Looking at a wider audience. As Da Twinz, Denis and Dan rocked Uganda with several hits, even when they were based in U.K. We wondered why they were no longer releasing songs for the Ugandan audience after they became Ganda Boys. Isaac Ssejjombwe found out that they have since turned to producing world music.
Who are the Ganda Boys?
The Ganda Boys are Denis Mugagga, Craig Pruess and Daniel Sewagudde. We are dreamers and musicians, songwriters and thinkers, who want to make a difference in the world. We have a strong tripod energy and dynamism between the three of us that cuts across a whole host of projects and creativity that make us the Ganda Boys.
How are things moving on with you guys?
So far so good. We are very busy, expanding all the time, so proud of our new album, Africa, and on a personal level for each of us, we have great health, good family, good fun in our creativity and ideas, very close knit team with close friendship and camaraderie, and there’s always great music happening in the background (or often in the foreground, especially on stage or in the recording studio).
Rumours circulated that you guys had separated due to certain differences. How true is that?
Really? People must have very active imaginations! Winston Churchill quipped once: “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated!”
Do you notice how people tend to lean forward in fascination when they hear a rumour?
The gutter press would never exist without this unfortunate fascination of the public’s imagination. We are very grateful to note that you called it a rumour, too, and are glad to inform you that it is a completely false rumour, with no basis on reality whatsoever, laughable, really. Who dreams this stuff up, anyway?
Previously, you were known as Da Twins. Why the sudden change of name to Ganda Boys?
It’s a whole new band, distinct from DaTwinz. Historically for the Ugandan two-thirds of us, we had already re-branded twice before Da Twinz.
Initially we were with the Cultural Beat Band, then we created D N’D (Denis and Dan), then Da Twinz. Everything has led up to the Ganda Boys. It all started when we were chosen to perform as a band for a BBC TV prime time drama series called Moses Jones in 2008. The director wanted a live band style that was totally Ugandan, but also that met the best contemporary world music standards.
We were told that the Da Twinz sound would not appeal to a UK audience and neither would it meet the BBC’s soundtrack drama standards. We were, however, given the option to collaborate with a world music specialist composer and record producer, Craig Pruess. We met Craig and got on so well and realised we had so much in common, it was all very easy after that.
We have always had a desire to grow, so we enthusiastically teamed up with Craig and the re-branding happened on its own after that and we recorded our first album The War of Love.
How have you found it residing in the UK for the last six or so years and what are some of the reasons that led to your departure?
To be honest, the first years of kyeyo were not easy for the Ugandan two-thirds of the Ganda Boys, Denis and Dan. Reaching London in 2000, it was a case of joining the other Ugandans in the diaspora and doing just any kind of odd job that was on offer.
We did every job that Ugandans typically do. It can be very hard and dispiriting at times. But we kept the vision and also carried on with our education (Denis went to City University; and Dan went to Middlesex University).
We studied as we did odd jobs; we worked in MacDonalds, we cleaned offices, cared for the elderly, all of this until recently when we became fully engaged as professional musicians.
What are some of the challenges you’ve so far faced in the music industry?
As you might be aware, there is little or no recognition for Ugandan music on the international stage. As Da Twinz, we came at it with a mentality that blocked us from breaking through.
We thought that because of the success we had scored in Uganda and the diaspora with our hit single Nakafeero, and then performing at the Kabaka’s wedding, that this would be enough to see us through into total acceptance by a world audience! Hello, it was reality time, and we got that very wrong, of course. Given our background at Namasagali College during our school days, it has to be said that we really should have had a better idea of what was to come, the challenges in what our headmaster Father Damian Grimes referred to as “music” and the bigger world. But one has to live and learn.
Briefly tell us about yourselves
Denis and Dan are Ugandan, who settled in the UK in 2000 and Craig is an American born and raised, but living and working in the UK. Each brings a wealth of their own personal experience and achievements in music to the Ganda Boys.
The Ganda Boys formed during 2008 on the highly acclaimed 2009 BBC-TV prime time drama series, Moses Jones, which was been nominated for a 2010 British Academy Award for Craig and the Ganda Boys for Best Original Music Score. We finished our first album, The War of Love, within six months, and have now finished our second album Africa.
We feel both CDs are powerful, sophisticated, highly polished and remarkable achievements in contemporary style– in fact, we would say a milestone in vibrant African fusion music.
As a dynamic and harmonious core team, we are also accomplished film makers and have generated a collection of music videos, documentary films and promoclips for the Ganda Boys and our satellite service project, the Ganda Foundation, which has been active in charity work for procuring hospital and educational equipment for Uganda.
Who inspired you to join the music industry?
Denis and Dan: From a very young age growing up in Uganda, we have been singing so much, in fact, singing and performing since we were toddlers. We are family, as you know! Over the years we have drawn inspiration from many quarters as we’ve gone along. As children, we frequented the Kiwologoma to watch Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies on stage. Then our parents realised we had a true love for music, so they took us to schools that specialised in this area of education.
Father Damian Grimes helped us realise that there was a world out there in music, other than the world we knew. Then Craig Pruess entered out lives, and he has helped us grow both musically and emotionally — supporting our most innermost artistic visions and ambitions — and he has helped to take our music, our singing and our songwriting to a whole new level.
Craig: I was a complete music nut, crazy about music from the age of seven, playing the trumpet, oboe, percussion, piano and joining every band, marching band, orchestra and ensemble that was available to me in Westchester County in up-state New York, US. Luckily, there was a lot happening and by the time I was 13 or 14, I was a professional pianist with a jazz trio, and getting phenomenal experience with orchestras and big bands in New York as a soloist (trumpet).
