Amjambo Africa’s Kathreen Harrison met with Rwandese musician Clarisse Karasira on July 25 to talk about her upcoming album launch.
Kathreen Harrison: Welcome to Amjambo Africa. It’s an honor to speak with such an acclaimed musician. I know this is an exciting time for you, with a new album due out August 20 and a celebratory launch party the same day. Please tell us about the album.
Clarisse Karasira: Thank you for having me. “Bakundwa” is my third album, and it is very, very special to me … so many things were going on while I was creating the album. … It was like a letter to my people, my beloved people. Bakundwa is a Kinyarwanda word, which means “beloved” … like “beloved people” or “my beloved people.” I named the album “Bakundwa” because I’m writing for the people who listen to my music. … I was new here, starting a new life, away from my family, from my community, from the whole country.
KH: Is there a common theme to your songs? Could you help non-Kinyarwanda speakers get a sense of the messages you are sharing?
CK: My songs are about our common humanity, peace, unity, and development. But most of all unity and peace. That’s what I promote the most because I come from a community which was divided. There was Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. What I feel is that since I have a big voice, I can be heard by many different people. I can use that voice to unite people even more and cultivate peace.
KH: You have already released one song from the album. How has it been doing?
CK: We released one song from the album a month ago … only on YouTube, and it is almost 500,000 views already. Not only in Rwanda, but also here in America, in different states here. … We have a big number of Diaspora people, and we have some who are going to come to the concert on August 20. Not only from here in Maine, but from Boston and New Hampshire, too.
KH: Are the songs on the album all in Kinyarwanda? I’m thinking maybe so, since you were writing them with your beloved people in mind.
CK: Well, music is a universal language, and I have some English songs … and I will write more, as well as songs in Kinyarwanda. I love English, I love America. But I don’t want to lose my identity … and wanted first to focus on Kinyarwanda songs for this album. … After giving birth to my first child 13 months ago, some people wrote on my social media … [that they missed] seeing me live in concerts … it’s a letter to my beloved people saying, “I’m still here.”
KH: Can you give our followers an idea of your career?
CK: Of course. I started singing when I was a little girl … that’s a long story … but professionally, I started singing in 2018. Before that, I was a journalist, a TV news anchor and reporter. But I always had a dream to become a music artist. … I’ve been composing songs since when I was a teenager … and I really wanted my talent to go out. So in 2018, I left journalism, which I had been doing for three years, and started this profession. That’s when I recorded my first song. And then I became famous right away [with millions of YouTube views]. I am grateful.
KH: How has it been getting started as an artist in Maine?
CK: America is different from Rwanda, but here, too, there are people who love music. … I’ve been trying to connect with other artists, with other music players and singers. And fortunately I’m getting connections, and now I have a band which will play with me on August 20. It’s really going well. … We love Maine. It is so beautiful, and so welcoming. … My husband and I are opening a multimedia company. He is my music manager. Through our company, I’d like to perform even more … when you’re in a new country, you don’t know where to start, you don’t know what to do. But now we have a vision of continuing to produce and share high quality songs through audio and video and performances too.
KH: Best wishes for the launch of your album, and for your August 20 concert. Where will that be, and where can people buy tickets?
CK: Thank you! I’m really looking forward to sharing my music. The concert will be at 360 Spring Street, Portland. Doors open at 5 p.m. You can buy tickets now at Mayo Street Arts.