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Creative spotlight: Ntwali

by | Jan 9, 2023 | Campus, Culture, People | 0 comments

Twenty-six-year-old artist, Ntwali Kayijaho, didn’t always know music was his calling. It wasn’t until he faced adversity in his youth that he began to realize his full potential and make a name for himself. 

Coming from two immigrant parents who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Ntwali grew up with familial examples of ambition, strength, and diligence. He describes seeing the work ethic and living conditions for his family change for the better over the years as incredibly motivating. 

Ntwali prioritizes paying homage to his Rwandan roots and doesn’t shy away from making that clear in his music. Featured on his second album, Late Bloomer 2, the young artist wrote a song called “Jungle” about his parents’ journey to Canada in the year 2000. “My dad was a doctor back home, and when he came to Canada, his education wasn’t viewed the same, so he had to redo medical school (in Canada) while raising five boys,” says Ntwali. “My mom was a business owner and a teacher back home. Coming here, she had to raise five boys too. That shows the type of strength they have, and that’s the blood I have. That’s my biggest inspiration.” 

In high school, Ntwali wasn’t the athletic type. He watched his friends excel in sports while he waited for his growth spurt. It was at a party with his friends when someone told Ntwali that he might have the talent to rap. “I thought, ‘hmmm, I’ll try it.’ I was awful,” he says as he laughs. The artist didn’t let that discourage him from trying again. He dedicated a year to writing one verse a day as practice. “I loved it… the self-expression. I found an outlet to push my energy toward,” he says. “I saw that people liked it, so I never went back.” Ntwali celebrates 10 years of rapping this year.

High school was a time when many people, including his teachers, doubted Ntwali. He was kicked out of two different high schools for being a ‘bad student.’ The young rapper admits he didn’t care much about school at the time but would’ve appreciated more care and encouragement rather than the dismissal he received from teachers and principals. 

Nevertheless, Ntwali doesn’t let the nay-sayers dim his light. “It’s fuel to the fire. They inspire me,” he claims. “You would think having haters would be discouraging, but it’s like… ‘I’ll show you.’” Despite having some haters in the mix, he feels immense gratitude for the friends that supported him through his journey to becoming a hip-hop and rap artist. 

Ntwali went on to graduate from university and is a proud MacEwan alum. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology last year, and he describes his time at MacEwan as warm and welcoming. “I would go up to students and pass them my mixtapes and would freestyle to people in those little study rooms,” he recalls. “A lot of those people still follow me and are inspired by my growth; they come to my shows.”

Ntwali made his debut in 2017, releasing his first mixtape called Late Bloomer. “I think the outro, “P.S.,” is my favorite song. (In the song) I’m writing a letter to music and how it was there for me therapeutically,” he says. 

Ntwali defines success as impact. Being able to inspire other artists or those who aspire to make it in music is vital to the young rapper. He says that being able to pull someone else out of a creative rut is one of the best feelings as an artist. “Through that process, you’ll get support, they’ll come to your shows, they’ll buy your merch, they’ll buy your vinyl, or whatever it may be because of that connection,” he exclaims. “Personally, I think that is so undervalued in the rap community.” The rapper advises anyone who is in a creative rut to work on their mind, spirit, and body. Everything else flows from that. 

Ntwali feels love and support from the Edmonton community but notices he is mostly in demand during Black History Month. “I feel the love from sold-out shows, getting featured in magazines, and being sought after. You always feel it during Black History Month,” he notes. “It’s quiet in January, but in February, everybody and their mama is trying to get you for a show. It’s like, ‘Okay, what about March?” he adds with a laugh. 

Comparison is something a lot of creatives battle with. Ntwali prefers to compete with himself rather than competing with others in the music industry. “It does weigh on you when you think of how some people have made it, and you haven’t quite made it yourself,” he says. “Don’t cheat yourself on your progress. If you compare yourself to others, it’s the quickest way to rob yourself of joy.” 

When he’s not releasing the sweetest tracks your ears have ever heard, he’s inspiring youth by doing motivational speaking at high schools across Edmonton. Through his most streamed single as of December, “Message To the Youth,” Ntwali encourages youth who feel discouraged to explore the realm of personal development. “Work on yourself, read books, exercise, and cut out people in your life that don’t inspire you,” he advises. “Surround yourself with more positive people and write your goals down.” Regardless of your religion, Ntwali recommends having a spiritual background. “You gotta have something to rely on in tough times because otherwise, you’ll rely on your vices,” he says. Along with personal development, Ntwali is a firm believer in words of affirmation and being honest with yourself. 

When asked about his proudest achievement as an artist so far, he had two milestones come to mind. The first was a moment that hit close to home. “I recited a poem at the Rwandan genocide memorial in front of a lot of survivors, including my parents,” he recalls. “To experience that was the most surreal (thing)… because that’s something my parents survived, and being able to share a poem for my dead relatives was the most powerful thing.” 

The second? Performing in front of nearly 20,000 people at Edmonton’s Black Lives Matter protest back in 2020. “It was this poem that I wrote in 2019 from writing a verse a day — to see that come to life was just a powerful experience,” he says. In 2015, he set a goal that he would perform at Rogers Place Arena. “I gave myself five years. I didn’t perform at Rogers arena, but I did perform at the same size as Rogers Arena in my hometown, and it was for George Floyd’s death. I wasn’t even supposed to be a part of it,” he says.

Ntwali seeks to branch out eventually and is hopeful for future collaboration with producers and artists based out of Vancouver and Montreal. On Jan. 26, you can expect to see Ntwali perform at Winterruption; an Edmonton festival with music, comedy, and drag that takes place each January. He’ll be opening for an artist named Wax, who is based out of San Diego. In December, Ntwali dropped a single called “Give Thanks,” and he plans to drop another one this month called “81,” which is a tribute to the late Los Angeles Lakers basketball athlete Kobe Bryant. He plans on releasing two more singles in the months to come.

You can find Ntwali’s music on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. Listen to “Message To the Youth” here. 

Aajah Sauter

The Griff


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