13 January 2013

Rwanda: Dj De Gaulle, King of Old School, Still Praising His Mother

De Gaulle Ismail Ufiteyezu, commonly known in showbiz as DJ or Maréchal De Gaulle, was born in 1967 in Nyamirambo. Saying that music was always in his veins would be an understatement. "My father was a singer, even though he didn't do it as a profession," Maréchal De Gaulle, one of the kings of old school, says. "My mom, as well as my little sister, are singers as well in the cultural troop Abatangampundu."

He released his first song, "Nakunze Mama" (I Loved Mom) in early 80's, and it became a hit because of the way the lyrics were emotionally intertwined to praise his mother (or all mothers in general) that people at the time found captivating.

"I was very happy when I was composing this song, it was so easy for me," recalls the singer, who most of the time travels the Americas and Europe for concerts. "The song had a particular message of praise for parents; when I'm writing my songs, I usually take some time to consider the unmatched beauty of our parents."

In 1986, DJ De Gaulle was one of the founding members of Orchestre Ingeri -- a music band that drew large crowds due to their unusual style. "I joined Orchestre Ingeri after coming from another one that was called Les 8 Anges, which I joined in 82."

Orchestre Ingeri included some musicians that would go on to become big names in the Rwandan music industry, such as Jean-Paul Samputu, François Chochou Mihigo, Henry Mukassa, Aaron Niyitunga and Ben Ngabo Kipety.

"When I was in Orchestre Ingeri, I composed a good number of songs, but the one that people most was 'Isi' (World)."

At the time, it was nearly impossible to make a living as a professional musician, but Orchestre Ingeri did just that. "It was the only way of life for all of us, and that's how it still is for me up to this day," De Gaulle says.

Today, he lives in Montréal, Canada where he met another group of Rwandan musicians from various genres including Mighty Popo, Daddy Cassanova, Thierry Kiyanja, Aaron Niyitunga and others. "I've started featuring with Aaron for my recent album that was released during the summer of 2012. I've called it 'Mom My Parent.'"

Most of the time you'll find Maréchal De Gaulle with Jean-Paul Samputu, his friend for life with whom he has various musical projects for the future.

One of his favorite artists is the late Franco Kulu, who was among the members of a well-known band called Les Fellows. "I liked his vocal talent, and I like his son Albert, commonly known as Mbabura, after his song that became a hit in 2009. For the musicians, my favorite is Aaron Niyitunga."

The two artist families, that of Franco Kulu and Blaise Ufiteyezu (DJ De Gaulle's father), were door-to-door neighbors in Mumena, Nyamirambo.

As an artist with decades of experience, he has something to say current Rwandese music. "They are on the right track, but as their elder, I have an advice for them: please take time and listen to old school because there are different things to learn from it for contemporary music."

If you've ever been curious and wondered where the nickname 'DJ' came from, he wants to take you back in time. "People started nicknaming me that when I became a DJ in 86. For those who remember Cosmos in Nyamirambo, Zoom at Hôtel Chez Lando, Kigali Night -- and I'm the one who gave it that name, before it was called SuperLagon -- Cadillac, Galaxy, Les Millionnaires and Vertigo, it's me who was behind the turntables to make you hit the ground."

He later got DJ training in Nairobi in 1990, and still spins the discs in Canada.

Maréchal De Gaulle lost his father in the Genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. His mother and little sister live in Belgium where they have a cultural troupe.

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