Fitting in: When you listen to her songs Gwe Anamponya, and Mumuleta, you would imagine was born and raised in Uganda, but 23-year-old Deena, real name Sabrina Herr, came to East Africa in 2012. She shares the story of how she ended up Ugandan and singing in Luganda with Dorcus Murungi.
Who is Deena?
I was born in south-western Germany in a city called Baden-Baden. My parents are based in Germany and I have two siblings.
When and how did you start your music career in Uganda?
I first came to East Africa in 2012 to do voluntary work in Rwanda. While there, my friends used to bring me to Uganda for occasional visits and it is during that time that I fell in love with Ugandan music. In 2013, I returned to Berlin to continue with my studies. However, when I got holidays or free time in between my studies, I would come to Uganda. One night during my visits I got an opportunity at an open mic night session at Mish Mash Bar in Kampala. My performance caught the attention of Faizel Bashir (who is now my manager) and he encouraged me to start a singing career in Luganda and promised to train me.
What was your experience like singing in Luganda?
It wasn’t easy singing in Luganda; it is not like Kinyarwanda or Swahili so I found it very challenging, but I slowly adjusted. I started by doing only slow jams, but my manager encouraged me to do faster songs. I have already released one called Kidongo and people love it.
What inspired you to do Ugandan music?
I will just say Ugandan music inspired me. It caught my attention and I wanted to do it the exact way Ugandan musicians do it. I also wanted to show the world that there is great music in Uganda and that no matter where you come from, you can still define your own identity. I decided to do African music because I like it and it makes me feel good.
Is your music career only based in Uganda?
No, I sometimes go back to Germany, where I attend several concerts and people there liked the music. It was, however, new and unfamiliar to them. I am still traversing several parts of the world promoting my music. I’m glad that my music career is spreading not only here but across the continent.
What did you study?
I studied Social Works and professionally, I am a social worker.
Which Ugandan musicians inspire you?
All Ugandan musicians inspire me and I like all of them but I am mostly inspired by Jose Chameleone, Radio and Weasel, Cindy and Rema Namakula.
Do you find singing in Luganda enjoyable?
It is very enjoyable and I try to understand the meaning of the songs such that I attach affection while recording the videos, but it is a bit challenging. I actually sit with my script writers and they explain to me what they are working on or sometimes I tell them what I want to sing about.
What do you think can be done to improve Ugandan music?
The most important thing is for artistes to believe in themselves, and strive as much as possible to promote their style not only in Uganda but on the international scene. The reason the Nigerian music industry is growing fast is because they have been able to maintain their style and originality as well as pushing it in other continents. Ugandan musicians should be proud of their style, define it and push it.
What does your family think of your singing career in Uganda?
My family was very excited and at first they were shocked, but they like my music and they always look out for my latest releases. It was, however hard for my mother because now that I am here in Uganda, the distance between us is quite long.
Had you always thought of singing?
Yes, I started singing at five years and music was like my partner in crime; it flowed in my blood though I was afraid of doing it professionally. I had a couple of songs in English, French and German but I had never recorded any of them.
What has been your biggest performance to date?
My biggest performance so far was at Enkuuka. I performed and the crowd gave me good feedback; I loved it and it was exciting. I will also never forget my first performance at the Mish Mash Bar when Singer Lilian Mbabazi gave me an opportunity to share a stage with her. Though the audience was small, it helped me break through.
What do you love about Uganda?
I love the people, I love their positivity, I love the food. Uganda is blessed with organic food unlike us back home, so I really enjoy, I actually don’t miss anything back home with the exception of my parents.
Are you seeing someone?
Not really, but there are many people expressing interest.
Plans for the future I want to do more music. I want to try out other different languages such as Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda and Runyankore. I also want to try out different styles such as hip hop and RnB.