Musicians like Bushali, Kivumbi King, Rita Ange Kagaju, and Alyn Sano have been putting their mark on the ever-changing Rwandan soundscape.
The current landscape of modern Rwandan music is more dynamic than ever before, from updated versions of traditional folk sounds to the recent 'KinyaTrap' phenomenon that has permeated playlists across the country. For decades, Rwandan airwaves have been dominated by international hits — and by a handful of established Rwandan superstars — but now, as the country continues to develop and diversify, so does its musical setting, with new and different sounds ascending from the hills. The past five years have seen the emergence of an army of young artists eager to reclaim their languages (Rwanda has four official languages) and identity, interlacing their music with influences that stretch far and wide.
Here are 11 artists that have emerged in the past five years to put their mark on the ever-changing Rwandan soundscape.
Bushali came out with superstar energy straight out of the gate, delivering hit after hit and solidifying himself as a main pillar of the 'KinyaTrap' movement (Rwanda's spin on trap music). Now, with a few years under his belt, he keeps that same energy as he diversifies his sound. His two latest singles, "WAPFA" and "Amakosa," are the perfect example of that, with one showcasing the full KinyaTrap style and the other featuring him melodically serenading a lover over a slow beat. Pro tip: Check out "Nituebue" after this for a proper intro to KinyaTrap.
Kaya Byinshii made her musical debut in 2020 with the Nyabyinshi EP. The singer proclaims her thoughts and feelings in a unique raspy tone, inviting listeners to vibe with her on each track while her vulnerability is on full display. She released a music video for her EP single, "5AM," but the song that's been stuck in our heads is "Ibyejo" featuring Bushali.
It's pretty rare to see someone so young stay true to ancient traditional sounds while adding his own approach as flawlessly as Munyakazi Deo does. Deo started out playing the 'Inanga' (a traditional Rwandan string instrument similar to a guitar) and singing in the tone and style of the ancestors; a style to which he's added his own jazzy spin to make something new and exciting.
Mucyo is pure vocals and vibes. The combination of her deep, smooth voice and the laid back nature of her sound is the perfect backdrop to light some incense, kick back and reflect. She's been at it since 2018 and has dropped EP after EP of relaxed soul.
Kivumbi King keeps it all the way cool with his almost monotone flow while he serves danceable, downtempo afrobeats energy. There's no doubt where his influences lie and his music certainly has an international appeal, but Kivumbi King manages to keep it authentic like in one of his biggest songs, "Maso Y'Inyana," which is a traditionally romantic compliment in Kinyarwanda meaning, "you have the eyes of a baby cow." After checking out this one, peep his newest video release for "Kabisa."
Mike Kayihura has been steadily building a following in Rwanda for several years. He got his start playing the keyboard and singing along to a mixture of original songs and classics like Bob Marley covers. His latest efforts have been catching mainstream attention, with his biggest hit thus far being a catchy song called "Sabrina" which features Instagram Live-themed visuals. Check out his latest release "Anytime" and hear how Mike Kayihura seamlessly mixes English and the national language, Kinyarwanda.
From spoken word to belting vocals, Angell Mutoni makes sure to explore the full range of her creativity with her releases. Despite lockdowns and curfews characterising the year, she came out with a fun dance track last December specifically calling on Black women to "Let Loose."
Rita Ange Kagaju
Rita Ange Kagaju has the kind of voice you want to hear again and again. "You Are Mine" delivers a full on summer dance situation, you almost think it could be from anywhere in the world until you hear the Kinyarwanda verse during the breakdown. If you're learning the language, this video could be just the karaoke opportunity you were looking for.
Davis D made a name for himself in a big way with his breakout song "Dede" at the end of 2019 and, since then, he's taken off with a string of hits. Check out his latest release, "Pose" after this one and see how he's held his own becoming an East African fave.
Alyn Sano started out singing in the hotel & bar nightlife circuit in Kigali, making a name for herself among evening revelers as a powerful voice and entertaining live performer. Over the last two years, she's managed to become a promising recording artist with several songs making the airwaves, landing her on the latest season of the Voice Afrique.
Originally making a name for himself as one third of popular trio, Dream Team DJs, DJ Marnaud has since come to be recognised as a solo musician as well. Known for producing club favourites featuring established Rwandan superstars like Active, King James and Uncle Austin, DJ Marnaud has now started creating feature-less songs like his latest release, "Mundemere," from his Son of Rwanda EP.