I started doing session work for Motown groups at the age of 14, and when attending university in Boston, I continued, rubbing shoulders with many of the future greats at Berklee School of Music. After this, I joined the music teaching staff at the Conservatoire of Music in Nairobi, Kenya, for two years, started some club bands as lead singer, and was a sponge for all things in African music styles, something which has lasted for the rest of my life.
I was inspired to come and settle near London by my contacts with Emi Records and other British musicians. I’m glad I stayed long enough to meet the Ganda Boys!
With songs like Midomo and Nafunye among others, as DaTwinz you were widely considered to be the best duo outside Uganda, but things have not been moving on so smoothly ever since then. We are not getting any hit songs from you. What’s the reason for your deterioration?
I don’t know how success is measured in Uganda lately, but I strongly disagree with some parts of the question. “Best Duo outside Uganda”?
Well, we were the best duo in Uganda while we concentrated on just the Ugandan audience. There was no duo doing what we did then. Mega Dee and the other dude (Menton Crono) had long called off their duo. “Deterioration”? .
Really? Is working with a producer such as Craig with gold and platinum record accolades to his name “deterioration”? He has produced Cliff Richard, arranged for Massive Attack, composed soundtracks for two UK number one films like Bend it Like Beckham and many more films and TV shows? Is being on the Big World Records label a deterioration?
Featuring on an acclaimed BBC TV-drama sound track, our tracks sounding on an ITV prime time drama, The Jury — does this define “deterioration”? Maybe someone is re-writing dictionary terms here for fun!. And please don’t forget that we achieved front-lining performances at the World Culture Festival, Olympic Stadium in Berlin in July 2011; a performance for a private concert for the Nnabagereka two weeks later, and then we were performing at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in October 2011 — is this the kind of thing that Uganda calls deterioration? Well, that is a strange way to put it!
We really feel we are growing musically and we may not be having a certain kind of exposure in Uganda at a level that the usual music lovers in Kampala are used to, but off their radar there are very important things happening for us at the moment.
And important things for Ugandan music! Okay, it may come into their radar at some future point and there will be amazement, for sure. Isn’t that the way things work. But in the meantime, we are expanding on a new level of what a Ugandan musician/artiste might aspire to in an international arena. And that has never been done before. It is what Uganda needs.
Besides music, what are you guys involved in?
We established the Ganda Foundation in 2009 to bring First World awareness to some of the dire conditions existing in the Third World. We work so well together, anyway, that this was a natural extension of our lives.
Dan is a gifted film-maker, Craig is a skilled soundtrack composer with a great eye for film detail and stories, besides being a humanitarian with his work with the Art of Living Foundation, and Denis’ organising power and excellent people management gets the projects moving forward. We have produced and directed all our own documentary films, which have had such a big internet impact around the world, showing what the Ganda Foundation is doing.
Back in 2009, we had tremendous inspiration from our trips to Uganda and visits to Kawolo Hospital and Lugazi District Primary School. This expanded to our becoming directly involved in a young boy’s treatment at the Children’s Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital and also contributing to an HIV-infected family that was suffering terribly, with no hope. These lives were turned around.
All this primed our focus for the Ganda Foundation’s current hard work and success, procuring substantial medical equipment from the UK for hospitals in Uganda, and now the challenge is to spread the word far and wide and get as many supporters and donors as possible. You can’t do this kind of work without feeling that you’re not doing enough!
About two years ago, we heard you were planning a mega concert in Kampala and it was highly anticipated yet up to now it hasn’t yet taken place. Why is that?
It’s all about timing. Its time will come, definitely, and we have been looking closely at dates and venues since last year. Please remember that we have not been in the country for many years and we have to study the industry and the natural expectations of such a return for us.
We have come to enjoy working with the standard of the organisers we work with in Europe. And we are well aware that there is the business mentality of many Ugandans where the first thing on the mind is the difference (njawulo) before the job is even done!
However, looking forward, we are finding good people to work with in Uganda and it’s coming together, piece by piece. We are working with the Nnabagereka Development Foundation to put on one beautiful and uplifting concert in a major venue in Kampala. So, watch this space and details about this will be unveiled in due course.
How do you categorise your type of music?
African fusion music for the 21st century, or polished contemporary world music with a Ugandan soul to it.
What do you have to tell upcoming artistes who want to be like you?
Have heart, keep going, don’t give up; look for those things that really bring you alive. Work in teams and communicate with your artistic community. Artistically, look after yourselves, your body, your mind, your life — keep the “instrument” well tuned! Avoid drink, drugs and unhealthy life-style.
Where do you think you’ll be five years from now?
Playing all around the world, documenting our dreams, spreading lots of joy and celebration, helping people to wake up, and in five years being amazed how much our children have grown up and tall!!! We would love to have a time machine!
Any last words to your fans?
Please check out the Ganda Foundation page and contribute, however small, or if you can’t or don’t want to donate, at least forward it on to all your friends. Secondly, please experience the songs on our new album Africa spread the word, etc.
Our fans have been our bedrock, and we love you! Lastly, our fans should know that we feel that we are only just getting into our stride! We feel we have only scratched the surface of how deep we can go with this thing called the Ganda Boys. It is not just a pop group, believe us. It is as big as our lives, our hopes, our vision of the world!