Kwizera building a career in his adopted homeland

Ezra Kwizera's music still catches ears over the very airways once used to annihilate his people.

  • Jun. 28, 2012 7:00 a.m.
Raised in Uganda with roots that run deep in Rwanda

Raised in Uganda with roots that run deep in Rwanda

Ezra Kwizera was the epitome of the big fish in a small pond in Rwanda where­ his music still catches ears over the very airways once used to annihilate his people.

This is how he tells it when he picks up the phone mid-recording session in Surrey to introduce himself to another new audience, those in Kelowna who might stop by his Minstrel Café concert or this weekend’s Lille Gard Festival.

“I really emphasize love and forgiveness,” he says. “It’s all about although I’m crying today, I will be smiling tomorrow.”

Kwizera belongs to the Tutsi ethnic group. In 1994, over one million Tutsi people were killed by the Hutu population in Rwanda in a genocide incited by radio propaganda and executed with unprecedented expedience.

The minority Tutsi held power in the country for centuries, but when the majority Hutu seized control of the country from the Tutsi monarchy, civil unrest ensued, culminating in a 100-day killing spree three decades later that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, including much of Kwizera’s extended family.

“Right now, when you read about Rwanda, it’s about forgiveness. We were talking about mothers killing their own husbands in front of their kids, mothers who killed their kids because the father was Tutsi…And now they’re talking about reconciliation,” he explains.

This is the backdrop for the world beat, reggae, soca and dance hall-stylings Kwizera wants to continue earning his living from, though he’s now outside Rwanda.

Described as a gospel singer by The New Times Rwanda, which regularly follows his career moves, his interviews are traditionally as upbeat as his music and reflect a man trying to continue a career within the country, though clearly planning to live in Canada.

Kwizera is married to a Canadian whom he fell in love with in the early 2000s as she did volunteer work in Rwanda and he tried to piece together the family lineage that war and civil unrest had destroyed.

The pair married and lived in Rwanda, but when he wanted children, she said she wouldn’t know how to raise them in an African nation where orphanages fill with the abandoned Hutu and Tutsi who survive.

The result is a man caught between two worlds.

“My message is positive. I don’t talk about: Oh you killed us,” he says.

His latest song includes lyrics like: “Never give up because we’re all hanging on the same rock, you have to brush it off.”

He isn’t exactly hanging on the same rock on this day, mind you. He’s in a Surrey studio trying to help his backup singers negotiate their harmonies.

It’s a fine line to walk, trying to replace the music in a land where vast amounts of culture have been destroyed by civil war, though without having a daily connection to the realities of living life in that place.

To do so, he maintains an African studio, Narrow Road Productions, and runs a charity, Narrow Road Ministries. In January, he is also starting a music school.

Kwizera himself grew up in Uganda. His parents were refugees who fled that country when the Hutu seized power in 1959. They had seven children, though Kwizera’s father was dead by the time he was eight.

He spoke more languages than he had fingers on his hand to avoid being pegged as a refugee on the schoolground; and he had a natural talent for music that got him hand-picked for band.

Music wasn’t always fun, but it proved a way to earn a living as a DJ and it was an outlet, if not always a happy one.

His teachers had a phrase: “If you play off the bottom, you will get hit on the bum.”

He learned quickly and rose to the top; and now he’s looking for a Canadian-based music career that will allow him to do the same.

To hear songs from Kwizera’s latest album, pressed last week and ready for his show over the long weekend, head to the Minstrel Café July 2 at 8 p.m. There is a $5 entertainment charge.

He also plays the Lille Gard Music and Arts Festival, June 30 to July 1, at the Bottega in East Kelowna. Tickets are on sale at www.lillegard.tribehouse.org for $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Kelowna Capital News