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Lil Keyz: Karamoja’s shining star

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Karamoja star: For Lil Keyz, insecurity, child marriages are some of the things that forced him to join the music industry. Today he is big news in Karamoja. Rebecca Kabuya writes.

Who is Lil Keyz?
My real name is Robert Kennedy Lotyang. I am 28 years old, an Afro-dancehall artiste. I went to Lomukura Primary School in Kotido, Light College Katikamu for my O-Level and Bethany High School for my A-Level. I have a diploma in Music, Dance and Drama from YMCA.
Why did you choose to use Lil Keyz and not your real name?
Lil Keyz stands for Little Kennedy. I wanted a catchy name that would stick in the minds of my fans.

When did you start doing musical?
My musical journey stretches from way back in O-Level. I used to write songs and perform them during important functions at school, I would also perform at promotions and night clubs. My breakthrough though was in 2006 when I released an album titled Insecurity in Karamoja.

Why are all your songs in Karimojong?
The message in most of my songs targets the Karimojong. Most of our people are illiterate. Also when you sing in English, people upcountry will shun your music because they feel that you are distancing yourself from them. But in 2014, I started producing songs in Kiswahili and English because I feel I need to go national.

How does it feel to be an upcountry artiste?
It’s difficult because people are not so outgoing. We hold shows once in a while. If I had a chance, I would rather be based in Kampala because there are a lot of financial opportunities, music promoters and managers.

Are you signed to any music label?
I am a sole artiste, but I would love to join an identifiable label because then I will be relieved of the burden of personally marketing my music.

Tell us about your fan base.
(Laughs) My sister, I can proudly say I am ruling Turkana land, Pokot, parts of South Sudan and Luo land, but did not come on a silver plate. I made sure I market my talent by singing issues that touch my people.
The media too have played an enormous role in promoting my music; radio stations such as Nena FM, Karamoja FM, and Voice of Karamoja play my music a lot. I have friends at radio stations in Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania among others, whom I give my music and they will play it.
I also share my audio and videos on WhatsApp, Youtube, and Twitter.

Any challenges so far?
There is no career without challenges. It was very tough from the beginning. My parents, especially my father, was so discouraging because he thought that music is for drug users and spoilt kids. People in my community thought I was going to spoil other youth. When I went to a quiet place to rehearse, people would gather, thinking I have run mad.
Finances are also an issue. You need to buy equipment, studio charges, paying back up singers and dancers, wardrobe etc.

Most radio stations in Karamoja seem to play a lot of your music. Are you the only artiste in Karamoja?
Hahaha! No. There are so many artistes here and we even have an association; Karamoja Artists’ Association. It is just that most people request for my songs, and I am grateful to God for that favour.

Have you performed anywhere else beyond the borders of Karamoja?
Yes, I have performed in all the East African countries but the most memorable was when I shared a stage with Dr Jose Chameleone in Nairobi last year. I also shared a stage with Ziza Bafana in Juba.

How many songs do you have?
I have recorded 235 songs, including I Love Karamoja, Malaya, Made in Karamoja and Mysterious Girl. I have embarked on shooting high quality videos because Karamoja has very beautiful sceneries.

Away from music, what else do you do?
I am the proprietor of Dipsy Pub in Kotido. This pays my bills and it’s a saving mode for me, because the money I get from shows goes there.

What inspired you to join music?
The situation back home was very bad; too much insecurity, forced child marriages, moving around naked, cattle rustling among others.

What message do you have for other upcountry artistes?
They should work hard, be patient and never think of getting quick money because they might lose focus. I am also reminding promoters wherever that there is talent upcountry that needs support to be explored.

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