“Born in Guyana, lives in London, and sings in Kiswahili”
This is how BBC World Service Radio producer / presenter Joseph Warungu introduces his guest.... a composer, photographer, filmmaker, poet and recording artist.
Rukiza Okera’s music is Modern African blended with Caribbean and South American root extracts. His topics range from love, politics to life. Life, the complexities, and the truth, which are often clouded, disguised and rarely understood.
Rukiza, known to his friends as R.T., was influenced by a wealth of musical styles, Reggae, Soca, Salsa and Samba from neighbouring countries, as well as rock and folk from the more distant Europe and North America.
A self-taught artist. Rukiza’s career started in the church, where he played the guitar and composed songs for Sunday school. His interest soon turned towards classical guitar after hearing the renowned Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. In the early 1980s as his talent developed he was honoured by the Guyana Festival of Arts with several awards for poetry, vocal rendition and musical composition, including Classical Guitar. His interest in political awareness was also developing; this consciousness was recognised by the then president of Guyana who praised Rukiza (and three others) for their anthology of poems against apartheid “To Hell with Talk”. Rukiza studied political science and later moved on to journalism. His forthrightness caused him to loose several jobs in the hierarchy of government. Rukiza remembers a discussion between his boss and himself. “I told my boss that profits and surplus were the same”. “The socialist say surplus while the capitalist speaks of profits” This caused me my job. At the time, my boss a self claimed socialist said there was no place for me. “Today Russia and other communist countries are readjusting and all the followers are doing likewise”
After working as a freelance writer and photographer in Guyana, Rukiza moved to Suriname where he devoted himself full-time to music. He formed a band which toured Suriname, Brazil, Guyana and French Guyana and opened for top acts such as Steel Pulse and Third World.
In 1992 after living in California for 3 years, Rukiza moved to England. “Recording in the USA updated my earlier experiences” where he recorded several original compositions in Oakwood California. “Living in Europe presented me with numerous opportunities ranging from performing (with a reggae band) across Europe and Asia to composing music for films and television. It has also allowed me to witness the irony of deep-rooted divisions amongst the many of us Africans living in Europe, juxtaposed with the hostility of racism” This in turn led him to write “walls of language, tribes and colour” which continue to keep Africans apart.
Dissatisfied with the sound of a composition recorded in English (Hello Mother Hello Father / Jambo Mama Jambo Baba), Rukiza asked a friend to translate it into Kiswahili -- the language considered by many Africans to be continent’s African language of unity. (Although there was some scepticism in the beginning this was quickly dispelled). Rukiza’s ability to sing in Kiswahili was never in doubt, even by East Africa’s highest standards. He has now recorded three Kiswahili albums. “Jambo Mama Jambo Baba”, “Shamba”, and “Roho ya Afrika”. He performed with The Shikamoo Jazz Band in Tanzania, and performed also in Mombasa Kenya. In 1996 and 1997 Rukiza performed in Tokyo at several venues including the East African club Piga Piga. His album “Shamba” became no 1 on the charts in Tanzania, and was subsequently copied and sold without any benefits going to the writer. Setting-up his label: AfRIKANMUSIC L.T.D, which he uses to release his material. His albums are distributed in the UK by “Stern’s Music UK” and are sold by Tower records, HMV and the likes. Although it is quite unusual for someone who is not a native Kiswahili speaker to sing with such fluency, Rukiza has demonstrated that he is well up to the task. He wrote the main theme for the 3rd Festival du Film Caribbean held in Martinique in 1992, and won awards for “Street Music” in Guyana (Music for Guyana Carnival). Rukiza subsequently studied. Kiswahili is like English...You speak it, and that’s that... It is the only non-tribal African language. His latest album is: “The Composer” his first instrumental album which took a lengthy 5 years to complete, and was recorded in 3 countries. The USA, Holland, and the UK. “My travels have taken me to more than 18 countries, and have given me a clearer understanding of life than if I had not travelled, and also a respect and appreciation for all cultures. “My motto is, honesty and dedication”. My music is now heard on many stations including: VOA, BBC World service, German and French world service, and Denmark National radio............... The German record label “Club Star” on the compilation “African Garden” licensed his song “Kahdjia”.
One Herbalist said: “Rukiza’s gift, is in fact reincarnation”.