African Politics and Policy

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Interview with Marchal Ujeku

African Politics and Policy is happy to introduce to the readers our new guest, the hero of one of the post published earlier “Rwanda: secret culture of remoted island” ( – Marchal Ujeku. With Marchal APP had a great opportunity to talk about traditional roots of Nkombo style music, the state of music in Rwanda, the challenges new singer faces, and how to change music ecosystem.

APP: What are you doing now – singer in Nkombo style – is just a concurrence of the events and circumstances, or you always wanted to do something like that in your life? How your life inseparable of arts and music has started?

Marchal: I have always wanted to do this ever since I was a small kid while in my elementary school. There is no such thing as a circumstance.  My life is inseparable with music and arts because I take this as a career.

Marchal 1

APP: How did the idea of Nkombo music come?

Marchal: I found myself by nature in a traditional crew of my grand parents who used to sing the traditional music of our home area that is called nkombo. Then professionally I wanted to grow this as a career and leave behind the legacy of my native place called Nkombo. Nkombo is actually an island.

APP: Could you please tell us more about the Nkombo people? And how do their traditional art (dance and music) affect your choice to develop your own style?

Marchal: Nkombo people are very culture-centered people who depend on aquatic business such as fishing. The population that depends on this is over 90%. The minority is in agriculture. For the past few years, it is an area prone to modern developmental infrastructure. Generally, nkombo people are hard working and sympathetic to nature. The traditional art has affected me in the sense I grew up living this life style and I strongly think it is my veins and blood thus taking an initiative to elevate my culture and expose it to the outside world.

APP: How did the recent African cultural festival Umuganura 2016 help you to promote your music? Could you please share your impressions from the Festival?

Marchal: The recent cultural festival Umuganura has been the first debut on the grand level of starting my career professionally. I would not say the first, but it is among the few astounding stage I have ever had ever since I started my Nkombo music style. The best impression is to have a big audience of fans that liked my music and how I also came across new fans of my music. This is an impression every musician would like to face in any music career of impressing and pleasing the audience.

Marchal 2

APP: What is the story you tell in your songs?

Marchal: Normally I tell different stories in my songs depending on the inspiration I have or the message I want to deliver. Like in the song “Musisemisemi” which literally means do not just talk, talk or rumormongering. The story reveals the importance and the value of ladies in the society. The lady who has grown up well both morally and culturally is always profitable to society.

APP: How are modern and traditional tendencies combined in your music?

Marchal: First of all, I have to come up with such combination because the target audience of my music is more modern and a little bit old school. But what happens is that though there is a mix of traditional and modern components, the main and end goal is to keep the originality of my culture. This has to be the focus no matter how I can do whatever combination.

APP: It is a very high responsibility to be a pioneer in promoting Nkombo music among international audience and sing in the language not common for everybody, even in Rwanda. What are the main challenges you faced to make your idea come true, and what does inspire you to overcome the obstacles?

Marchal: The main challenges while starting out were environmental. You can imagine this kid from deep down in the village trying to change the entire music modern ecosystem with no resources and no direct support whether financial or access to real genuine music mentors. The language itself was also a challenge. I encountered various challenges that are even countless but what is necessary here is that music has no language or I would say music is the language that we all can speak. This is part of the motivation. I was inspired how also here at home, we also like many songs that we do not also understand.  This always sounded in my head, that if people can do it, I can do it as well. With a language barrier challenge, I am learning different languages to make sure I always serve a variety of people.

APP: How can you characterize the state of music in Rwanda? Is music becoming a vital part of Rwandan cultural life?

Marchal: Music in Rwanda is not based on the culture of the nation itself. I would say the majority of fellow musicians are “copy-cats” of other music mainly the western music of which makes me having a competitive advantage.  The industry is not big itself, for a visionary has to think beyond the Rwandan market to make music successful. Music has been part of the Rwandan cultural life centuries ago. This case scenario is also growing at the great extent.

APP: Your video on Musisemisemi is fantastic! Could you please share with us the details of video creating process, about people involved?

Youtube link:

Marchal: Indeed the video is fantastic as many people have been telling me. The video came to be great because everyone in my home area after listening to the music, fell in love with the song to the extent everyone in my home place nkombo island pledged to help. In the video, there are traditional people mainly ladies from nkombo who contributed a lot. You can see some kind of  dirty portraying the life of traditional life style of being a peasants. Also there are some other ladies that were used in a nearby town to also portray how urbanized people are becoming. Normally the entire video is based and tries to show the entire world how the nkombo life is and how amazing people are.

APP: During the last months, culture becomes a part of many national policies of development in Africa. Why, in your opinion, Africa starts paying increasing attention to its culture, roots and traditions?

Marchal: Before hand, I really appreciate such initiative of making policies that target to level up the culture. In my opinion I see many countries realizing the potential of the culture. This is can be a source of income to these nations and also prove the originality of the country. The culture is the identity of a particular group of people. There are many reasons attached to this. Some nations are also copying other countries to replicate same models to promote oneself.

APP: What are the main challenges the traditional culture face in Africa now? What is the role of your music to preserve the traditions?

Marchal: The challenges normally are about how the pop culture and the media industry are selling to us other people’s culture. No wonder they have the resources but this is the main challenge. Other challenges are normal but this media industry issue needs to be tackled. The role of my music to preserve this is to show people how I can come up with such cultural music to keep up the momentum. Keep doing what I do is the way to preserve the traditions.

APP: Dear Marchal, do you have anything to add on or to share with us we forgot to mention. Please feel free to speak your mind.

Marchal: What I can say, there is talent and potential of the African music. For someone out here who believes in music, I urge him/her to invest in African music. We all need interdependency and through collaboration, we can reach to the next level as musicians and promoters as well. Without doubt, something has to be done to use the potentiality of the African music. That is what I can say. Last but not least, I also thank you for the astounding opportunity for this coverage.


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