This article considers the reconstruction of Rwanda's post-genocide music industry through the national music competition, Primus Guma Guma Super Star. It explores local ideas about ‘playback’ and ‘live’ music, and argues that these two performative categories can be understood as wider metaphors for the relationship between the Rwandan state and its citizens, particularly Rwandan youth. On the one hand, Guma Guma aims to create the ideal post-genocide celebrity subject who will ‘play back’ a unified, de-ethnicized Rwandan identity with body and words. On the other, during the first two seasons of the competition, audiences demanded ‘live’ performance and Guma Guma prompted heated debate about ‘taboo’ topics, revealing enduring differences along socio-economic, ethnic and regional lines. Rather than affirm an inclusive Rwandan identity, Guma Guma hinted at its fragility and underscored the multiple and conflicting ways in which young people identify themselves and evaluate ‘truth’ in the post-genocide era. The article contributes not only to literature on popular culture in Africa, but also to studies that focus on mediation and changes in recording technology. Although scholars have quite rightly attempted to dissolve the boundary between the live and the mediated, I suggest that the boundary continues to do cultural and political work, particularly in developmental states.