It sounded like a bad joke when I was told to do an investigative story on the thriving witchcraft in the entertainment industry. This followed a tip from a reliable source that musicians have resorted to witchcraft to stave off competition and earn a fortune. According to a reliable source, musicians who want to make it are flocking a certain shrine in Nyamirambo, a city suburb to get charms that will make them super stars over night and for the struggling artistes to make it without a hustle.
I’m not a staunch Christian but the thought of going to a shrine sent nerve chilling waves down my spine. The first thing I thought about was a rosary (a gift from my mother) that I had thrown away; it would be the source of my courage in this mission into the world of witch craft.
My mission was pretty cut out. All I had to do was to pose as a struggling musician and go get the charms to make me the number one musician in the country.
Time check is 9.00am on a sunny Tuesday morning….. After saying a prayer with my rosary, I hit the road to Nyamirambo on a moto.
After 20 minutes ride, I disembark to begin my journey. As I walk towards the secluded place behind Mount Kigali, I see several cars parked 100 metres away from where the shrine is located. Kwa Mindi, as the place is commonly referred to, is five minutes walking distance from the rugged road where the motto cyclist dropped me off. It takes me through a narrow path before I reach the entrance that leads to a small house which is fenced off with a hedge.
The compound has a waiting area and an usher at the gate. Dressed in long black and white robes and sandals made out of old car tyres, the male usher greets me with a smile and shows me where to sit as I wait to see the witch doctor.
As I wait, my eyes pry around. I see children playing in a distance, oblivious of the strangers in their midst.
I also eavesdrop as other people in the queue exchange stories about their experience with the witchdoctor. Stories range from failed businesses and infertility to ‘women issues’ and failed careers.
So it’s not only musicians that come here. I say to myself.
After waiting for close to one hour, the usher finally calls me. Dressed in baggy jeans, white sneakers, a brown t-shirt and a large jumper, I get on my feet. A million thoughts race through my mind. I am not sure if I will make it out of the shrine once I get in. The usher asks me to switch off my phone and hand it to him. I oblige.
My hands start shaking, sweat forms on my forehead and I start to ask myself why I’m doing this but before I could find an answer, I was being guided into a garden that has three tiny thatched huts. At the centre of the compound a fairly old man probably in his 50’s sits around a fire, singing, shaking a calabash and smoking a pipe.
The hut in the middle is where Mindi the consultant operates from. Dressed in dirty Mshanana attire, Mindi is probably in her early 70’s. She sits down on the dirty floor with the legs crossed. The smell of smoke fills the air. Inside the dark room, I wait nervously as I struggle to see. Finally she breaks the silence.
Mindi: My son, what can I do for you?
Me: I’m a struggling upcoming artiste. I went to Uganda to kick off my singing career but things didn’t work out and I decided to come back. However, even here, I have not been able to make it. I need help.
Mindi: Oh, I see. I thought you were like other young men who come here for love portions. This week you’re the seventh artiste who has come to me for help.
Mindi asked me what I had brought for the ancestors.
I remove Rwf 15,000 from my pocket and hand it to her. She looks at it, then a lull of silence follows before she laughs sarcastically. Then she asks me, “Do you think the ancestors will eat money?”
Before she can proceed she tells me to go and get a white hen and bring it to her. I rush out confused and scared.
Without asking anyone I dash to the nearby trading centre and buy a white hen. On my way back, that’s when I notice that people who regularly visit the witchdoctor come prepared. I notice some people holding goats, sheep and chicken all waiting to see Mindi.
As if when I left she didn’t see any other person, once I get back, the Usher tells me to go straight to the hut.
Inside I find another girl with Mindi. She looks to be between 17 – 20 years old. She gets the hen from me and walks away. Minutes later she comes back with herbs before beckoning me to follow her in company of Mindi.
We enter one of the other huts and Mindi proceeds to slaughter the hen before draining its blood in a bowl. She hands me the bowl to drink the blood as a way of appeasing the ancestors but I feign a sickness. She tells me that we can work out something else. The young girl gets some of the blood and mixes it with herbs; the result is a green concoction. She pours some in a tiny cup and hands me the cup to drink.
