In the hospital consulting and surgery room at the National Centre for Blood Transfusion in Kigali, Rwanda, where he is a full time medical practitioner, he is known as as Dr Muyombo Thomas. Later in the evening, after doing his ward rounds and consultations at the hospital, he sheds his lab coat and stethoscope and adorns casual wear and assumes his entertainment name of Tom Close and becomes a musician.
Tom Close, 33, graduated from the National University of Rwanda in the Southern Province of Butare with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree in 2013 and was posted to the Kacyru Police Hospital in Kigali as a general practitioner for gyneacological and obstetrics consultation.
“I started singing in the school choir and after completing high school, I decided to venture into a solo music career to earn a living because I was orphaned at a very tender age,” Dr Muyombo said recently at the Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel, on the sidelines of a Media Training Workshop on Health Reporting (infertility) sponsored by the MEREK Foundation.
He says he comfortably juggles between the hospital and the music arena and, “In fact makes more money from music than from his salary as a medical doctor.”
The medic/musician says he was invited to the conference to as a resource person to present his hit song on infertility. The conference was being attended by media participants who were drawn from the entire African continent.
Back in Rwanda, Mr Close, as Dr Muyombo is widely known, has done hit songs like “Thank you”, which also features other musicians like Ben, Mamawa and Abana. “I have also done collaborations with Weasel from Uganda, Eddy Kenzo and Kingston from the United States (US),” says the medical practitioner.
Mr Close, the doctor/musician is the second born child of Edward Karangwa and Faith Grace Dukuze, both deceased. He was born on the October 28, 1986 in the Masindi district of Uganda where his parents had taken refuge in the 1970s due to political upheavals in Rwanda.
After his primary education in Uganda, he relocated to Rwanda where he completed his secondary education at Kizinguro secondary school and the French Lycee de Kigali.
Mr Close says he was brought up and taken through school by his aunt, who inculcated in him, very strong Christian values. “Immediately after high school in Rwanda, I joined the Afro-saints Group as a full time musician in 2005 and then a year later, in 2006, I took up a solo music career,” he says.
His genre of music is secular, which he says is also fused with segments of Gospel singles. He also belts tunes in rhumba and blues styles, Afro-beats, pop and many more. “Music supplements my income as a medic and in fact it earns me more than I make from my employer who is the government of Rwanda,” says Close.
Mr Close says he pioneered modern music which was affected and even driven to extinction by the 1994 genocide when an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day genocide period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, after an aeroplane carrying the then Rwandan president Juvenile Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent to Kigali airport.
He hails the Rwandan government for building a music school to help teach music to the youth.
“Besides being jailed and running into exile, Hutu perpetrators and Tutsi victims of the genocide caused the death of the music industry in Rwanda and left a void after the Tutsi population was almost exterminated,” says the musician.
He says he launched his music career to inspire other upcoming musicians in his country and revive both the Rwandan and secular genre of music. However, he says as a young musician from Africa, he faces numerous challenges like reluctance by big companies to invest in young artists and lack of capacity to showcase his products in the international market.
His music targets young people aged 40 years and below, though it appeals to people beyond this age bracket. Malaria, HIV/Aids and other routine life issues are the main themes of his compositions.
He has produced seven albums and many video tapes and also does stage perfomances.“I have done live concerts in the national stadium with artists like Shaggy from Jamaica, Sean Kingstone and Jason Derulo from the US in my music career since 2014,” says Mr Close.
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He hails the Rwandan government for building a music school at Nyundo near Gisenyi in Western province to help teach music to the youth. This school has been so successful that it has inspired its graduates to form two bands, Sebeya and Mico Bands.
In order to address issues of piracy that denies artistes an opportunity to reap from their hard earned works of art, through the sale of albums, CDs and videos, the musician says artists have decided to do live concerts and brand ambassadorship which makes even more depending on one’s brand of music.
The singer has won many awards during his music career. For instance, he was selected as the winner of the First Annual Primus Guma Guma Super Star Famous Artists Competition held at the Amahoro Stadium in 2011.
Close, has also won Artistes of the Year at the Six Awards in 2009, 2011, and 2011. He also performed at a concert celebrating Rwanada’s tenth anniversary alongside international artist Shaggy.
Mr Close says he has written 100 school books and 25 of them have been approved by the Rwandan Education Board as course books in primary schools. He started writing books in 2004 and by 2006 he had three books to his credit. “Though I stopped writing for a while to complete my medical studies, I picked up the hobby again in 2014, and since then I have written over 100 school books,” says Mr Close. (Written by Mutiso Mbithi /KNA)