The Independent (Kampala)

15 November 2012

Uganda: Back On Stage

Orchestra impala reborn to inspire live music:

One of the local music bands that rocked the 1970's music scene is back in business, this time to inspire the young musicians to sing real live music which has been on a steady decline since the disappearance of orchestras in the mid 1990's.

Orchestra Impala was started in 1975 by a group of seven musicians and instrumentalists, including the local legend, Andre Sebanani. The pioneer musicians intended to compete with the then flourishing orchestras in the country. There were few solo artists at the time as most musicians had bands they performed in.

Impala won the annual competitions of local orchestras that year (1975) and continued to meet success in the late 1970's and through the 80's when it released mega hits like Anita, Maria Rose and the New Year's record of all-time "Bon anne".

As the band grew larger and the fan base grew wide, even outside the Rwanda, it started performing in some of the neighbouring countries like Burundi and the Congos and sometimes found its way to overseas in Canada, Germany and other countries, being the most renowned Rwandan orchestra.

In 1994, after some of the top shots of the orchestra, like Sebanani, died in the Genocide and the rest left scattered all over, Orchestra Impala disappeared from the Rwandan scene until two months ago when it was re-launched in a VIP show at Serena Hotel.

The Minister of Sports and Culture, Protais Mitali, at the colourful show urged the local musicians to endeavour to promote Rwandan culture through their music, which is also among main reasons why one of the surviving founders, Paul Sebageri, decided to re-unite the singers and rejoin music as a band.

"We intend to inspire and motivate the youths to maintain the taste of Rwandan culture in modern music that is typically more of styles and beats copied from outside. It's us the old ones who understand how Rwandans love their own music because we have seen it before, and we are trying to inspire and show direction to the youngsters,"notes Sebageri who also plays a rhythm guitar in the Orchestra.

"... and once one is a musician, it is not easy to leave the industry forever. We want to give chance to some of the people, especially the youths, who did not watch Impala perform in its good times to know our music instead of just keeping our music tapes."

The new Impala has 19 members including eight dancers, nine musicians and instrumentalists and a technician. Most of them are new recruits who were brought aboard to replace the former members who died or did not rejoin the band, like the seasoned Abdul Makanyaga.

Impala instrumentalists, including the aged ones, still use great energy and skill in playing their percussions, guitars and trumpets way past any of the popular live bands like Salus Populi, Kigali Live Band and others.

One of the new recruits, Dieudonne Munyanshoza who is famous for his Genocide Commemoration songs, like "Mibirizi", says that the band is willing to support and work closely with local artists trying to play live music but still delimited by lack of skills and equipment.

"The current artists have talent just like the older generation but they are sometimes reluctant to play live music because it needs a lot of energy and skill. There are some who try to organize live shows or perform live but because of the lack of experience on either playing instruments or stretching their vocals, they don't impress."

"Impala is here to continue supporting and inspiring such artists in an effort to overturn the playback tendency and re-introduce full live plays like it used to be in the past."

Munyanshoza however also acknowledges the fact that local music does not pay well, which further discourages artists' effort to play live music.

"Sometimes one has one song to perform at a certain show and cannot bring with him a whole band, or sometimes the money paid for the performance is not worth a live performance- it goes back to the organisers to think about compensating performers pleasantly so that they can entertain people."

Impala plays its 1970s' former hits in the hangouts it has performed in Kigali since and the concerts it has staged already, like in Musanze district.

It is impressive how their venues are always full and even the young folks enjoy dancing to their songs, a genre popularly known as "Igisope". The musicians have also started writing new songs though they are yet to choose a favourable studio for their recordings.

The band members were busy in energetic rehearsals for their upcoming countrywide tour when the press visited them at their place of practice in town.

The tour which targets 15 districts over a period of two months is aimed at reaching out to the old fans around the country and will end with Kigali on New Year's Day at the Nyamirambo stadium.

Fans were already in expecting moods in places like Huye districts where the band was set to kick-start its tour on November 10th.

70 year-old Modeste Kalimba, a long-time fan of Impala who is also partly an advisor tells his delight for the return of Impala and particularly its planned tours.

"The tour will be a great event to start with especially because the band has fans all over who miss it and they cannot always make it to Kigali to watch it. We are making sure that publicity gets ample and all the people are able to attend."

Though the Orchestra has backing of the Ministry of Sports and Culture especially in secure venues, Impala still faces financing problems.

Marcelin Mawazo, one of the earliest dancers in the Orchestra who were known as Impalagi, in her 40s still does the dancing for the Orchestra but most importantly has trained new and younger dancers for the Orchestra.

She says, "Impala, being a complete band, spends a lot on purchases and maintenance of musical instruments and remuneration of members. We are forced to charge an amount that should be enough to support our music activities but some clients don't afford it and we are thus limited in performances."

She also devotes her time polishing the old dances and drum beats and adding new innovations to make them as up-to-dated as possible and yet traditional. She however notes that she does all this for the love of the music because the local music does not pay enough to motivate a family man or woman.

"If one was to look for money through music, it would take long because there is no money at all in the industry. Most of us have side jobs to support us to do music; Rwandan music whether modern or "Karahanyuze" would be more competitive if it compensated the performers better."

She is however optimistic that Impala music will compete favourably again and that perhaps issues of remuneration will be sorted out overtime, with the increase in quality and attractiveness of local music.

The Orchestra plans to gradually replace veteran staff with young talents, like Munyanshoza, who was recruited to replace former vocalist Soso Mado, and a couple of dancers in their early 20s, to pass on the legacy.

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