Alexander Star, 31, was the headliner at this year’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival, which took place on July 13-15 at the Kigali Amphitheatre, where he recorded the song Show Me The Way, in collaboration with local artist Andy Bumuntu – founder and director of the festival – and students of Umubano Primary School.
Star had been in talks with Bumuntu for a few months last year, and as luck would have it, when he was performing at the Millennium Campus Conference in Morrocco late last year, he met Samantha Linkens, who is a close friend to Bumuntu and they were officially introduced.
Bumuntu invited him to perform at the festival and also floated the idea of working on the song.
Star, an Emmy-nominated songwriter and recording artist from Florida, US, is known for his work with children and young people and performs around the world.
He is co-founder of AFR Clothing line that donates 20 per cent of its profits to paying tuition fee for underprivileged children in Rwanda; he also co-founded This is My Era, a movement that encourages people to take action now to make a positive difference today and create a better tomorrow.
Internationally he is known as co-founder of This is My Era Tour and Amani Hope Tour, platforms dedicated to facilitating music performances, fashion shows and motivational speeches in schools and colleges around the world.
A 2012 graduate of Bachelors of Arts in Communication Studies from Nova South Eastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Star runs songwriting and recording workshops to teens in his home state of Florida, many of whom are in foster care and have suffered childhood trauma and abuse.
His programme helps them to channel their pain and frustrations into works of art.
He has performed in over 40 venues in the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Morocco, Rwanda, and even the United Nations headquarters in New York though his This Is My Era Concert Tour, involving students and young people while teaching them to set goals and achieve dreams.
He spoke to Andrew I. Kazibwe about his off-duty passion.
How do you describe yourself?
A musician who has decided to spread love through music.
How did you learn of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival and why did you decided to working with the organisers?
We had been in talks for a few months. But last year as I performed at the Millennium Campus Conference in Morrocco, I met Samantha Linkens, who is a close friend of the Ubumuntu Arts festival director Andy Bumuntu.
He explained to me the festival’s ideals and they appealed to me since they are in line with my music. I was later introduced to the idea of working on a theme song for this year’s festival.
Tell us about the song project you have worked on here in Rwanda?
I believe that everybody is born with a gift, but most people have to learn or be told how special they are.
In the song, I sing a verse which is from a dialogue I had with an old man. It’s about empowerment and encouragement.
It urges people to believe what they pray for and their prayers will come true. No one can convince you that you are great if you don’t believe it yourself. The song is about seeking help in order to believe in oneself.
What does this project mean to you as an artiste?
It means a lot. That I am doing something right. It took me 26 hours to fly to Kigali, and it means the world to me after these hours to see a smile on a child’s face because of something I wrote; that my music can bring joy to people who don’t know me personally.
You don’t describe yourself as a humanitarian, yet your performance tours are not the usual business gigs because they lean towards giving back to young people. Why?
When you are in the music industry in the US and seeking to change the world, I realized that when you are straight forward with the fact that you have a message of change, the masses are much less receptive.
The masses are used to being fed with message and most times not necessarily good messages. But it is a completely different vibe out here.
When I first figured out who I am as a person and as a musician, I became conscious of the kind of message I wanted to pass on.
The other side of the spectrum is the commercial, which is about partying, doing drugs and disrespecting women.
I am walking a tight rope of having a strong message on one side, but with a commercial sound, so that I take a good message to the masses without them realizing as they enjoy the music too. I want to show the world that you can make good music without degrading others.
So what challenges does this pose?
Since I am going against the grain of the US music industry, many investors find it risky to invest in me.
Today’s mainstream radio is like prison food, where people just await to consume and have no control over it. It gives listeners songs they have no control over. Visibility is a major challenge I face.
You teach children, and have worked with them on various projects. So far, what has been the experience like?
When you educate someone, you give them hope, which no one can take away.
I always feel that adults have forgotten how to be pure, like children. If adults could be as be innocent as children they would be happier and connect with people better and the world would be a better place.