How gospel rapper is working to change narrative of hip hop music in church

Eleven years back, Christian Muvunyi Nkundakwita found himself in love with hip hop music.

He was in primary three by then at Groupe Scolaire Gatenga, and his dream was to explore his passion of becoming a gospel rapper.

But as his love for music grew, he found himself losing interest in studies. He just couldn’t see his future there, something that didn’t sit well with his parents.

Several times he tried to drop out of school but his parents became harsh, something that pushed him to at least complete his secondary studies in Animal health.  He is a constructor and painter too.

After school, his focus became music entirely. However, even with that determination, Nkundakwita, whose stage name is Livre Sympatik, faced various challenges.

His parents for example could not understand the kind of music he was doing.  His family, including siblings, didn’t understand the choice of path he was taking either. Fortunately, this changed over time and they finally supported him.

Nonetheless, hard times in his music journey continued to surface. His genre, rap, wasn’t popular in church. Like with other rap artists, he was not given the same treatment as other gospel artistes, both in church and the media.

According to rapper Sympatik’s experience, gospel rappers do not have a friendly environment to explore their passion. He said that there are some who have already given up or vanished from the scene not because they are incapable.

“Rappers are not treated as gospel artistes. Churches do not listen to them. But the reality is that rap in church can help the Christian community honour and worship God and spread good news about Jesus Christ,” the 23-year-old noted.

In 2014, Sympatik released his debut rap song titled, Mana undetse nta mahoro (God if you leave me, there won’t be peace).

As a way to find solutions to challenges facing rap artistes, he founded a movement in 2020.

Titled Rap in Church movement (RIC), the initiative aims at changing the way the hip hop genre is perceived by the Christian community.

The movement will see all gospel artistes doing hip hop music join their hands to promote and advocate their style.

People should never be worried about the style. What is crucial is the message that is proclaimed, Sympatik noted.

It is expected that the movement will be launched on August 28, 2022 and the event will coincide with the artistes’ release of mixtape 1 which is composed of nine rap songs.

The event will be held at Le Buison Ardent church in Gatenga, starting at 2:00 pm, and will be graced by other rappers including MD, Rockman, Nesty soldier, Elimax, Manzi Olivier, One Family One Vision, Deo Imanirakarama and the Sparks Ministry.

What others say about the genre

DJ Shawn, one of the best DJs in the country, who works with Rwanda Television (RTV), said surely there is little presence of gospel rap in the mainstream media, gospel media and church as well.

“I think the reason for not having the same promotion is simply because people are not yet used to the idea of gospel rap, it’s something that’s just developing…”

“Personally, I try to play all genres of music as they come in… I am actually a fan of gospel rap and definitely gospel rap is as anointed as any other genre of gospel music. So, artists should continue working harder and acceptance is just a matter of time,” he said.

Pastor Gaudin Mutagoma, of Noble Family church, pointed out that churches in Rwanda are traditional and culture-based which leads to resistance to some music including rap.

Mutagoma challenged rappers whether they are doing it as a calling or hobby, adding that if it’s a hobby they don’t need attention from church leaders or media, and that if it’s a calling, they need to know their target group.

For the media, Pastor reminded artists that media houses are in business and they have target groups too.

“You can’t force people to love what you are doing, but you can inspire them until they feel like buying your idea,” he added.

Fabrice Nzeyimana is a worshipper at Christian Life Assembly (CLA). Nzeyimana believes that there is no holier music genre than the other and that worship is not a music style but a life style.

“The challenges gospel rappers face are purely cultural and mindset from those who think rap is less anointed or not at all. My message to those who sing in that style would be to focus on the mission rather than challenges. They should strive to use that gift in churches that embrace that vision instead of seating with it,” he noted.

To Church leaders, Nzeyimana said they should disciple gospel rappers instead of judging them by their look or sound. They should get to know them personally. Most of them have amazing personal testimonies and content that can reach today’s generation faster.

“ As we look for progress, it’s also important to know our audience or the people we serve, strike a good balance in the way we present ourselves to avoid brutal culture shock,” he added.