At a young age, Amza Ihirwe’s dream was to become a great artist. Unfortunately, Nyundo School of Arts stopped teaching Arts in 2002 something that made the then 16year-old opt for sciences at Groupe Scolaire Officielle de Butare secondary school in Huye.
But he did not let his talent go to waste as he discovered a new way to realise his dreams through hairdressing where he has curved a niche as a celebrity barber.
The 32 year-old is a Barber at SMJ Irebe Saloon, a hairdressing saloon located at Union Trade Center (UTC), and has been a barber for the last 13 years-since completing high school in 2005.
“My dream was to become a visual artist by studying arts at Nyundo but when that became impossible, I pursued sciences in high school, however, I always felt that it was not my passion,” Ihirwe says.
Whenever he was not at school especially during holidays, Ihirwe always visited saloons and was mesmerized with how barbers shaved people giving them different hairstyles.
“It always excited me when I saw barbers creating something special for their clients and I liked it because it is an art, which I admired since my childhood”.
He first put his hands on a shaving machine in 2003 and it kick started his journey as a barber.
“I remember the day a client came to have his hair treated at a saloon in Huye and all hairdressers had gone for lunch except for the cashier and me. I had never held a shaving machine before but I felt I could do it and begged the cashier to let me shave the client. She accepted grudgingly and everyone was surprised when I did a good job,” he says adding that not only were the other hair dressers impressed but that particular client came back looking for him but he had returned to Kigali.
Ihirwe did not ignore the feedback he was getting and started creating connections with different hairdressers so that he would learn as many hair styles as possible and also kept observing how the experienced hair dressers did their thing.
“It did not take me long to learn different hairstyles. But, in reality, I cannot say anyone taught me the hairdressing skills that I have. The love and passion I had for this kind of work was the key to working hard until I mastered it although I didn’t want to let people know since I was still at school,” Ihirwe reveals.
Ihirwe’s talent started to pay dividends the day he started to make money out of shaving people every time he got such a chance during school holidays until he moved to a day-school in Kigali in 2004.
He later got an offer from a Belgian-based Rwandan who admired his talent and asked him to manage his new saloon. His starting salary was Rwf 120 000, which was a big sum at the time.
“That was a lot of money for me at the time and it became a big motivation to make it an even serious job,” he says.
Celebrities’ love affair with Ihirwe’s skills
Nyamirambo is home to a big number of Rwandan celebrities and even those who don’t live there visit often.
During his time at high school, Ihirwe was friends with now popular singers Mani Martin and Patrick Nyamitari, who used to visit him at his saloon in Nyamirambo. The same saloon was near RnB maestro King James’ home.
“We were friends and I was always with them wherever they were going for concerts and they would recommend me to their friends,” he adds.
It was like a ‘tell a friend to tell a friend’ message that made him so popular that many celebrities would come for hair cuts before concerts or soccer matches for football stars.
Ihirwe’s hairdressing skills have attracted the attention of a big number of local celebrities and some regional ones like Tanzanian based rapper AY. He also confesses that he has received generous tips from his many satisfied clients.
Some of his celebrity client list has artistes like longtime clients Mani Martin, King James, US-based singer The Ben, Primus Guma Guma season 8 winner Bruce Melodie, Social Mula, Mico The Best, Gabby Umutare, Yvan Buravan, Yvery, Safi Madiba, female rapper Young Grace, gospel artiste Aline Gahongayire music producers Meddy Saleh, music producer Clement Ishimwe and comedian Arthur Nkusi among many others.
He has also shaved Burundian music legend Kidum and Tanzanian Rapper AY before he married his Rwandese bride Rehema Umunyana in Nyamata in February.
Other celebrities include sports personalities like David Bayingana, former Rayon Sports football club players Fuadi Ndayisenga, Makenzi Nizigiyimana Karim, Haruna Niyonzima and current teammates Yannik Mukunzi and Eric Rutanga.
Others include Basketballers Kami Kabange and Buzangu Mike as well as different senior government officials.
Athough Ihirwe had no chance to pursue art while at school, he always tries to link it to his current profession by using art to shave his clients. He also watches barbers on YouTube to learn as many hairstyles as possible.
“I like discovering something new to impress not only artistes but all my clients. I spend a lot of money buying data bundles to watch YouTube and learn new techniques so that I can replicate them while serving my clients,” he says adding that he wants to attend professional trainings given by Workforce Development Authority (WDA) so he becomes a recognized professional barber.
Ihirwe says the prices vary depending on the ingredient package of the hairdressing service.
“I cannot say I treat hair for a fixed price. It all depends on the package and the way a celebrity or any other client wants me to work on their hair.”
Jean Pierre Uwumuremyi, a colleague is full of admiration for Ihirwe’s commitment to work and the respect he accords his clients both celebrities and those who are not.
“When I joined this saloon, I wondered why many people especially celebrities chose him until I realised that it is not just his skills but the way he treats them too. We are so proud to have him in our team because he gives his clients respect they deserve when it comes to service delivery. He does not care whether you are a star or not,” he said.
Posted by Eddy Muwonge Rwandapaparazzi.rw/UG
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