Divine Gashugi Umulisa alias Tete Roca is no stranger. to the entertainment scene. Ten years ago, she was among the few women to venture into music in Rwanda, treating listeners to songs such as Singashaka, Ndamira, Indahemuka, and Ndabaza. At one point, her songs were banned from national television because she appeared in a bikini!
Umulisa, now going by the moniker Tete Loeper, has turned to publishing, and released her first book titled Barefoot in Germany.
Her novel revolves around the life of Mutoni, a humble girl born in Nyamirambo, who is invited to Germany where she meets love, marries and settles down. Four years into her marriage, Mutoni discovers life as a migrant is not one of glamour.
Umulisa’s story is inspired by real life experiences of eight women she encounters in Germany after she settled there in 2016.
“Women have it harder in life than men,” she says, partly from her own experience. Umulisa, who was part of Mashirika Performing Arts Company and Ishyo Arts Centre, recalls how she would juggle her jobs, school, and a music career.
“Even after booking and paying for studio time, some producers would first attend to big artists and postpone the sessions to later evening,” she said.
“If you want it easy in the creative industry as a woman, you will have to allow people to play with your dignity. If you set standards and show that you stand by your word and actions, most interpret it as arrogance or pride.”
While her book is largely in English, there are numerous uses of Ikinyarwanda and Germany. “Most books written by the west will hold their traditional terms, which the book doesn’t explain in detail, but when it comes to African writers, they further have to explain in detail what certain names or terms mean,” she said. She insists African publications do not have to move in the exact direction as western publishers as this tends to dilute the meaning of the story.
“We are Rwandans, and we need to tell our stories in the way we own it, where we don’t need to first consult dictionaries,” she says. She sought a publisher to no avail. She resorted to self-publishing spending 3,000 euros to get the book published.
As she embarks on her second novel, Umulisa’s concern is that Rwanda has not yet embraced fiction. Or maybe it is the writers who are missing, she muses. “I have heard that Rwandans don’t want to read. But what do we as local writers offer them to read?” she ponders.
To her, most books on offer autobiographies, “we have more to tell, so we need to craft more books about different topics,” she urgues.
Umulisa, whose professional journey into the creative scene dates back to 2009 as a member of the scriptwriting team of Urunana, a prominent radio drama, attended Groupe scolaire Sainte Bernadette and Groupe Scolaire officiel de Butare. She attained a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism and Communication from the National University of Rwanda in 2013.
“Writing requires a lot of discipline, organisation, and consistency, but I think my background in creative writing, helped me catch up,” she explains.