Bill Ruzima, 20, is a performing artist who is little known in the Rwandan music industry but has been singing since age six and has always had an ambition to do what he likes most in life- to sing.
Being the last born in a family of 12 children, Ruzima’s parents sent him to Gatagara School and wanted him to become a technician of which they did send him to a technical school in Nyanza district.
While at school, Ruzima came across an experience of encountering children with special needs in Nyanza district but little did he know that this would define his music career?
“I didn’t like it but had to do what my parents wanted. After graduating I registered to join the Nyundo music school so that I can pursue my childhood dreams,” Ruzima says.
This career pursuit caught up with his previous experience to focus his music on issues of mental health and song lyrics as a tool to support persons with mental health problems.
“I chose this trend because of what I used to see among persons with mental health challenges. Most of their experiences had touched my heart and I decided to use music to comfort and walk them through and out of the duress,” he said.
Was it a wrong choice since most artists would rather take the direction of singing about life, love and money, or conflict- which can pull more fans, fame and possibly some more money in the pocket?
For Ruzima the answer is a big NO because besides loving to specifically help persons with mental health issues, he is arguably the only Rwandan artist who has ventured into this untapped segment which the government of Rwanda currently recognizes as an area needing special attention considering the history of the country and the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
A slim, tall Ruzima, who carries an ancient Rwandan hair style of afro blown hair with wide lines from the front to the back head, traditionally known as ‘Amasunzu’, talks eloquently and passionately about how his songs have impacted on young people, friends and family since he joined the music world in 2019.
“I am proud of choosing music because it has started creating impact. For example recently one youth drug addict called me and thanked me for my song which helped him to quit and rethink his future,” Ruzima reveals.
Why Arts for Mental Health Intervention?
At the annual Hamwe Festival sponsored by University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) slated this November 11-15, Ruzima will prove that music and arts can actually help in healing or comforting persons mental health problems but also give him a platform that could be his shot to fame.
The first ever virtual event since the Hamwe Festival launch in 2019, will gather 60 artists from 20 countries, to virtually perform songs, dance, art and photography contributing to panel discussions, and curate digital exhibitions over Zoom and live-streamed to UGHE and Hamwe Festival social media channels.
The performances will focus on this year’s core theme of “Social Justice and Mental Health”, will feature several speakers and panels discussions on mental health.
Among artists are: award-winning South African artist Tsoku Maela, Nigerian documentary photographer Etinosa Yvonne, Rwandan singer-songwriter Kaya, Moroccan poet and novelist Soukaina Habiballah, and many more.
Expert speakers include Victoria Tischler, professor of arts and health at the University of West London, Lisa Ndejeru, a Rwandan artist and psychotherapist, Mary Bitta, a Kenyan mental health researcher, and other mental health experts from around the world.
Ruzima said, “This is an opportunity to showcase his talent but also contribute to the use of music as a medicine in addressing mental health issues in the community,”.
Injonge Karangwa, Chief Organizer of the Hamwe Festival said choosing to use arts was because of its great impact on lives and compared to the previous year which was an opening to the collaboration of art in global health, this year will have a wider impact.
“When you talk about mental health it is very difficult not to talk about social justice. It is very important to integrate that into the conversation and through art we expect to have these conversations and share this message globally,” Karangwa said.
Status of Mental Health in Rwanda
World Health Organisation figures show that 1 in 3 persons have a mental health problem, and with Covid-19 pandemic stress due to forced lockdowns, loss of jobs and idleness UGHE says that there is need to use arts to respond the impact of coronavirus on humans.
In Rwanda, Rwanda mental health survey 2018 findings revealed a picture of increased prevalence of different mental disorders in both general population and Genocide survivors.
The prevalence of major depressive episode is 12% in the general population and 35% among Genocide survivors, while Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 3.6% in the general population and 27.9% among Genocide survivors.
Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Vice Chancellor at UGHE said that the university wants to be on the frontline of mental health awareness and choice of using art comes at a right time when research shows the new coronavirus (Covid-19) has had an impact on mental health globally.
“Power of art in creating awareness about public health challenges and in engaging the public in creative ways for protecting and promoting their own health. Hamwe Festival generates new insights and brings public awareness into global health challenges and corresponding solutions,” Binagwaho said.
Binagwaho revealed that several research works are underway in Rwanda and globally to find the impact of the pandemic on lives and how music can be used as a means of intervention- which will soon be published.
UGHE said this year, Hamwe Festival is excited to announce a partnership with Wellcome, the independent global charitable foundation, as part of Mindscapes, their international cultural programme about mental health.
“Next week, during our Wellcome Trust session we will share research results on how young people have coped during Covid-19 and talk about how they have used the arts.” Said Grace Gatera, the Mental Health Advocate and Youth Advisor with Wellcome
Hamwe Festival was created in UGHE to bring the health sector together with the creative industries to explore new ideas around health care, and according to Karangwa the festival will be held every year, but focusing on thematic issues globally.
More photos from the Media Breakfast below….