Rwanda: Sophie Nzayisenga played Impyisi Bihehe with her father when she was six

Published on by KANYARWANDA

In my father’s footsteps - Sophie Nzayisenga

L-R : Sophie Nzayisenga has been writing songs for around twenty years ;Sophie said her music makes her family happy. (Photo by J. Clover)

To mark International Women’s Day, Jenny  Clover profiles a young woman who is following in her father’s footsteps to keep traditional Rwandan music alive and is now the leading female inanga player in the region.

SOPHIE Nzayisenga was just six when she first picked up an inanga and began playing alongside her father, established musician Thomas Girupfu.
Twenty-five years on, and Sophie is the leading professional female inanga player in Rwanda and East Africa.

Mr Girupfu sadly passed away last month but spent years passing his delicate musical skill onto his daughter, and Sophie is determined to continue his legacy and to keep the tradition of Rwandan music alive.

Sophie, a married mum-of-one who lives in Kigali, said: “My father was an intelligent and famous musician and he composed a lot of good music.

“He took part in competitions and encouraged me and all the family to like music. He would sing for us and our neighbours until he reached his old age.”

For Sophie, music is a “gift”. “I do it to relax,” she says.
“When I feel tired I take my inanga and start composing music and singing, that makes me so happy. And it does not interfere with my housekeeping, I do that as well.

“Sometimes after lunch or supper I play for my kids and for my husband and this makes us so happy. I take music as a gift which makes me and others happier.”

Sophie lived in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and says the devastation not only affected her country but also her music.

She said: “I lost my joy because some of my brothers and sisters passed away during the genocide.
“I think about how we used sing together at home and my heart hurts and I loose the will to play.

“After the genocide my love for playing went away. But little-by-little I started playing again and I still am now.”

Music was a part of Sophie’s life from an early age and she would accompany her father and uncle when they played.
She said: “My family was full of inanga players - my grandfather too was a player.

“My father told me that when he was young he liked playing with other young people and he used to go with others to the Royal Palace to listen to music.

“His music was played on radio and television, and one of his songs was among the first to be played on Radio Rwanda and Television.

“When I was growing up there was a popular song by him called ‘Impyisi Bihehe’,” said Nzayisenga, “He loved to play and carried on into his old age.”

After years of playing her father’s compositions, Sophie began to combine the traditional art form he passed down to her with her own modern musical style and poetry.

She said: “When I was about eight, my father started to compose new music for me, which I memorised and played until I was 15, when I started to compose music by myself.
“I can’t remember how much music I’ve composed now because there are so many.”

She says she is disappointed that more Rwandan women don’t play music and fears it is because they don’t have the confidence to learn.

“Many Rwandan women like music but they don’t take the initiative to play it - maybe they think they won’t be able to do it and only men can play inanga. I think they underestimate themselves,” she said.

“You can see that women enjoy music because they like dancing and singing and we have some very nice singers, like Cecile Kayirebwa and Florida Uwera and others.”

Joseph Habineza, Minister of Sports and Culture, said: “Traditional singers in Rwanda are doing very well, I am really happy with the performers we have.

“Sophie in particular performs very well and she also represents our culture very well. We are very proud of her music here.”

Sophie has recently signed to record company Rafiki CC, and has started recording with them. She hopes to become known nationally and internationally for her music.

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