Rebuilding Rwanda’s music industry was an obligation, not a dream – Mighty Popo | The new times

At the age of eight he was already playing the guitar and at the age of 10 he knew he wanted to be a musician. Many know him under the stage name Mighty Popo, others under the name Popo but his real name is Jacques Muligande.

He is best known for being the brains behind the Rwanda School of Creative Arts and Music, formerly Nyundo School of Art and Music, as well as KigaliUp, the music festival that debuted in Rwanda in September 2011.

In his own words, at the age of 10 he was already immersed in music and it’s no wonder that all his life music has been his passion. It’s fair to say that he lives and breathes music.

Born in 1966 in Bujumbura, Burundi, where his family had taken refuge, Muligande grew up loving music, mainly because the neighborhood they lived in had a lot of musicians and instrumentalists, especially the guitar, which he would later fall in love. “At the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a musician,” he says.

As fate would have it, everything fell into place at the right time and his family moved to Canada where he was able to start his musical career.

“Canada is where my musical career began. I only started working as a professional musician in the early 90s,” Muligande recalls.

But it didn’t all start there. It seems that music runs in the blood. Her mother told her that she played the guitar and an aunt told her that her father sang when he was young. This shows how musically trained he was early on.

For the artist, being a professional musician was never a dream, but rather music was part of his life, influenced by the environment he grew up in and everything that was going on in the world around him. era.

“We grew up as refugees listening to revolutionary music. I’m talking about Jimi Hendrix, I’m talking about Carlos Santana, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters, Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba.

“People like that, for some reason, naturally appealed to me. They kind of touched my soul and my psyche in such a way that I was like ‘this is really what I want to do,’” he says.

In Canada, Muligande continued to establish himself as a musician, a career he says he built through apprenticeship, and a few years later was winning awards in the North American country, including a prestigious Juno Award. .

The artist, whose music is categorized as “world music”, has earned nominations for other world-class music awards during his active days.

Known in French as ‘music of the world’, Muligande’s music has a local and continental feel, but with a hint of blues, R&B and reggae, making it truly ‘music of the world’.

He composes the music himself and plays the guitar, which he describes as his love instrument.

Some of his songs that people in Rwanda may recognize include the rendition of ‘Agasaza gashira amanga’ which was widely released locally.

The majority of her songs have been known in Canada and her album ‘Dunia Yote’ was at one time number 18 in Germany, in the category of world music playlists. He has done over 100 and so songs.

Back home

Muligande’s journey would not be complete without her returning home, where her heart was.

“The trip brought me home, a home I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid,” he says, adding that when he arrives his next mission is to start a music festival, which is how KigaliUp was born in 2011.

Since then, he has never looked back. With his experience and know-how, Muligande was entrusted with the task of establishing the first public music school in Rwanda, which started as Nyundo School of Art and Music and later expanded to Rwanda School of Creative Arts and Music.

The school that has so far produced a cohort of talented young musicians has become synonymous with its name.

For him, returning to the country to participate in the construction or reconstruction of the Rwandan music industry was not a dream, but rather an obligation.

“As a Rwandan artist, I wouldn’t be worth anything if I didn’t participate in rebuilding the music industry,” he says, adding that the only way for him was to do it organically, starting from the roots. – the youth.

The vision is to instill a love of music in young people, to teach them to play instruments and to understand that they can use music to promote the well-being of their communities and not just sing to become superstars.

Muligande says that since starting the music school, the industry has seen great changes and the vision is bearing fruit.

“Now we have young Rwandans playing live music again, and by playing live, I mean instrumentalists, real singers. Prior to the program, most bands performing in Rwanda came from Burundi, Congo or Uganda.

“Now you have all these three bands from neighboring countries here, still there, but you also have more Rwandans playing live music,” he says, something he attributes to school.

Graduates sing at events, conferences, weddings, big concerts, while others like Ariel Wayz, Juno Kizigenza, Igor Mabano and many more have become music stars. That’s what makes him happy.

He is optimistic that much more needs to be done, in terms of private sector support, investment, infrastructure and more, to fully exploit the talent available. He believes that once this is done, Rwandan musicians can compete with anyone.

The return of KigaliUp

Muligande acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic set the music industry back many years, rolling back gains made over the years, but that doesn’t mean it was the end.

Of course, KigaliUp, like many other festivals and annual events, has been hit hard by the pandemic but four years later, the festival is coming back.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival had not taken place for two years due to what Muligande describes as a lack of partnerships.

“We didn’t really find any sponsors and then the Covid-19 arrived, everything was brought down. Now we come back with more enthusiasm,” says the veteran singer in reference to the festival scheduled for Saturday, August 6.

Unlike previous years where KigaliUp was a two-day festival, this year’s festival will be just one day and in a much smaller family setting.

The inaugural hearing took place at the roundabout of the Primature in Kimihurura. This year’s festival will take place at Center Culturel Francophonie, located in Rugando, Kimihurura.

Baptized “Music Made in Rwanda”, KigaliUp will bring together Rwandan artists, mostly music school graduates. Muligande says they are talented artists who don’t have a platform to show off their talent.

“Right now, we’re trying to showcase that side of Rwandan music that otherwise isn’t showcased much on this platform today. We promote Made in Rwanda music.

“It’s again in line with trying to get international investors to look to Rwanda and see how we can start exporting music,” he says, adding that some of the artists lined up include Igor Mabano, RSAM, Umuriri, Shami, Methusela, RSAM Choir, Karigombe, Umutoni Milly, Shauku Band and many more.

Veteran American musician and music teacher Joey Blake, who has graced many KigaliUp stages in the past, will be the only non-Rwandan musician to perform at the festival. He was also instrumental in the education and training of artists in Rwanda.

To enter you will part with Rwf20,000 and enjoy a family experience; poetry, food and music. There will also be reading for children. Muligande says they are now focusing on quality rather than quantity.

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