasn’t feeling the same anger and bitterness I had before and I realized it was because of the songs I had been writing. It was like writing my stories in a journal and before I knew it, those songs became therapy for me. At one point I felt I was free from all the bitterness and the anger I felt I had forgiven all the people that killed my family and that I could even sit and have lunch with them and tell them I’d forgiven them.”
This was way back, in 2003.
“From that moment I felt God tell me he was going to use me in the area of music and songwriting for the church as a whole as opposed to a one denominational church.”
But it was not until 2009 that he would release his first CD titled Father to the Fatherless. The album packed in mostly songs that told his personal story. “Many songs on the CD were talking about how God has been a father to me when I didn’t have parents.”
A year or two later Kavutse released a song called Siriprize (surprise). It became an instant hit that would later chart his career path.
“Someone stole the song while still in studio and took it the National University of Rwanda campus in Butare and passed it around and before I knew it everyone was singing the song.”
So big was the song, a worship leader in one of the big churches in Butare invited Kavutse to perform at his concert.
“I invited the guys who’d played for me in the studio because I recorded the song with live instruments. It was an amazing concert and everyone was really excited because they’d never heard music like that,” he recalls;
“So from there we decided to do a band.”
Soon after, he embarked on recording his second album with Siriprize as the lead single.
“That song became so big I realized that if I wanted to do good music I needed a band so I decided to sacrifice my name on behalf of the band and we became a band from then. That was in July 2010.
“From the time God told me he was going to use me through music to the time this happened, there was a period of about seven years of silence. In this period I was literally just training myself; I was reading books on leadership, I probably read the bible from cover to cover, every material I laid my hands on I would just suck it in and I grew in that regard.”
That same year the band played in Gisenyi, before visiting Uganda where they played at a Christian conference at the Kansanga Miracle Center.
Siriprize, the band’s first album was released in December 2010, and the band immediately went on tour, holding the first concert at the Christian Life Assembly church in Kigali.
2011 proved a very busy year for the band. In March of that year it held its first paid concert in Butare then in June headed to Gisenyi and then returned to Butare in October 2011.
Kavutse recalls that it’s at this point the band started making a name for itself.
It got nominated in that year’s Groove Awards and also made its first appearance in Nairobi, where it played in a church.
In September 2012 Kavutse travelled to the US for a training and returned in June 2013
“As soon as I landed we started working on our second album as a band -The Wonders of the Sun.”
The album was recorded in a record time of three months. “The reason we worked on it so fast is because we got an invitation from Hong Kong - a church invited us to play there.
“We needed to be smart because there people buy the music unlike here so we decided to make an all-English album so that when we go abroad we could sell the music.”
They launched the album in Hong Kong.
2014 was another eventful year for the band -with a big concert at the CLA church.
Then the band took a tactical break.
“Members wanted to take stock of what the band had achieved so far. That’s when we lost a few of our members who stepped down and moved on,” Kavutse explains:
“But for me it was time to come back even bigger.”
Singing for beauty
As a band, Beauty For Ashes does a fusion of rock, African, and pop music, a formula that has enabled them to stand out distinctly on the local gospel music scene.
Olivier Kavutse, the founder also doubles as the lead vocalist and plays acoustic guitar, Sam Mugisha plays bass guitar, while Olivier Habiyaremye plays electric guitar.
There is Promesse on the keyboard, Shalom Shikama on drums, while Amanda Fung Kavutse and Deborah are vocalists. A Canadian national, Fung also plays keys, and is married to band founder Olivier Kavutse.
Kavutse and Habiyaremye are the only two remaining pioneer members of the band.
“For three years I served in youth ministry at a church in Hong Kong. In 2011 I led a team of youths to Rwanda and that’s when I learnt about the music and ministry of Beauty For Ashes. In the following years whenever I would visit I would sing with the band in churches and schools. I eventually moved to Rwanda in 2014 and joined the band,” explains Amanda Fung.
She describes Beauty For Ashes as “one of the most creative bands in the country, willing to explore any style and genre to make good, professional, quality music”.
Indeed, Beauty For Ashes does not shy away from singing about deep or challenging topics, the band and it’s yrics are unashamedly Christian, but they love to share their music with any crowd.
With songs in Kinyarwanda, English and French, it is one of the few groups capable of reaching beyond the country’s borders with their music. The band has played in Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and the US, among others, and at any Christian event worth its name back at home.
