Sophie, the ‘inanga’ maestro who walks in the steps of her father

Friday October 18 2013

Sophie Nzayisenga plays the ‘inanga.’ Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

Sophie Nzayisenga plays the ‘inanga.’ Photo/Cyril Ndegeya Nation Media Group

By Edmund Kagire Rwanda Today

She is considered one of Rwanda’s talented musicians after succeeding in a field that was a preserve of men.

She is one of a few musicians in the country who have mastered the art of playing inanga, a traditional Rwandan music harp whose musical characteristics can be compared with a modern guitar.

Born in Nyanza District, Southern Province but married in Ruhango District, Nzayisenga is a daughter of the late Thomas Kirusu, one of Rwanda’s renowned musicians who specialised in playing Inanga.

The 35-year-old learned her father’s skills of playing the traditional music instrument at a tender age of six and by the time she was nine, she was already participating in national competitions.

“All my life revolves around creating music using Inanga. I have never had any other job apart from teaching music and performing at concerts,” the mother of two said.

Every time she appears at a concert, Nzayisenga mesmerises her audience with lyrics and tunes that can only be found in Rwanda’s history.

Ordinarily, Inanga was a speciality of men but with the encouragement from her father, Nzayisenga dared to venture where most girls could not.

Today, she teaches at the Kigali Music School where she specialises in the instrument, which is made out of curved wood and nylon strings.

Simple yet sophisticated, each string of the instrument if struck brings out a different sound and if well synchronised, can bring out a tune even better than a guitar.

Nzayisenga says she overcame gender stereotyping to step into her father’s shoes, who to date is still idolised among those who love traditional Rwandan music.

“My motivation is the desire to keep my father’s legacy alive. He taught me how to do it and I owe him that. My wish is that before I die, I should be able to set up a centre to teach Inanga skills to young Rwandans,” said Nzayisenga.

Her father passed on in 2010 at 80 years and according to Nzayisenga, the legendary musician had also inherited his skills from his grandparents.

“It runs in the blood, I could not let gender and society stereotypes end something my family lives for,” she says, adding that her grandparents used to play for the royal family in Rwanda’s monarchical days.

“It hurts me that young Rwandans do not have regard for values that the Rwandan culture has. It is possible that our traditional instruments can exist alongside the modern ones. They complement each other,” she said.