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An engineer who’d rather die broke doing music

Ykeex

Ykee Benda says he promised his father that if he ever failed in this industry, he would return to school for a Masters. PHOTOS BY Abubaker Lubowa

New vibe: He is probably one of the hottest cakes in the music industry right now and Ykee Benda is not about to take that opportunity for granted. The singer, who is only about a year old in the industry says he is using the time to release more music and penetrate Africa. He shared his story with Isaac Ssejjombwe.
What is the story behind the name Ykee Benda?
“Ykee” is the short form of Wycliffe and Benda is a synonym for Blessed Every Night and Day Amina. My real name is Wycliffe Tugume.

How long have you been doing music?
I have been active for a year and three months now.

Would we be right to say Farmer was you breakthrough hit?
I agree. Farmer, the original got me management while the remix broke me through to the rest of Uganda.

How old is the song?
I released Farmer, the original in November 2015 and the remix came in September 2016.

By the way, what is the true message behind the song?
Farmer is a song that shows support for this extremely agro-based landlocked country.

How about the interpretation people have… which you as well may have heard, would they be wrong if they perceive it that way?
The truth is the song is about farming and that is the real message but because we wanted it to be more entertaining, there is a twist somewhere especially in Sheebah’s part.

Tell me about your music journey?
I draw my inspiration from Moze Radio and in 2007 I decided that I needed to learn how to write. I recorded my first song in 2010 in my S6 vacation titled Do It Again. I then relaxed for four years when I went to Algeria to get my degree, but I kept writing and doing vocal training. I returned to Uganda in September 2015 with a First Class degree in Chemical Engineering, and then dived into the music.

You studied for four years, got a First Class in something you were sure you were not going to practice. Isn’t that equal to wasting four years of your life?
Contrary to that, I consider those four years the best in my life because if I hadn’t gone to school, I would be wasted by now. I think I would be a drunkard, I would have numerous kids now and maybe contracted HIV. I never wanted to go to Algeria in the first place but it made me grow. It taught me how to write songs. All the concentration and getting the First Class was to basically convince my dad that I could do it. If I could get a First Class in something I did not love, what would happen if I did something that I loved? In those four years, I listened to all the top Ugandan artistes and got something out of them to create something new. That is why someone would ask why I was able to break out in just a year, not knowing that there were four years of preparation behind me only that I was not here.

What did you learn from listening to those artistes?
I did MunaKampala from an Instrumental Radio and Weasel used from Gyptian’s Hold You track and I recorded it from a small studio in Algeria and when I returned to Uganda, a friend advised me to take it to either Andy Music or Nessim to redo the song and I followed that advice.

So you have never practiced chemical engineering?
No. But I will.

When? Seeing that you are at a point where your music career is taking off?
I am not planning to do it as a person but I am looking at a time when I will be employing other smart kids in the same field. I am looking at starting up a cosmetics company in the future.

But engineering was bound to get you a good job and some good money. Was music a wise decision?
Everything is not all about money. Sometimes we make decisions based on passion and peace. With chemical engineering, you will work for one year on internship and having studied abroad, you will study for one more year to determine how good you are and then I studied in French, which is also a disadvantage. I would say I made the right decision. I figured I would rather die broke in music than live to regret why I didn’t go for what my heart longed for.

So you speak French?
Yes, I do.

What do your parents think of you now?
My parents are Born Again and that is one thing they are not happy about, although they see my progress now. I was with my father recently and I assured him that I know the Shs150,000 or Shs200,000 I give him once in a while is not enough but I will do better with time.
He had so many dreams about me like any other parent but this is something I also wanted as a person.

What are some of your songs?
Budumbu produced by Andy music, then Kyenkyebula, Munakampala and Farmer original all produced by Nessim. I got signed to Badi music in January 2016 recorded and released Kikube Kiss, Malaika, Blessings, Eva (ft DJ Roja Slick Stuart) and in September, we recorded and released Farmer remix featuring Sheebah. I have a new song titled Merry Xmas.

