François Mihigo, fondly known as Chouchou is a Rwandan guitarist, singer, songwriter and founder of Ingenzi International band. He has fondly served this industry for many years.
Chouchou is a versatile and cosmopolitan musician having played with prominent bands from DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Belgium. He has the ability to play eclectic rhythms (both modern and traditional) that traverse the breadth of Africa and other continents. His own compositions number in the hundreds. Chouchou composes and sings in Kinyarwanda, Lingala, Swahili, English and French.
“My main concern is to satisfy the needs of the audience: I always want to give the best of me to the public. And in return, I expect that the public take the time to come to concerts to listen and watch, and purchase my albums.”
His love for music dates way back as a young kid where he made his own guitar using rubber bands and would stealthily teach himself how to play it.
Chouchou, who maintains a high degree of privacy about his age and private life, admired his dad who was a musician at the time and desired to be like him some day. However this was not the case with his father who did not want him to pursue the music career. He instead wanted him to concentrate on his studies.
He began his music career at the age of eight, while in primary school in Bukavu in the DRC. Born in a family of seven, the guitar has always been an instrument that almost every family member had to master. At the age of 13, he made his first appearance on stage. At the time, he was the only guitarist in the band called Shekeza Bukavu.
In 1980, Chouchou entered a scout group in Butare (now Huye District) in Rwanda. While there, he began to sing and participate in the composition of songs with a group called Orchestra Nyampinga, which later became famous throughout the country. In early 1986, he moved to Gisenyi, where he founded a new band called Ingeli comprising of all the members of Nyampinga.
When the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out, Ingeli was under constant harassment by the previous regime for allegedly collaborating with RPF-Inkotanyi.
Consequently, Chouchou fled the country, settling in Burundi before heading to Kampala, where he stayed for a few months before relocating to Germany and finally to Belgium, where he settled for many years.
Upon arriving in Brussels, he met fellow Rwandan musicians who had lived there for many years, such as Mousa, the prolific Rwandan bass player. Mousa took Chouchou in and introduced him to the band he was playing with. Chouchou joined the widely popular band called Vaya Con Dios as a guitarist.
He played with them for several years, and built a reputation for himself as a prolific musician on the European music scene. He also worked with famous Congolese musician Papa Wemba, Black Story (co-founder) and Mousta Largo, an Arab-Andalusian group.
In 1998, still in Europe, Chouchou founded his own band and named it ‘Ingenzi.’
However, it is with Vaya Con Dios that he travelled widely throughout Europe and the United States, playing at large music festivals such as, Francofolie Spa, Couleur Café, International Festival Rochelles, International Festival of Louisiana (USA), International Festival Montauban, and the first Festival of Internal Morocco.
In Francofolies de Spa, his performance moved an audience of between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Memories of that performance are still vivid in his mind.
His lyrics address issues related to different situations of everyday life. In his deepest convictions, Chouchou believes that every artiste is a teacher as well as an inspiration.
“A word of a renowned artiste can inspire, just as can the music of a small unknown lost tribe in the rainforests. After all, artistes speak the same language, the language of music. Fame and greatness come and go,” Chouchou explains.
He is currently working on two new albums dubbed, Murakaza Neza and Watoto Wa Africa. Both albums contain a total of 12 songs each, and are yet to be released, although some of the songs are enjoying massive airplay on radio stations across the country.
Speaking of the challenges facing the local music industry, Chouchou says that not enough is being done to promote local artistes to reach levels of international greatness.
“There is no music industry in Rwanda to really speak of,” he says. “The music you hear these days is of low quality. Rather than coping foreign music, we should embrace and compose our own African beats with live instruments, especially percussion.”
“This is the only way that Rwanda will be put on the map in terms of music. Everyone knows and can identify South African music or Congolese music. The same can apply for music from Rwanda,” he adds.
Chouchou has a music school that teaches children and the youth how to play various music instruments, as well as sing, compose and produce music.
His future plans are to grow Ingezi International from a band into an Orchestra, with 20 members or more, and to tour the world as Rwanda’s music ambassador.
The singer says that the obstacles to make his dream come true, is finding experienced musicians in Rwanda who have played at an international level and are willing to forego solo careers to join a band.
He also decries poor payment by some events organizers pay peanuts compared to the band’s worth. He also notes that the business dynamics of music are complex.
However, he has enlisted a company, The Nelion Group Ltd to handle the business aspects of the band, especially with respect to booking gigs and concerts.
This, he says, has lifted a big burden off his shoulders. He is able to concentrate on perfecting his band of 12 members, which plays at Virunga Bar (MTN Centre, Nyarutarama) on Wednesday evenings from 8pm, Serena on Friday evenings from 7:30pm, and Caiman Restaurant in Kibagabaga on Sunday afternoons. Saturday evenings previously featured a sizzling live band show at Carwash, but is currently on hiatus. Chouchou spends his free time watching movies.