She assures me it’s the only way I will get what I want. At the risk of blowing my cover, I take a sip but almost vomit.
After this ritual, I am taken back to the big shrine where Mindi hands me a pipe that contained some dry leaves that I thought was tobacco but it wasn’t. At the first pull, I started feeling dizzy and nauseated. She carefully unwraps a folded piece of paper and takes out some small bones.
She squeezes them in her hands, shakes them and drops them to the ground, and then she talks in a strange voice and shakes her head like someone possessed. Her rituals and charming energy fascinate me but I keep wondering what could be hidden in the secret messages in the pattern of the bones.
After this ritual, she tells me it time to break the news.
As if not to let anxiety take its toll on me, she says that the ancestors have appreciated my sacrifice and have told her that I have a good future in music.
She asks me if I want to remove my shirt since she wants to give me the final blessings. After removing my shirt, she moves around me with smoke emitting leaves while muttering words I can’t make sense of. I later learn that most people remove their clothes to avoid the smell of herbs and smoke when they leave the shrine.
When all is done she says I can now go but asks me to go back when I’m ready to launch my album. She promises that on my next visit she will get me beads that I would wear around my neck as a fashion accessory but they contain charms. Apparently, I will instantly become a popular musician although I will have to pay routine visits to the shrine for the ancestors to continue ‘blessing’ my career. It’s this routine visit that according to sources will also come with digging deeper in my pockets to keep the charms working. Apparently, for all the consequent visits one has to carry an envelope with not less than Rwf250, 000 on every visit.
These visits do not end as long as you keep in the music business.
As soon as I walked out of the shrine, I took a stroll to a nearby restaurant for lunch. In the restaurant I later got to know more about Mindi from the locals.
“She has been around for five years. Some people say that she came from Tanzania whereas others say that she came from Gikongoro but from what I gather, I don’t think she is real. It’s just in people’s heads,” said one motorcycle rider.
He proceeded to tell me how rich businessmen go to the old woman for help and several artistes of which some were identified by the restaurant dwellers. “There are several musicians who usually come to consult Mindi and they are doing well. Maybe she is real after all because I don’t think all these guys would still come back if she was fake,” said another.
After listening to their arguments, I excused myself and left the restaurant. On my way, I started to think about the complications the concoction might do to my body and if she is real, will I be throwing away my journalism pen and heading to the recording studio? Well, if you don’t see my byline again, ask not, just listen to radio or watch TV but don’t ask me how I how got there.
Musicians speak out
"As a Christian I don’t believe in that type of magic. I believe that the only way to success is through hard work and talent. However, it is worth noting that we live in a diverse society with people from different backgrounds and beliefs which might influence their choice to consult a witch doctor. But I don’t think it will have a negative impact on the music industry although it will affect people involved in such activities. Musicians should work on nurturing their talent because witch doctor charms are only limited, if at all they work."
"You can’t lay back and expect miracles to happen. I have heard such rumours but I can’t be certain that it’s true. There are no powers that can help anyone if they can’t help themselves. First of all, if any artiste starts consulting a witch doctor, that is a clear sign of weakness and it shows that he or she is not confident. The outcome of this is that people will start to think that all artistes consult witch doctors, which is not the case, and this will not help our industry grow. We need to put more emphasis on grooming and growing talent and hard work. "
"As a Christian I believe that it’s only God that can help anyone grow and of course that person would also have to work hard. Consulting witch doctors is not going to change much other than kill the industry. Instead of wasting time and money consulting witch doctors, I’d rather they try to work hard. They should train their vocals, do rehearsals, collaborate with other musicians and strive to be better through the right channels. I have heard such rumours although I don’t know if they are true or not, but if it’s true, then we need to do away with such things."
"It is sad, shameful and very demeaning for artistes to engage in such acts. And probably this will only succeed in killing our industry. Personally, I’ve heard the rumours for some time although I have no evidence, but if it’s true, we need to encourage each other as artistes, share experiences about how we have managed to develop without engaging in such illegal activities. "