Cecile Kayirebwa Biography

1946, Kigali, Rwanda. Since 1973, when the first Rwandan civil wars began, Kayirebwa has lived in Belgium. Brought up in the Catholic faith, she had a happy, peaceful childhood in sharp contrast to her nation’s later troubles. At school she was exposed to French singers such as Johnny Hallyday and France Gall, whose songs she would sing with her sister. As part of the school group, the Circle Of Rwandan Song And Dance, she was recorded by Rwandan radio in the 50s, though individuals were not identified as singing was not considered a suitable pursuit for young girls. After school she found work in the north east region of Buganza as a social worker, a period which also saw her explore the origins of Rwandan music. Eventually she began to write her own songs, praising figures such as the benevolent Rwandan Queen Rosali. Soon Kayirebwa would sing such praises to Rosali herself as her reputation grew. However, her happiness was shattered by the outbreak of war in 1973 at which time she and her husband fled for Belgium. Between 1975 and 1980 she worked with Iyange, a troupe of musicians entertaining fellow Rwandan refugees. After studying further her Rwandan heritage at the Royal Museum Of Central Africa in Brussels, in 1984 she joined her second group, Bula Sangoma. They released a solitary album in 1985 and also toured Europe and America. Though her four children were born in Belgium, the tragedies of her homeland have informed most of her subsequent work. When her mother was dying in 1988 she spent a month trying to navigate her way home, only to arrive after she had been buried. Her empathy for Rwanda (‘the rivers, the springs, the natural beauty, all the flowers - that you have to buy in the florist here!’) gave her the impetus to write again (‘the nostalgia welled up and created songs’). For example, the 1988 homecoming resulted in ‘Umunerezero’ (Happiness), both a lament and a plea of hope for the future of the country. It is said to be enormously popular with the army of the Rwandan Popular Front.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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