10 December 2012

Rwanda: Tony Remedios, a Crooner With a Surprising Past

The name Tony Remedios might not be a familiar one on the Rwandan music scene, but if you pass at Kigali Serena from time to time, chances are that you have seen the Indian-looking solo artist sitting behind his keyboards, crooning 60s and 70s songs in a deep baritone voice.

And yet, there is more to this rather unassuming musician than meets the eye. Earlier in his career, in the 70s, he shared the stage with some big American bands of the time such as the Temptations, the Four Tops, Earth Wind & Fire, and The Three Degrees led by Diana Ross. "Those are some of the moments I cherish most, because it did not ever cross my mind that I would get that far," he says.

Remedios' passion for music started back in 1964 when at the age of about sixteen he joined a school band. He went a step further in 1969, when he created three bands of his own. "Much as I was still studying at the time, I knew at some point I would concentrate on music at some point so we would perform occasionally and it was more for tourists."

The three bands were Simba Six, Spartans 1 and 2 and they have performed for the last 25 years all around the world. Yet the singer remains proud of his Kenyan nationality - while he is from Indian descent (from Goa to be precise), he stresses he was born and bred in Mombasa.

The soft-spoken Remedios, who has been in Rwanda for a year and a half, specializes in Soul, Blues and Country music - it all depends on the audience, he says, but most of the patrons at Serena are at least of middle age. As a testimony to his great voice, many of them at first think he is playbacking, but he has his way of convincing them that this is not the case. "There are people who think I am not really singing, so from time to time I throw a word in Swahili or Kinyarwanda into a song, which always earns me an ovation at the end," he smiles.

"There are people who think I am not really singing, so from time to time I throw a word in Swahili or Kinyarwanda into a song, which always earns me an ovation at the end."

Yet Remedios is keen to share his talent with others. Through his company, Sabratone Entertainment, he teams up with young talented local artists and trains them, especially on the vocals. Currently he is working with Teta, who was a contestant in the 4th season of the Tusker Project Fame. "I train them to sing songs in their own style with which they are comfortable, so they can adjust to any music style - we play French, Congolese and Kinyarwanda songs."

In the near future, Tony Remedios hopes to set up a music school to reach as many young singers as possible. "If young people who feel music are trained, they can get somewhere," he says.

Whether any of them can get as far as their mentor, however, remains to be seen.

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