By Glory Iribagiza
The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) launched the liberation struggle on October 1, 1990, with the fighting arm of the party, Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), leading the charge to end the 40-year refugee status of many Rwandans who had been denied entry to live in their own country.
The role of music as a uniting factor can be traced in Rwanda’s liberation struggle. Music has a way of speaking to people.
Songs like, “Turaje”, “Intsinzi”, “Iya mbere u Kwakira” and more had kept people in the spirit of taking what was taken from them, a country.
Music expert Jacques Murigande, commonly known as Mighty Popo, explains to The New Times the ‘revolutionary songs’ that have a way of uniting people for a cause.
“For every society that has to liberate itself whether from colonialists or other internal oppressions, songs play a big role in freeing people’s minds, and giving strength to the weak,” Murigande says.
“This is not new! From King David in the Bible, all of his songs are liberation songs. Music was thought to have a therapeutic effect, and so David would take his harp and play for King Saul. ‘Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him’,” reads the Bible in 1 Samuel.
Murigande, who was born a refugee in Burundi, says that he wasn’t at the battlefield, but when he sang the liberation songs during the struggle, he would feel hope that people are doing what they can to liberate the nation.
He says the songs not only boosted the morale of soldiers, but they also instilled hope and patriotism in those who were in other roles of supporting the struggle, since not all people were at the frontline.
Lt Col Gilbert Ndayisabye, the Commander of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Military Band Regiment, says, “We had a number of people who used to sing liberation songs. It boosted the morale of the soldiers, and they used to send messages to people who were not with us so that they at least knew what we were fighting for. The songs also encouraged people to join the fighting force at that time.”
Marie Jeanne Mukankuranga, renowned as Mariya Yohana, is considered one of the most iconic singers of liberation songs. Her well-known song, “Intsinzi”, which predicts triumph, pictures how victory was already achieved, yet the struggle had not been won yet. It came out at the beginning of the struggle, with the aim of encouraging fighters to envision victory.
“You would tell them how you can see victory, and they actually believed it. Artistes have a way of telling their audience what they want them to know or see. I felt like we had won and I wanted everyone to feel that way,” she says.
Cecile Kayirebwa tells The New Times that although their singing contributed to the liberation, it can never be compared to those who risked their lives and went to the battlefield.
“We did what we could and knew by then. But if someone was in the bush or in a swamp hiding from those who wanted to kill them, would I compare their role to mine who composed songs in my house? No!” says Kayirebwa.
“Our role was to help them understand that we were with them as they were fighting,” she adds.
Music not only made civilians aware of what was going on, but also why they needed to be part of it because the liberation struggle required the involvement of everyone.
It was also used at fundraising events, where people would contribute what they had so that the RPF and RPA would get enough funds to see them through.
Some of the songs still in the hearts of many include, “Gira ubuntu”, “Dushengurukanye isheja”, “Humura Rwanda” and more.