This October, they will be on tour in Europe.
Better known to fans as OH, Olivier Habiyaremye, who plays electric guitar is a man of many talents. He is an entrepreneur, photographer, 3D animator, motion graphic artist, videographer and sound engineer.
“I love the Lord, and am a music lover,” he says of himself.
“My journey with the band started in 2009, when I met Kavutse at a worship overnight. He was singing and I was playing guitar. We recorded our first song called Siriprize and surprisingly it became a hit.”
Habiyaremye reckons that Beauty For Ashes has upped the gospel music game in the country:
“When we started, many local artists were doing CD playback. When we came as a band we revolutionized the scene. I remember one day we were to play at a festival here and the organizers were puzzled when they heard we were playing. We gave them a hand finding a sound system just to accomodate our sound. They were used to hiring small sound systems because most artists were performing using tracks (playback).”
Come July 9th, the band will be launching their latest album, Rennaissance.
“We believe that we’re in a time of rennaissance. As you know rennaissance is an artistic revolution that happened in the 18th century and that’s the idea. We feel like we are bringing a revolution in music,” Kavutse explains.
“But it has even more meanings; it’s rennaissance in the sense that the band is rebirthing. we’re being reborn because when some of our members left the band it shook us really bad and we felt abit discouraged and had to go quiet for almost two years and now we’re coming back with this album that’s really different.”
The album will have ten new songs, and five bonus songs -singles that have been released over the years. Among the new songs are Yesu ni sawa, the group’s biggest song this year, and the Easter single, The Cross.
To grace the launch will be US-based Rwandan singer, songwriter and worship leader Adrien Misigaro, and Aimee Uwimana.
lately, that has been the question on many fans’ lips, owing to a couple of the band’s appearances at secular music events.
“I know that this is something that’s confusing for both our Christian and secular audience but we know what we’re doing and this is something we thought and prayed about for a long time. We’re gospel artists, Christian musicians but it’s really weird that as gospel musicians we believe that the people who want to hear our music are christians,” Kavutse seeks to set the record straight.”
“I can write a worship song and that song can help someone who is already in church to go in their prayer room and connect with God through my music and even now I still do that. But I realized that we’re missing out on a big thing. In Yesu ni sawa we sing messages like; ‘they persecute you for not drinking while beer messes you up. They persecute you for not smoking while smoking kills’. When we perform that at an event sponsored by Mutzig and no one has a problem with it, then it would have achieved its purpose. If I may quote Jesus: ‘It’s not for the people who are well that I was sent, but I was sent for those who are sick’. So I believe that it’s an opportunity for evangelism and we’re using our music as a tool for that.”
Lastly, Kavutse talks about the Prayer House, a youth-oriented weekly Christian gathering that he initiated and facilitates. It is based in Kicukiro.
“The prayer house in my thoughts was a place where people can come and worship on Monday evenings and I felf it was mostly for the church ministers and people who work in church.
I’ve been a worship pastor for New Life Bible Church for the last two years and I realized that everytime I would go to church I never really went to pray but to work because I made sure everyone else was praying except me. So I needed a place where I can go pray after Sunday which is the busiest day for people in church. I thought I would also start a youth center where young people would meet every Friday for a concert or something like that.”
But things didn’t work out that way, and Kavutse didn’t see many church ministers come in. Instead it was young people.
“When young people started coming it was like a fusion of two projects instead of the youth center and the minister’s retreat. So we have some church people coming in but it’s mainly the youth. It’s a typical church but again unlike any typical church. It’s not a typical church in the sense that it’s open. I put on shorts and preach. I put on tanktops and lead worship. Most times worship leaders wear their caps backwards.
This is a place for young people, where they canfeel free to come to God as they are. I believe that young people do not hate God but they feel that some of the places where they go to seek Him are too restrictive. Sometimes as church leaders we put a lot of restrictions on young people and then they shun us.
Young people want to be coool so they don’t want to be part of uncool people. I may want my hair to look like an atomic bomb just hit it but still come to God, and trust me God doesn’t have a problem with that. It’s always us -the people who have a problem with the appearance of others. “
At the Prayer House, young people take part in bible sessions, silent prayer, worship, singing, meditation, giving and listening to testimonies, even birthday parties are thrown for them.
“We spend a lot of time with those young people and they open up and it’s amazing because these things they share with us they don’t even share with their parents.”