Uganda: Charmant Mushaga - the Refugee Who Has Found Stardom in Uganda

12 February 2020

The gifted Congolese guitarist, singer-songwriter and band leader Charmant Mushaga fled to Uganda through Rwanda from DR Congo, his home country in 2004 after the Mayi Mayi rebels attacked his village in Kivu.

He is grateful for the Ugandan hospitality where he has found stardom through his musical talent.

When he arrived in Kampala he met fellow Congolese musicians and they formed Soars Band that performed in and around Kampala. A guitar maestro, he easily became a darling for bands, churches and artistes that were in need of one. For instance, he played at the Holy Ghost Outpouring Church in Kanyanya in Kampala every Sunday.

It is from Kanyanya that Watoto Church recruited him as a full-time church singer and guitarist in the Child Care Ministries in 2007, that year, he was also registered as a refuge.

After he joined Watoto Church, nothing has been the same. Playing at the church opened doors that more artistes, especially those paying better noticed him and three years later, he left the church outfit to start a solo career.

Mushaga, who plays more than 10 guitar music styles, has released two albums with songs like In Africa, Mutoto Lala, Nipe Story, Wapi Yo, Come with Me, Full Moons, Whisper, Black and White, Cheka Smile, Afropenzi, Adonde Ire, Secret Y'amour, My Village, Paradizo, Bado Bado, Mwana Wange (My Child), and I Wanna Dance, among others.

He has shared the stage with big stars such as Hugh Masekela, Isaiah Katumwa, Michelle Bonilla and Micheal Olson.

He says the musicians that have influenced his music career are Isaiah Katumwa, Moses Matovu, Jose Chameleon, Jimmy DluDlu, Jonathan Butler, Norman Brown, Chuck Loeb and John Meyer.

Mushaga was born in a Christian musical family on September 26, 1982, in Ntondo Mushinga village in Bukavu. He has six siblings.

He fell in love with music at a young age when he watched his father play the guitar in their village in Congo. He started playing the guitar at the age of 8.

Mushaga started his music career in 1994 after leaving his home village. He has collaborated with many Ugandan musicians such as Eddy Kenzo, Keko, Shifah Musisi, Maurice Kirya, Mo-Roots and Myko Ouma.

He has been to Rwamwangye and Kyaka II Refugee Settlement Camps in Uganda to inspire talented refugees.

Do you recall the events that forced you to flee your home country of DR Congo?

I remember, I was forced to run away from home during the rebellion in the eastern and northern DRC after the Mayi Mayi rebels attacked the villages, forcing young boys to join their movement. I fled to Goma where I thought I could find peace but instead crossed paths with Laurent Nkunda's rebels fiercely fighting there, my friend Christopher who had left me in Goma called me and asked me if I can find any way to Uganda because it's nearby and safe. That's how I ended up in Uganda.

How has life been for you as a refugee musician?

Life has not been that easy at all but I'm always grateful for the amazing families and friends God has blessed me with in Uganda.

What challenges do refugee artistes like you face in Uganda?

There are many challenges that are part of my journey but I'm thankful to the government of Uganda for allowing and letting refugees from DRC to be free in this country. My talent has opened many doors for me but it was after the Ugandan government opened its arms and welcomed me. Today I am a proud musician.

Have Ugandans embraced your music?

In many countries foreigners are not treated well, which I've never seen among Ugandans, not even for a day. It's now 16 years I have been in Uganda surviving on my music. All my close friends are Ugandans and I must say, the name Pearl of Africa hides so many great secrets within itself that Ugandans have no idea what they are.

Why is the guitar important to the music you play?

The guitar started it all from the start of my music journey when I was very young at eight years. God chose me by giving me an amazing musical ear and greater understanding of when and which or where should such a melody be placed in a song; to me it's never a guess.

Can you describe the type of music that you play?

I do the type of music that we call African jazz, Afro or world music. I have got a chance of knowing how to tell my stories through music and you will hear different angles of my life journey in my music. I recently launched my second album Come To My Village and in 2016 I launched my first album African Love. I have carried the Congolese name with me and my life story. I am carrying the whole Africa with me, which is hard to understand until when you get a chance and listen to the sound of what comes out of me through my music, it heals those deep pains inside us and gives us hope of tomorrow.

Now I'm in the studio recording my third album Kivu Jazz and I will soon announce its official release. I came up with a name The Kivu Jazz for my own band that started two years back and this name represents who I am, normally in Congo (DRC), Bukavu, Goma, Butembo, Beni, and few more places I've not mentioned. All these places are in Kivu, and I came up with this name by creating a music direction that will give the world a sound from the Kivu side of DR Congo.

Do you think that Uganda has produced enough instrumentalists like yourself?

For this generation when I came in Uganda in 2004 I don't remember seeing a good guitarist on any show. All I want to say is that now we have many new guitarists coming up and some have got skills that still need more knowledge. But it looks promising and in the next five years we will not talk about this because we will have many good guitarists.

How are you surviving in the music industry that is not paying well?

If I say that the Ugandan music industry is not paying well I will be lying. The good thing is that I am always well appreciated, my guitar pays well and I am not complaining. To those that have not made it I want to tell them that it's just a matter of time, work hard, be patient and keep moving forward and you will see your dreams coming true. The two reasons that have made me a successful guitarist is that I am a vocalist guitarist, this has helped me work on one side or the other because I do sing while playing my guitar perfectly.

For example, if I have not gotten a wedding gig or corporate event to perform at, I am always busy in studios adding live guitars in people's songs, in a week I can do two to three songs and each pays me Sh300,000 ($81). Many times this only helps me to survive. I have also been doing this with African musicians living abroad who send me their music and I add in my guitars. Music has been okay with me, it's my business, my life and my dream.

What would you have been today if you were not in music today?

I would have been a lawyer or a counsellor.

How do you spend your time if you are not in music?

My free times many times are painful because I have no family to spend it with. But I love reading and going for movies.

Do you have plans of returning home in future?

I have no plans of returning to Congo. I have lived in Uganda for 16 years now, which I have made my home. It will be difficult for me to go back to Congo and start from zero and all the people I knew have left. If it means going back to Congo to perform I will do so.

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