Finger-picking live on stage

Thursday February 27 2020

Deo Salvatore performance at Ubumwe hotel in Kigali last year. PHOTO | ANDREW I.KAZIBWE


Live music is gradually making a comeback into mainstream events and instrumentalists like Deo Salvatore are increasingly exploring this space.

The twenty-six-year-old is a selftaught guitarist and master of the finger-picking technique used to play folk, country-jazz and/or blues music.

His interest in the guitar goes back to his secondary school days in the late 2000s, at Kageyo in Northern Province.

“I loved the guitar and I used to watch my cousin play it for fun at their home,” he said. “I then began to practice by playing igisope (Rwandan traditional songs), most of which are accompanied by the guitar and the inanga (traditional six to eightstringed instrument).

Slowly, Salvatore began to challenge himself by composing songs and partnering with local artists to set up live performances. In 2014, he acquired his first guitar.

Yet his watershed moment was at the National University of Rwanda in Butare where he studied accounting.


On the first day of school, Salvatore met Faida Sebuhoro, who was performing at an event to welcome the new students.

“I watched him closely and noticed something unique about how he played the guitar. Sebuhoro used four fingers while I was playing with two — the thumb and index; that was curious,” said Salvatore.

He would learn about a guitar training workshop organised by Sebuhoro and promptly signed up.

Some 20 students were in attendance. That was how Salvatore was introduced to the finger-style.

“Sebuhoro advised me to use YouTube tutorials, which I incorporated into my routine practice,” he said.

But it wasn’t easy. “One song would take me about seven months to master using the technique,” he said.

In 2017, Salvatore moved to the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali, which is a requirement for accounting students. It was here that he met Nganji, a renowned local guitarist, who introduced him to events. Salvatore would eventually perform at Nganji’s concerts.

“I learnt so much through Nganji; for example, I had no idea about audiences accepting my style,” he said.

By the time he was completing his accounting course, Salvatore had mastered the fingerstyle. He then moved to Kigali where he polished his skill.

He learnt of companies managing artistes, and about professional fingerstyle guitarists.

“I realised there was a gap in instrumental guitarists not only in Rwanda, but globally too,” he said.

Finger-style was still new in Africa, and selling it was not easy. “Rwandans for example, were solely interested in the acoustic guitar while Congolese majored in solo and bass,” he said .

“ Society hasn’t really taken up this skill seri ously. Salvatore is however, glad that Rwandans are slowly picking it up which is “of great motivation to me.”

He now receives invitations to perform at events, restaurants and themed evenings at hotels. He has also received offers to work with international companies that manufacture guitar accessories including G7th Capo Company, ToneWood Amp and Fusion Bags.

Last year, Salvatore founded Finger Pickers in Africa, which brings together fingerstyle guitarists from around the world. Currently, it has nine members from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Burkina Faso.

Members can acquire guitar accessories from G7th Capo Company, ToneWood Amp and Fusion Bags at discounted prices.

Salvatore is currently working on his first album concert slated for February 29 at Onomo Hotel in Kigali. Dubbed Life Within, the 10-song album concert will feature local artistes including Nganji, Michelle, a violist, and Peace Jolis.