He is one of the celebrated veteran musicians in Rwanda but many did not know that the songs that made Sudi Mavenge were not originally his.
Mavenge admitted that the songs he sings are not his own but were composed by Gaetan Kayitare, an artiste killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Appearing on KT Radio‘s daily show ‘Impamba y’Umunsi’ on August 3, Mavenge admitted that he has not given enough credit for the songs to Kayitare, who was his close friend, and apologised for that. Mavenge Sudi became very popular because of the songs which many thought were his original compositions.
Mavenge Sudi, best known for songs like ‘Gakoni k’Abakobwa’, ‘Ku Munini’ and others, said he met Kayitare Gaetan in 1986 in the current Ruhango district where he lived and they became friends.
Mavenge said he left Kigali with a young man only identified as Mugabo, headed to Nyanza, where they spent three days enroute to Karama to check on a young man he named as Muhirwa, who used to play a guitar and worked with Kayitare Gaetan.
When they got there, they found that Muhirwa had no guitar and instead referred them to Kayitare. They continued to Kigoma (present-day Ruhango) to meet Kayitare Gaetan.
“When we got there, he told Kayitare about my love for the guitar and he was happy to give me one. He was surprised and amazed by how I played the guitar with my left hand,”
“As I played the guitar, I also sang for him and he was happy. From that time, we became friends,” Mavenge recalled.
Kayitare sang his first song “Ikigabiro”, which Mavenge redid and from there Kayitare took Mavenge to Gisenyi to participate in a music competition. They became friends along the way.
They went on to live together in a house Kayitare was renting and had a tailoring workshop where he used to sew women and girls’ clothes in the current Southern Province.
Mavenge says he continued to live with Kayitare in Kigoma and since he (Kayitare) was doing well, he started sending him to Kigali to buy him cassettes on which he would put his songs and sell them.
“He used to send me to buy cassettes or radio tapes which I would buy from a store called Audiotex, near Chez Venant. He would record songs and sell them to friends and family for extra income,” he said.
As fate would have it, Kayitare was jailed and Mavenge would visit him in detention. He continued to produce music from prison with the help of Mavenge. It is at the time that Mavenge continued to sing some of his songs to keep him in the memory of people.
That time he would tell people that indeed the songs were for Kayitare and he was only helping to sell the cassettes. He would even mention him in media interviews.
Unfortunately, when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out, Kayitare was killed. Mavenge made the resolve to continue redoing his songs to keep his memory alive.
“His humility, kindness, friendship, the conversations we had and the bond we shared, made me decide to continue with his legacy when we lost him in the Genocide against the Tutsi,”
“I looked at how people loved him and I thought I had to do everything in my power to keep his songs alive because they all had positive messages people needed to hear,” Mavenge says, adding that he regrets that he never explicitly mentioned it to his friends or fans that the songs were not his original compositions.
Mavenge Sudi also had the opportunity to apologize for pretending to be a non-artist.
“I’m really sorry, I should have told my fans and friends about this. I am now saying it and will always repeat it that the songs belong to my friend Kayitare Gaetan, with whom we shared a lot of history as friends,” he said in an interview with Benjamin Bisangwa Nganji on KT Radio.
He also revealed that he never allowed any other artiste to redo Kayitare’s songs because he had personalised them, adding that he is looking to discuss with Kayitare’s surviving family members about the fate of the songs.
Kayitare’s family speaks out
Michel Shumbusho Michel, a representative of Kayitare’s family, thanked Mavenge for being bold enough to admit and apologize but said that he cannot accept the apology individually because the family is also still reeling from the fact that the songs were poorly redone.
“I told him when we met in in Biryogo that as a family, we were not happy with his renditions of the songs compared to the original compositions, but I am glad that he has come out to apologize,”
“We acknowledge the apology but it is not the end of the issue because there are other issues relating to copyright infringement. Even if someone was your friend, you have no right to their intellectual property, even if that friend requested you to do so,” Shumbusho said.
Shumbusho further said that Mavenge should have discussed with the family because not all of them perished. Kayitare’s family has three surviving members.
He said that the family will convene to discuss the matter and consider his apology but nevertheless thanked him for admitting that the songs that made him popular were not originally his.
KT Radio Presenter Benjami Nganji Bisangwa contributed to this report