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Zabuli: A journey from the bar to the pulpit

She got the name Zabuli from a cinematographer that helped shot her first video. The bad-girl gone-good of gospel music has a story that has brought chills to many that have listened to it. Yet, even when she is dedicated to worshiping and spreading the Word through music, she has to deal with judgments from both church and the public.

The passion Jalia Nasejje alias Zabuli exhibits while performing is one she doesn’t have to explain. At times, she belts out a note and as it explodes into the microphone, her eyes give way to tears.

Born and raised in a dysfunctional home- stead, she says her life was highly affected by it. Her mother was a Christian, while her father was a staunch Muslim that was adamantly dedicated to having his children adapt to the faith.

The lack of harmony would soon reflect in the schools she went to, failing to show up for prayers and getting expelled and at one point doing papers while commuting from prison.

She grew apart from her father that it was only after she escaped from home that he vowed not to beat them again, they became closer, but unknown to Nasejja, he was dying.

How did your father’s sickness change the way you related?

I became very close to him and learnt that deep down, he cared and was afraid of us ending up like him. For example, regardless of how sick he got and expenses he faced, he often gave me money while at university to ensure that men didn’t give it to me and use me. My life changed when he disclosed to me that what he had was HIV/Aids, I started getting worried that anytime, a call announcing his death would come through.

How did you grapple with the pain the death of a father you were making new beginnings with?

I tried thinking of life without him but it was hard. I wanted to find comfort with mother but she could hardly help. I would have gone to church, but at that time, I felt like God had been unfair to us. Before his death on July 12, 2012, he had accepted Christ, though personally, I was drifting further, I had started frequenting nightclubs, sleeping with as many men as I could, and I was looking for time away from sanity.

What went through your mind as you slept around?

So much! Though, the peak was with a 31-year-old chain smoker that would spend
a million shillings a night with no plan for tomorrow. I don’t know how many men I slept with but in December 2012, I found out that I was pregnant.

How did it register in your mind when you found out that you were pregnant?

I did not want to believe it, in fact, it took me a week to know what the pregnancy re- ally meant. I was 19 and had stopped going to church, what pained me most was the fact that in the worst situations, dad had harshly said that my life would not amount to any- thing and I was almost proving him right. I had become a wreck.

What did you opt to do at that point?

I decided to have an abortion and the first three times all failed. But then one day I walked into a clinic and after doctors figuring that I was a month pregnant, they sedated me and for the time I was in that labour ward alone, something changed within me; a voice told me that if I ever got a second chance, I needed to make a fresh start.

Did you adhere to the inner voice to start life on a fresh page?

Yes, because it was then that I started writing music, my first song, Take the wheel talks of how naked I felt and called on God to take charge of my life. As a girl my mother told me that God loves beyond what you can give. I went back to church, this time to Mavuno Church- Kampala.

Is your story part of the explanation for your stage name, Zabuli?

A friend Bozo, a music videographer, liked my music. Then, I still called myself Jalia, he shot my fi rst video for free and called me Zabuli 119.

What does it mean to be part of an audience where you perform?

I had my first music show at Watoto Church last year, my mother was in the audience and could barely believe it. A video clip of my testimony was played and for the fi rst time my mother learned

that I had been imprisoned, done abortions and had unprotected sex with countless men. When I called her on stage all she could say was: “God is still faithful.”

What does it mean to be a gospel artiste in Uganda?

It is hard to make it as a gospel artiste because very many times, people forget you have bills like them. They tend to believe that as a minister, you will survive on blessings than pay.

But then personally, I have had challenges of practising as a teacher even when I graduated as one in 2015. For instance, I tried but the schedules of teaching and perfor- mances always clashed.

And of course, Chris- tians are still judgmental, there was a time a pastor sniffed me to know if I was high.

What is your advice to fans or readers?

There is no big mistake that God cannot forgive. Restoration comes from pain.

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