By Ange Theonastine Ashimwe
The Inanga, known as a ‘trough-zither’, is a traditional music instrument that is highly respected in Rwanda culture. It is usually played solo, and the performer sings about historical events, personal experiences, or everyday incidents.
Deo Munyakazi is a highly-talented Inanga player, singer, and songwriter from the Rwanda. He became the youngest and best Inanga player in Rwanda, 2015, and was chosen as one of ten world talents in Pop-Kultur in Berlin, 2017. His passion and ability to fuse the Rwandan blues with other genres quickly elevated him to play at big festivals like Printemps De Poetes in Paris, Pop-Kultur in Berlin, Doadoa in Uganda and many more festivals across East Africa and Europe. He had performed with world musicians such as Tito Al Uribe, Belgian pianist Jeff Neve, French saxophonist Guillaume Perret, English multi-Grammy Award Winner Joss Stone, and Kenyan nyatiti player Makadem. He was invited to a two-day meeting, the “Culture for the Future” in Bruxelles city this year. He has collaborated with Ugandan artists like Giovani Kiyingi and Ssewa Ssewa on Emirembe Song, and he is now working on his first full-length album.
When asked what the most odd question that he has ever been asked, he said: “The weirdest question was what I do apart from music. I mean apart from music, I do music. For me, music is a lifestyle.”
Munyakazi’s love for music started at a young age, and the first instrument that he learned to play was piano. Now, he plays piano, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and the Inanga (trough-zither) which he is most known for. He mentions how when he touched the Inanga for the first time, he felt like he had found what he had been looking for.
“I have been looking for our real music and our uniqueness as Rwandans. When I found Inanga, I felt things that I have never felt before – it was what I have been looking for. I spent more time on it, fell in love with it, and it became a part of who I am,” said Munyakazi.
He thinks that traditional artists don’t get the look they deserve because people are more interested in modern music than folk; that there’s a preconception that traditional music is for old people, and yet traditional music is the very link to our national identity. Investors are not putting funding towards traditional music because they perceive it to be something that cannot go beyond borders, perpetually contained within Rwanda. But for Munyakazi, Inanga being a locally-made instrument made him travel the world.
Now, he strives to conserve the musical tradition of his country for both the current and next generation.
“I want to be a good example of a real hustler. I want to sustain Rwandan culture particularly our traditional music for the next generation and to prove to them that nothing is impossible. Even the word impossible means I’m possible,” said Munyakazi.
Munyakazi being the first gospel artist to use Inanga, an instrument of ancient origin, that was sometimes used in different rituals that oppose the modern religious. He says that God also listens to the traditional sounds; therefore, it is okay to use ancient instruments to worship.
Munyakazi believes that on top of having a great talent education is the key. He attended the National University of Rwanda where he attained a degree in the Arts & Creative Industry. Also, he pursued his MBA in Project Management at the University of Kigali, and he is continuing his illustrious career this December with the release of his latest song ‘Twitabire Umuganda’.
There is something deeply human about music, but deeply cultural about it as well. Music can move people. And because it can move them so deeply, communities use music to create cultural identity. Rwandan traditional music carry specific sounds with specific significance for their performers and audiences. As modern music gets popular, few people stick with traditional music, and Deo Munyakazi is one of them. Many people say ‘the way he fuses the Rwandan blues with other genres takes people to the world of their ancestors.’
Munyakazi, the young star of Inanga demonstrates that: “if you have a big passion for music, life takes the form of a melody – you don’t stop.”