4 January 2014

Rwanda: Talkingpoint - Nikoshwa's Decade-Old Bonne Année Still Rocks

In 2004, local Afro Beat singer Mako Nikoshwa penned and recorded Bonne Année (Happy New Year), as part of a paid-for six-track album. Ten years down the road, the song has stayed on to become the unofficial anthem and signature tune for every New Year's celebration in Rwanda.

Today, the singer rates it as the most loved among his songs by fans. Moses Opobo caught up with the artiste to trace the history of the song:

What is the history of Bonne Annee?

I recorded the song in 2004, together with five other songs as part of a contract to record a full Kinyarwanda album. That contract came after I had recorded my first song, Ninde, in the same year.

I was based in Kampala at the time, and Ninde did very well on Ugandan radio stations. After hearing and liking Ninde, Kayibanda, a popular Ugandan comedian and radio presenter looked for me to do a collabo with him. We eventually did a song called Maria Rosa.

In the studio while recording Maria Rosa, I noticed that the beat crafted by the producer was more of traditional than dancehall. Since the song was a happy song, I wanted it to have a danceable vibe.

I got out my guitar and with the producer we laid a new track for the song. After the recording, the studio owner, Moses, told me I was a promising singer and gave me a deal to do a six track album in Kinyarwanda. The studio had just produced Grade by Sister Charity, and it was a hit in Uganda and Rwanda, so I took the offer. We did not discuss money but I just waited for whatever his offer was. He gave me ten days of studio time, but I took the first five days to prepare.

We recorded 3 songs on the first day, and in four days I'd voiced all six, including Bonne Année.

What was the inspiration for the song?

I just wanted a New Year song, so I looked at the things people love to do during New Year celebrations. Town people don't celebrate New Year day much, apart from drinking more beer, but in the village it's taken as a very important celebration. People trek long distances to the village market where they buy good cloth, then look for a good tailor.

They make a time table for church, and they have special days for slaughtering animals and birds, so that on D-day, no time is wasted and everything goes according to plan. The women make their hair, and people put on new clothes.

Children are usually the happiest as they are assured of meat and soda. I pictured all those scenarios and got the mood for New Year's fever in a village setting. That gave me a clear mental picture for the whole song.

I just wanted a New Year song but didn't know it would be a hit. It still surprises me that it's among the songs loved by my fans.

Bonne Année is a song that didn't stress me to make. After finding the theme, I got the right mental picture of what I wanted which built my composition power. That is why its sound is unique and original. The words I used made it easy for anyone to sing along and relate to their own Christmas whether in the past or present.

Why haven't you shot a video clip to accompany the song?

The lyrics of this song create strong mental images for everyone that listens to it. I would need a video in the form of a movie for it to illustrate the message well. That needs a lot of money. However, some street DJs have made video compilations for the song which they sell to the public.

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