Kora player Joel Sebunjo meets his fan Carol, a businesswoman in Kampala.
Tell me about yourself …
I am Joel Sebunjo, a folk-world music artiste and advocate. I was born in Ugandan but I have lived in other parts of Africa int like Senegal and Mali at some points. I travel around the world promoting the positive side of Africa.
How many instruments can you play?
I play several instruments (traditional African) like the endongo, Kora, Kalimba etc. I guess I can play over 10 different instruments. When I was in school I also used to play a lot of brass instruments like trumpets, cornets and trombones.
Who taught you how to play these instruments?
Busulwa Katambula, a music lecturer at Makerere University is one of my several mentors/ teachers for the traditional instruments. I met him when I joined Makerere College School and I regarded him like a grandpa, he took me in his stride and till now, we are in close association.
What groups have you played for?
Before my professional solo career, I juggled as a session artiste for mainly one group. That was Baximba Waves. That was over eight years ago.
You’ve shared a stage with African musical greats like Salif Keita and Yossou N’dour among others, what have you leant from them?
Actually by sharing the stage with some of the best, I have got the best practical lessons for this music trade. Things like professionalism, team work and tour building. But above all, those guys showed me what it means to be dedicated to your art and also using it to represent the people of Africa.
Who inspired you to do music?
On a pro-note, Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita, Oliver Mtukudzi, Ismail Lo and Angelique Kidjo are some of the artistes that inspired me as I grew up. They gave me a sense of direction.
Among the instruments you play, what is your best and why?
The Kora is my best because it has a very sweet/ mellow tone. Truly magical. The Kora touches the heart. And because it has 21 strings, I have room to do a lot of tricks with it.
Do you think with your type of music, you can compete with urban music artistes?
The reality is that my style of music is segmented. It stands independently on its own, it has its audience, venue circles, thus there is no relevancy to compete with pop music.
What are some of the challenges you face doing this type of music?
The biggest challenge is keeping above the tide to keep relevant and visible on the global market. You know global market is key for this style of music. Hence there is need for having the best managers, agents and record labels in the business.
How have you been appreciated doing this type of music?
I’m glad that in Uganda the people have picked interest in world music. The audiences have grown over the years. Big companies are contacting me for endorsements and projects. You know I just finished working on one of the biggest music shows in the history of African music with Coca Cola, that’s the Coke Studio. It will be on your TVs soon. I also received an award “Visas pour la creation” from the French government as recognition of my work.
How would you love to be remembered in the music industry?
One day I should be remembered as the musician who used the culture of Africa, stood in Africa and touched the world.
What is the story behind your songs?
My songs are based on African folklore from Uganda, Senegal, and Mali etc. Songs about love, peace, mythology, Afro independence and much more.
In your opinion, what makes a great artiste?
A great artiste is one who remains modest even at the time of his greatness.
How much do you charge for a single show?
It depends really on the kind of show and motives behind it. But my price floor is $2000 (Shs5.2m).