Why Engineer Kibuza sings like an old man

From stage names, to striking stage costume, even personalised registration plates on their cars, it is common practice for musicians and entertainers to come up with a selling gimmick to push their brand.
Kibuza sings about real life stories. (Moses Opobo)
Kibuza sings about real life stories. (Moses Opobo)

From stage names, to striking stage costume, even personalised registration plates on their cars, it is common practice for musicians and entertainers to come up with a selling gimmick to push their brand.

And upcoming singer Jean Paul Akirimari is no exception with regards to the issue of stage names – his is Engeneer Kibuza.

However, the stage name is not the most striking thing about him. Rather, it is Kibuza’s musical persona itself. He sings in a signature booming and shaky old man’s voice, passing off as a comedian rather than musician to sections of his fan base. He has also picked a few verbal fights with fellow musicians and radio presenters who insist he should drop the old man persona and go for his own natural voice.

Why act the old man?

But Kibuza is a stubborn young man and still insists on the old man’s booming voice whenever he hits the stage or studio:

“It is in 2010 when I started to sing in this voice. When I sing, I sing like an old man. Many people know me like an old man, but I’m not an old man. It is just my style of singing.”

At just 25 years of age, he is indeed not an old man. Which begs the question, why then does he sing like an old man?

“It is my way to be different from other artistes because many singers in Rwanda sing the stories about youth issues, and they use the same voice. That’s why I choose to use the voice of an old man to differentiate Kibuza from my fellow artistes. My target is the old people because they also like music, and in my compositions I use the wise words of old people.”

Story teller

Kibuza describes his style of music as Rwandan Hip Hop, and true to the genre, is more of a story-teller. In most of his songs, he deploys a talking style in his lyrical delivery, and for dramatic effect, packages his messages in the old man’s voice.

“From the beginning of my career, I was focused on talking about life stories in my music, and to give society the message which can help them in their everyday life.  That’s why I sing like an old man, because old age is a symbol of wisdom.”

A quick sample of a few of his more popular songs reveals just that.

His very first song, Umurage w’ab’ejo, released in 2010, explores the history of the country before and after colonialism — a rather daring and weighty subject for an upcoming musician. The song went on to become the lead single and title track to his first album,  which he finished in 2011. The nine-track album also had songs like; Ijambo ry’musaza, Umurage remix, (with Mako Nikoshwa), Event Rwanda, done in English and about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and Kwibuka ni ukwiyubaka (remember, renew), featuring Munyanshoza, and also about the genocide.

Presently, he is putting final touches to his follow-up album, due for release later this year. Titled Umunyamahirwe, the lead song, the nine-track album already boasts such titles as;  Amateka aduhe umutekano (history gives security) — a collaboration with ten Rwandan artistes including; (Jean Paul Samputu, Mani Martin, The Rain Paul, Jody, Yvonne, Jozy, Yves Kays, Dolphin, and Umutare Gaby).

“What we were saying in this song is that we have to look to the past and then prepare for the future, and say never again genocide. It is a song used when we remember the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Other titles on the album include; Ibaruwa y’Umuyobozi (letter of God’s authority), and Umunyarwanda.

Other high profile collaborations to his credit include; Umwali Ukwiye (girl of good character), a collabo with Kitoko, and Umunyamahirwe, with Mani Martin.

About the title track, Umunyamahirwe, he says: “It is talking about the situation when you love someone, and they love you back without any strings attached — like money, tribe, or employment status. It means you are the lucky one because it is your character that is appreciated.”

And he has dedicated the entire album to the cause of being proudly Rwandan. For this, he has a certificate of appreciation from the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC) for the lead song, Umunyamahirwe, that he received from the ministry on January 29, 2014.

Inspiration, childhood

He is inspired by “the bad life of the Rwandan people in the past, and hopes in God’s intervention, because God can do everything which is impossible to the people.”

“I have done concerts in the different provinces of Rwanda with other professional artistes. I have been invited to different events in the country. In my career, I focus on doing music to give hope to the society to build the future.”

Born in 1989, in Gasabo district, Kacyiru sector, Kibuza first fell in love with music at the age of ten. By the time he was sixteen, he narrowed down his interest to “African music of artistes like Jose Chameleone, and South African artistes”.

The interview ends when he has to hop on a Motor taxi and rush off to Nyamirambo for a scheduled recording session. Otherwise, he is pacing the streets, knocking at the doors of telecom companies and the relevant government ministries with requests for sponsorship for his upcoming album launch, due in October. 

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