Talking Jazz.The Johnnie Walker Jazz & Soul Safari is on this Saturday at the Lugogo Cricket Oval. Now in it is 10th edition, the organisers have lined up Kizomba star Yola Semedo and sax maestro Marcus Anderson from the US. Isaac Ssejjombwe talked to Tshaka Mayanja the architect of the jazz concert about the journey they have walked so far.
10 years of Jazz Safari. Nothing seems to go on for that long in Uganda. What is the secret to your longevity?
It is all by the grace of the Most High through whom all blessings, guidance and protection flows. Also, we are musicians devoted to music. We work extremely hard to make this event happen, however stressful it gets.
Thirdly, we have been blessed by sponsors who believed in the dream and supported us fully for the last nine editions and of course music lovers who have continually attended the events and supported us.
10 years is a very big milestone. What should we expect as you celebrate a decade?
We do not promise what we cannot deliver. Our event is all about the music. So we promise the very best of music, great production and great performances. The difference will only be the new sponsors.
We always knew Tshaka as a reggae man, how did you switch to a promoter of jazz music?
I am a musician first. I love great live music and musicianship. Reggae still flows through my veins, and I love Jazz, Soul and Funk too.
But you still look like a reggae man; dreadlocks and all.
I am a Roots man, I ‘graduated’ from the Rasta movement. But that is my way of life.
You were once a musician in your own right. Should we expect you back sometime?
Hopefully, it all depends on where The Most High Eye sends I.
On Facebook, you wrote that if people attend Jazz Safari this year, you will bring Babyface next year. Was this just a joke?
No. It was not a joke. Surely we have earned the credibility never to be doubted. If we get crowd support this year, we and the sponsors get excited. I have contacted many artistes and many have contacted us too. But people should not drop names of artistes they want, then not support the event.
Speaking of artistes, Yola Semedo, one of the headliners of this year’s event has been fairly unknown in Uganda. Weren’t you afraid of bringing an unknown artiste?
This is the Jazz & Soul Safari, not the “Only Known Artistes Jazz Safari”. We put so much work and research in choosing artistes. Both Yola Semedo and Marcus Anderson are incredibly talented artistes and performers. They may not be known here, but believe you me, they are known worldwide. People need to expand their horizons when it comes to music.
How do you link up with these acts?
Pedigree and the grace of the Most High.
As a music veteran, what is your take on the current music landscape in Uganda. Are we moving in the right direction?
Yes and no. But that is a whole other subject that needs a lot of time. But I am excited by the live music scene.
What is failing the Ugandan music industry from being as competitive as Nigeria’s?
There are times you need to admit and accept that some people are more talented, better equipped or work harder than you. Then you get down to learning and bettering yourself but sometimes, that too is not enough. So you stay in your lane.
As a music promoter, why do you think we do not have trending artistes such as Rihanna and Beyonce coming to Uganda?
Because I am not about trends, but music. Trending artistes are not the only artistes. If you have discerning tastes in music, you will discover lots of great music that is not necessarily trending. Secondly, you cannot afford to watch these artistes. You may as well stick to watching them on YouTube. Do you know of any sponsors willing to pay $1m in artistes’ fees, plus expenses? Stop dreaming mate.
Back to jazz. Jazz is still looked at as a genre for the wealthy. Was your plan to promote it to resonate with the common man?
Jazz was started by the so-called common people. Jazz started out as nightclub music. Along the way, it began evolving.
Have you ever been to a function in this city for the last several years where Jazz is not playing as background music?
That is what it became, but it is not where it belongs. There is no class system for music. Jazz has been embraced here and elsewhere by many people from all walks of life. It is true it takes a certain ear and discipline to understand and enjoy it.
Last year, the gamble of moving the Jazz Safari from Serena to Lugogo Indoor Stadium paid off. Do you think you will fill Lugogo again?
It was not just about size, it was also about the original vision we had; a Jazz festival feel. True, there are challenges in shifting venues, but the grace of The Most High prevails all the time. The Most High leads the way.
Jazz Safari has always been involved in charity, how far with the cancer ward at Nsambya Hospital?
Our ward, The Maureen Mugoya Breast Cancer ward was completed. The Rotary Clubs of Uganda have done a great job. They are very efficient. We have lost a lot of people to cancer. But my spirit has revealed something more about this disease and the way we are fumbling and panicking to handle it. I will share more about this soon.
The event has now been renamed the Johnnie Walker Jazz & Soul Safari. What has Johnnie Walker offered to “hijack” from the previous sponsors?
It was not a hijacking; they have always wanted to be a part of this event because it sets very well with their target market. We share a similar history; pedigree, consistency and class. People should NOT mistake class with wealth by the way. Discerning tastes usually contribute a lot to one being classy.
What should revellers expect at the Jazz Safari this time round?
Refer to my earlier thesis. Jazz started out as nightclub music and we intend to take it back where it belongs. There are a lot of Jazz sub genres. We are concentrating on Jazz-Funk this year. We have added the groovy Angolan genre Kizomba, plus Zouk to the mix. Surely you cannot stay in your seat, unless you are ill.
Your tickets used to sell out during the Serena days. Should we expect to buy tickets at the gate this time, knowing that Ugandans are last minute people?
As a principle, we do not sell tickets at the gate. It is important for us to plan in advance. There will be tickets across the venue at Game Stores Lugogo.