Sophie Nzayisenga is one of Rwanda’s most talented musicians. She plays a stringed traditional musical instrument called ‘inanga’ and sings Kinyarwanda songs.
Along her journey of hard work, her trance-like music has taken her places and exposed her to an audience that marvels at her talent.
As a child, she used to sing along with her father while he performed in concerts (Ibitaramo).
“Thinking that some particular activities should be done by a particular gender can block you from your potential. But with today’s gender equality advocacy, people should know that what a man can do a woman can do,” Nzayisenga says while speaking about dominating in a field where men are perceived to be inanga players.
Despite the pressure exerted on her by different people in her community, Nzayisenga was determined to be an expert at playing the inanga. She said that on several occasions, she was advised to drop her musical talent with claims that it was unheard of for a girl to play musical instruments in a gathering where there were men.
“Musical talent runs in my family, as far back as my maternal and paternal grand fathers. I had an opportunity to have different musical instruments within reach. I therefore, took advantage of this and learned how to use to the inanga while I composed my music,” she said.
In 1986, Nzayisenga released her first song “Ikera kurima” which was played on Radio Rwanda after a stiff competition with other artists.
“Under the theme ‘Kwihaza mu biribwa,’ the competition aimed at encouraging local artists to work hard so that they could earn a living from their music and sustain their households with food,” she recalls.
At the tender age of nine, Nzayisenga started performing at different concerts amidst the great opposition that was based on her gender and cultural norms.
“Many people used to tell my father to stop me from what I was doing with the argument that I won’t get married because I was doing a man’s job,” she recalls.
When she was about 20 years, it became so hard for her, so she decided to quit the music industry for eight years.
However, after thinking seven times, as the Bible says, Nzayisenga was even more determined to re-kindle her musical career. She gave a deaf ear to what was being said about her musical career as a girl.
“I asked my boyfriend, who is now my husband, if he did mind about my music career. He said he had no problem with it and that he would instead support me,” she recalls.
Her career was driven by the fact that she is the only woman who played the inanga and that her male counterparts were all aging.
“I am a lucky woman because my husband never changed his mind about my career even after we got married. He encourages me all the time,” says Nzayisenga.
Nzayisenga is a mother of two at the age of 35. She says she has been teaching children, youth and even adults how to play traditional instruments since 2003 to date.
“If I die today, I would die a happy woman because I have achieved my dream of keeping our traditional culture booming and inspiring many youth to learn it,” she discloses.
Some of her best performing students are; Uwingabire Francoise and Ngarukiye Daniel whom she believes are good ambassadors of this rare musical talent.
Nzayisenga has managed to balance her role as a wife, mother and professional.
“It is never easy for me because being the only woman who can play inanga adds more responsibility on my part, to teach the many students would attend my classes. I have to find time for my family; this is not easy to balance but with God’s help I have managed to do so,” she says.
Nzayisenga is based in Kimihurura, Kigali at the American Training Club where she has been a full time employee since 2005. She has so far traveled to different countries like; Bulgaria, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Belgium on invitation to play the Inanga in different competitions.