Benda during Sheebah’s Nkwatako show. The singer says he has a girlfriend and they have been dating for seven months now. PHOTO BY Michael Kakumirizi

Benda during Sheebah’s Nkwatako show. The singer says he has a girlfriend and they have been dating for seven months now. PHOTO BY Michael Kakumirizi

What is your affiliation to Team No Sleep because we have seen you hanging out with them?
The guys in Team No Sleep are my friends. I am currently on a three-year contract with Badi world or Badi music.

Why did you join the music industry?
I needed to be part of something bigger than me, something that I can use to impact a life somewhere. Something that I was never going to complain about and something I love. Music and I are a match made in heaven.

Who would you say is the best Ugandan artiste now and why?
Moze Radio is the best artiste that has graced this industry in terms of content and revolutionalising the game. Now here I come to offer my own view of how things should be done.

You seem to look up to Radio a lot, anything we need to know?
Unlike so many artistes, I have no problem appreciating good music. I will give props to a good song and if I don’t like it, I will reserve my comments. So I have never consumed better products than those of Radio in Uganda. That is how much I respect him. He blessed me, he blessed Uganda and I call him a revolution.

Would you say he is the best all-time Ugandan musician?
Yes I would say he’s the best.

So should we expect a collabo soon?
Hopefully. I have never talked to him by the way. But my management wants a collabo that is strategic. That is why Farmer happened, but I think ours would pass at any time. I wouldn’t mind if it’s a hit or not and the beautiful thing is that I was told he loves my MunaKampala song.

What were your top five songs last year?
5.Tokigeza(B2C)
4.Musawo (Winnie Nwagi)
3.Mariana (A Pass)
2.Nkwatako (Sheebah)
1.Farmer remix/Munakampala

We have seen many artistes come and go after one or two hits. How sure are we that you will stay on the scene?
I have three strategies: Doing intriguing music that will cut across genres. It will be educative, funny and serious at the same time. Then I have belief because I put God first and finally my relationship with the media — I want to have a good and stable relationship with them.

ykee

Any young artistes you respect?
I like B2C and Ceasorous. They are going to be so relevant this year.

How would you describe yourself?
Ykee Benda is a Ugandan-Rwandan reggae, Ragga, afrobeat, RnB and pop artiste who loves God (born again in fact), I am a football fanatic (Arsenal supporter), a movie freak and I enjoy making friends (to learn something new from everyone).

What is your New Year’s message to your fans?
I would love them to put God first. Get out there and be who you have always wanted to be at all costs. This year Ykee Benda will be the most sought after artiste in this industry. Happy New Year!

Any New Year’s resolutions?
Now that I have everybody’s attention, I need to convey who Ykee Benda is all about, which is making stupid, funny, sad, uplifting, life changing, inspiring good music in all genres. By the end of 2017, East Africa must know Ykee Benda and so will Africa, which basically means some collabos are coming.
Background:

I was born to Mr and Mrs Mpakanyi. We are eight children and I am the seventh of six boys and two girls. I went to Shimoni and Kamuli primary schools, Ndejje SS and St. Lawrence Ssonde for high school. I did a chemical engineering degree at Annaba University in Algeria.

200k

I was with my father recently and I assured him that I know the 150k or 200k I give him once in a while is not enough but I will do better with time. He had so many dreams about me like any other parent but this is something I also wanted as a person.

Going to Algeria

I did PCM/Economics in my A-Level and went to Makerere University Business School for a business course but with the combination I did in High School, that was not where I belonged. Because I needed a course that would offer me some space to concentrate on music, my dad was not happy with my decision. So just a month after I had started my BCOM course, my parents failed to raise my tuition. I was mad at them and became impatient. I even told them that I would no longer continue with the course. My dad was not happy with me but my mum was my comforter. She told me to hang in there and after a few weeks, a good friend called and asked if I could go and study in Algeria on a scholarship. It was the only option. I went and studied but I assured my dad that I would go, study for four years, acquire the papers and return to do music. He still disagreed but I completed with an honours and when I returned I sat him down, told him to give me only one year in music and if I failed, I would go back for a Master’s. We have not discussed that issue since then.

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