Mani Martin, also known as Martin Maniraruta, was born 24 years ago in little known Cyangugu in Western Province. He rose from a village boy to share a stage with renowned international artistes such as Angelique Kidjo and Femi Kuti.
His music (in English, Kinyarwanda, French and Swahili) is a blend of several music genres and leans towards traditional music. He has four albums and also has a career as an actor. Despite his achievements, he’s managed to remain humble and down to earth. Collins Mwai caught up with the artiste as he was rehearsing for his forthcoming live show at Serena Hotel on September 1.
How did you embark on your musical journey?
I have always had interest in music since I was a young boy. I used to listen to the radio a lot and even tried imitating the music I heard. Mostly I used to listen to traditional music. When I was nine, I wrote a song about friends who had lost their lives during the Genocide. I used to wonder if they would come back. When I wrote the song, I didn’t how composing was done then, I just wrote. Back then I also used to sing in school and my teachers and class mates would comment positively about my music.
When I was 11, one of the teachers took me to church to join the choir and I stayed with the choir until 2005 when I recorded my first song, Urukumbuzi, with a producer called Patrick Buta, now in Europe. That was the debut of my career. Urukumbuzi was voted Song of the Year and I took the Artiste of the Year in the first music awards after the Genocide.
You were doing purely gospel before going secular, why the transition?
I didn’t turn back on gospel music. When I begun music, traditional songs gave me a foundation. I wanted to get back to my roots. In 2012, I went back to the traditional songs. I wanted to do music that would identify my origin; someone listening to it would know where I am from. I am still Christian and God fearing.
Your music is multilingual; French, English, Kinyarwanda and Swahili, what’s your plan?
Previously, no artiste here recorded music in English, but I realised that music is diverse and to get to an international level, you need to reach different people. The first song I did in a foreign language was in Swahili; I used it to test the market and liked the reception.
How did you put together your band, Kesho Band?
I don’t consider it my band, I consider myself as a band member and we work together. They are all talented. They would do well even without me. They are people who we grew up together musically; we have taken the musical journey together. We came together because we have similar interest and style.
Recently, you became the first Rwandan to perform at the annual Sauti za Busara music festival in Zanzibar, how did that come about?
I released my latest album, My Destiny, and sent it to the organisers of the event. They liked my music and invited me. It was humbling to perform at the event.
Talking of international festivals, you’ve graced quite a number; please name them for us and awards you’ve taken home?
Recently I performed at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar before performing at the Amani festival in DR Congo. I have also performed at Darfur, South Sudan for the peace keepers, Doadoa festival in Uganda, Boston in America, France, Belgium and South Africa amongst other places.
The awards I have clinched include Artiste of the Year in 2006, Gospel Artiste of the Year, Salax awards 2008, Best Traditional Artiste 2012, and I was also nominated for Best Male Artiste in PAM awards in 2007 in Uganda.
The lead track of my latest album, My Destiny, was ranked 14th of the 50 greatest African tracks of all time by the BBC. It humbles me that I can appear on the same list as people I have grown up listening to and looking up to like Angelique Kidjo, I am just a boy from a little known village and it humbles me to listen to my songs on BBC.
You are no longer a village boy, you are now famous, how do you handle the limelight?
(Laughs) I don’t consider myself famous. I am still that boy born and brought up in the village. I wouldn’t want the fame to grow into my head and make me feel more important than other people. I don’t think any of this is a reason to change who I am.
I welcome everybody; I don’t feel special and turn away people. I know they made me whom I am, without them there would be no Mani Martin. Without the people around me, I am nothing.
As an artiste, the moment you begin feeling important and famous, that’s when you begin to fall. Having money alone without people around you will make you miserable.
You are now brand ambassador of MTN, does that boost your career?
It is a win-win situation for both of us. They support me to grow musically, provide platform for me to interact with people and give me access to the society. As I said you need people around you to grow.
Who do you look up to musically?
Locally, I look up to Cecile Kayirebwa. I have listened to her since I was young. I also admire Ismail Lo, a Senegalese, Salif Keita, from Mali, and Angelique Kidjo. I admire their musical composition.
Your upcoming concert has been hyped, is it worth looking out for or is it just hot air?
It has almost been a year since I had a show here in Kigali; it is since I released my album. Together with the band we have performed in many venues around the world and shared a stage with major international acts.
By just performing with them we have learnt a lot and grown musically. We have matured. For the concert, I can assure fans that they will see a grown and more refined Mani Martin.
Your future plans musically?
I want to push my music to an international level and platform. I would like the world to know of the music in Rwanda. I am taking it upon me to show the world that there is more to Rwanda than the events of the past (the Genocide). I want to act as an ambassador to show the world a different side of Rwanda
Would you call yourself an international artiste after travelling the world?
I am not there yet there, but I am working on it. Some day in the near future I will be.
Ladies are wondering, is Mani Martin Married or seeing anyone?
(Laughs) I am single and not searching.