She is beautiful and gifted but down to earth. She boasts strong vocal and acting abilities. In fact, she has featured in a couple of award winning films and documentaries.
After trying several times to get a slot in her busy schedule, the songstress, turning 27 later this year, finally found time to sit down and talk about how she started out singing and then later acting, as well as her future plans.
Shanel, real name Ruth Nirere, started singing as a child but only released her first a capella recording Ntituzabibagirwa (“We’ll Never Forget You”) and “Ndirire nde?” (“Who should I cry to?”), in 1998 while in secondary school.
When she started singing in 1998, Shanel’s mission was to heal broken hearts and pay respect to the victims of the 1994 genocide.
Her songs continue to be broadcast during the commemoration period. In 2004, she won the “Never Again” competition at the provincial level, which made her a common face at commemoration events.
“I sing about peace and love and anything else that can bring harmony among the people,” Shanel says.
In fact, many people think that she is a genocide survivor because of her painful and touching songs about the genocide, but the singer says that she still has her parents and four siblings.
Shanel, says that she sings about the plight of genocide survivors because she feels their pain.
It was not until 2004 after completing high school, that the singer hit the mainstream releasing two love ballads Lonely and Ngukunda Byahebuje (I Love You So Much), with the latter throwing her into the limelight.
The song became popular at weddings because of its strong expression of love between two people.
The singer says that she was then doing a “little bit of everything”— R&B, soul, zouk, acoustic etc but currently she wants to concentrate on traditional Kinyarwanda styles.
“I want to do more traditional music using traditional acoustic instruments, but of course I will keep the message on peace, love and harmony in society,” she told Rwanda Today.
The singer has also been nominated thrice for Uganda’s Pearl of Africa Music Awards, in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2008, she was also nominated the Best Female Artist of the Year in the 2008 Salax Awards.
At the end of 2008, Shanel released a single, Ndarota, (“I am Dreaming”), a zouk style love track that went on to become a hit in Rwanda and beyond, making her a force to reckon with in the region.
In May 2009, the singer released a new song and video in Swahili entitled Nakutaka (“I Want You”) featuring Kenya’s Wyre, The Love Child.
Nakutaka, produced by Nairobi-based Producer Robert Kamanzi, otherwise known as R-Kay, propelled Shanel to continental stardom, making it the first song featuring a Rwandan to be played on Channel O and MTV Base.
Her latest single is a sensual, zouk Kiswahili Ballad Uniguse, released earlier this year, together with a video show set at the seaside.
Shanel is no stranger to the silver screen. She has been on the cinema scene since 2008, appearing in Grey Matter, a feature film written and directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza, which had its world premiere in the main competition of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Acting and singing go together, they connect in one way or another, so I can always fuse the two,” she says. The movie won both the Best Emerging Director and Best Actor awards.
Perhaps Shanel’s major breakthrough in acting was her appearance in The Day God Walked Away which led to her winning the Best Actress Award at both the 2009 Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece and the 2009 Bratislava International Film Festival in Slovakia.
The 2008 film was jointly produced by the European studios Artemis and Mugho Productions. In 2009 she also starred in Long Coat, a film documentary produced by Edward Bamporiki.
She has also won the Best Actress award in Kenya International Film Festival 2010 on top of doing soundtracks for two award-winning films We are all Rwandans and The Day God Walked Away.
Arguably the best female artiste in Rwanda, Shanel has featured thrice as music judge with the Tusker Project Fame in Kigali.
Asked how she feels when she sends home young, aspiring musicians, Shanel says she has no regrets because only the best can survive in the regional competition.
“You don’t want to lie to them so that when they reach Nairobi, reality strikes and they get disappointed. It’s important for them to know that it won’t be an easy ride, however heart-breaking,” she says.
She admits that making music in Rwanda is “very tough” and it comes with societal pressures. “It is still a long journey but we are forging ahead, there is hope,” the singer says, pointing out that the new law on intellectual property will ease things a bit.
“We have come a long way. We are seeing more artistes, more studios are coming up, the sad part is that we have few artistes who do live music,” she says.
If it weren’t for the love of music, Shanel would have definitely quit the industry. To keep afloat, the music diva does a lot of things here and there — script writing, advertising and any other thing that comes up.
Shanel takes a while to release a song and she attributes that to her passion and desire to release something “polished” rather than rushing to the studio to produce something half-baked for a quick buck.