Kamaliza: The life and times of a music icon

You have probably heard people sing songs like Kunda Ugukunda, Humura Rwanda, Umutoni, Mbabare Ngirente and Sinakwanze, among others at weddings and concerts and wondered who sung such legendary songs.
A portrait of Annonciata Mutamuliza, who was widely known as Kamariza. She died in 1996 in a fatal car accident.. Courtesy
A portrait of Annonciata Mutamuliza, who was widely known as Kamariza. She died in 1996 in a fatal car accident.. Courtesy

You have probably heard people sing songs like Kunda Ugukunda, Humura Rwanda, Umutoni, Mbabare Ngirente and Sinakwanze, among others at weddings and concerts and wondered who sung such legendary songs.


That’s Annonciata Mutamuriza, famously known as Kamaliza, one of the best musicians that Rwanda has produced.


Kamaliza died in a car accident in 1996. Although she died two decades ago, her legacy lives on and many are committed to keep it alive.


In recognition to her contribution to the Rwandan music industry and to nation building, Rwandan Diaspora Students are organising a concert dubbed “Umurage Nyawo Kamaliza Concert” to pay tribute to her.

Jules Sentore.

According to Sylvain de Joie Ifashahayo, the event coordinator, the youth need to know a lot about people like Kamaliza, through her music, from which they can draw inspiration to focus on their future.

A short video documentary highlighting Kamaliza’s life journey as a musician and as a Rwandan patriot will be screened during the concert.

Who is Kamaliza?

Annonciata Mutamuriza was was born on March 25,1954 to Léandre Rusingizandekwe and Bernadette Mukarushema. She was the last born in a family of seven. Her stage name Kamaliza derives from one of her songs Kamaliza.

She fled, with her family, the 1959 massacres against the Tutsi and lived in Burundi where she studied primary school.

In 1968, Kamaliza was sent to former Zaire to live with her aunt. She studied secondary school in Lubumbashi where she started her musical career, singing in Catholic Church choirs.

She subsequently went back to Burundi where she worked in the Ministry of Finance, a job she left after a few months. Kamaliza turned her focus to music and proved to be talented when she won a music competition in 1982.

In 1990, Kamaliza left Burundi, took her two guitars with her and joined the Rwandan Patriotic Army in the liberation war.

Kamaliza never got married but raised many orphans.

Maria Yohana.

Her role in the liberation war

Apart from love and folk music, her songs boosted morale of RPA Inkotanyi fighters during the liberation war. Kamaliza herself participated in the war as a soldier with the rank of Sergeant.

Her songs reinvigorated downhearted soldiers on the frontline as well as sowed solace for Rwandans in the country and refugees.

According to her proximate, Kamaliza had a mannish character that allowed her to do anything men did.

She also participated in concerts organized to fundraise for the liberation war.

Apart from solos, Kamaliza also sung with her colleagues in Indahemuka cultural troupe that had an instrumental role in the war.

After the genocide, she organized free concerts for genocide survivors to comfort them. Her song “Humura Rwanda” was a consolation to survivors after the genocide.

Butera Knowles.

Kamaliza, the benevolent

Those who knew Kamaliza well say she was benevolent and altruistic.

Suzane Nyiranyamibwa, a veteran singer who lived with Kamaliza, describes her as someone who was cultured, clever and a critical thinker.

“She was younger than me but had maturity beyond her years and used to give constructive criticism and support. I always play her songs and feels like she is sitting beside me.

After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, many children were left without families. Kamaliza took charge of some of them.

She introduced “Girubuntu Kamaliza”, an organization that supported orphans. Kamaliza started with 3 children but after her death, the number increased and Maria Uwanjye, her sister, took care of 17 children.

Solange Mutoni, one of the orphans she raised echoes Nyiranyamibwa’s stance on Kamaliza.

“She got me from SOS and raised me. The time we stayed with her, we enjoyed love that she bestowed to us. I was young but I vividly remember how caring she was. She sung for us, took us with her for a walk, bought us chocolates and anything parents do to children.

According to her, Kamaliza held regular concerts in orphanages and used the money to support orphans. She unfortunately didn’t realize this.

Kamaliza’s songs made real impact among ordinary people and musicians in particular.

Jeanne Ingabire Butera popularly known as Knowles proclaims herself an ardent fan of Kamaliza.

Diana Teta.

“I’ve never lived with her but I consider her exemplary and a hero. When I was young, I always played her songs on cassette. I’ve loved her songs. She has a reputable and vast legacy. Her songs are original and upcoming musicians should emulate her.

Knowles says the tribute concert is a commendable act because Kamaliza’s legacy should be preserved.

Eric Senderi Nzaramba, a singer who was with Kamaliza during the liberation war says the musician was instrumental in inspiring the current generation of musicians.

“As a veteran of the liberation war, I consider her an outstanding person who committed to liberate the country through her talent. She is a hero because she took a brave decision that few women could dare to take".

In addition to her songs that contained distinctive messages, she was also compassionate as she raised orphans. I am proud of her and always look up to her as an elder in music and comrade-in-arms”.

Singer Teta Diana says Kamaliza has always inspired her.

“I loved her because my mother frequently played her songs when I was young. I grew up loving her up to now. At times, I was influenced by western music but Kamaliza’s songs still dominated my inspiration.

Teta, who always performs Kamaliza’s songs in various events, says she was eager to know more about Kamaliza and visited her sister. “From what I was told, she was humble and loving. I really love her”

Mariya Yohana Mukankuranga, a veteran musician, says she says she was friendly and sociable.

Jules Sentore says “I don’t know Kamaliza personally but people speak well of her. What I know is that she was good at composing music and her songs are creative. She was an important figure in Rwandan music and young musicians should learn from her”.

In November 1996, Kamaliza was involved in a car accident and lost consciousness for days. She succumbed subsequently.


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