At serena tonight. Tonight will be the first time the two jazz artistes meet face to face, and what an honour it will be for Isaiah Katumwa as he celebrates 20 years of his music journey. Emmy Omongin writes.
Fifteen years ago, Isaiah Katumwa went to one of the biggest radio stations in town with his first album, Worship You, only to be told “the genre he does, does not have a segment on their playlist”. “I am dying to share my experience. Jazz music takes me back to 20 years when people said it was impossible. The resistance was too much, especially when I recorded my first album and it was rejected,” Katumwa recalls. Tonight, however, the saxophonist will be celebrating 20 years in music – jazz music. And these two decades of blowing the saxophone and entertaining jazz fans in Uganda and beyond will be marked with a mega concert at the Kampala Serena Hotel sponsored by Airtel. Playing alongside Isaiah will be South African Jazz icon, Hugh Masekela. “I have never met Hugh physically but I have spoken with him on phone; I am equally excited and it is really a great honour for me to share the same stage with such a great artiste,” the anxious Katumwa told us. Katumwa started doing music at 10 when he joined his school brass band. Having fallen deep in love with music, he went on to do a music, dance and drama course at university. He released his maiden album in 2000 and he has never looked back since then. Katumwa has so far released six albums, including Saxo Hymns, We Three Kings (Christmas album), Sax Worship, Sinza, among others. All these are Christian albums. His break through came in 2006 when he released another album titled Sinza, a seven-track album comprising vernacular Pentecostal praise and worship songs. This album also saw Katumwa get featured on BBC. Away from music, Katumwa is an ardent member of Pastor Kayanja’s Rubaga Miracle Centre. “The things that occupy me other than music are charity and mentoring young people under the Talanta Youth Mentorship programme,” he says. Quizzed on why we have never heard of him doing charity or even seen his photos doing charity on social media, he replies; “I am a God-loving person and very passionate about charity and mentoring. How can we be relevant to the world that is fully in need? I do charity quietly, from the bottom of my heart. It is never about PR.” Who is Hugh Masekela?
Masekela has an extensive jazz background and credentials, but has enjoyed major success as one of the earliest leaders in the world fusion mode. According to his biography that is featured on allmusic.com, Masekela’s vibrant trumpet and flugelhorn solos have been featured in pop, R&B, disco, Afro-pop, and jazz contexts. He has had American and international hits, worked with bands around the world, and played with African, African-American, European, and various American musicians during a stellar career. His style, especially on the flugelhorn, is a charismatic blend of striking upper-register lines, half-valve effects, and repetitive figures and phrases, with some note bending, slurs, and tonal colours. Though he has often simplified his playing to fit into restrictive pop formulas, Masekela is capable of outstanding ballad and bebop work. He began singing and playing the piano as a child, influenced by seeing the film Young Man with a Horn at 13. Masekela started playing the trumpet at 14. He played in the Huddleston Jazz Band, which was led by anti-apartheid crusader and group head Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston was eventually deported, and Masekela co-founded the Merry Makers of Springs along with Jonas Gwangwa. He later joined Alfred Herbert’s Jazz Revue, and played in studio bands backing popular singers. Masekela was in the orchestra for the musical King Kong, whose cast included Miriam Makeba. He was also in the Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim, Makaya Ntshoko, Gwanga, and Kippie Moeketsi. In the 1980s, Masekela visited Zimbabwe and Botswana, and recorded two albums with the Kalahari Band that once more merged jazz-rock, funk, and pop. Masekela was part of Paul Simon’s Graceland tour in the mid-1980s, while he continued recording and produced sessions by Makeba. Starting in the mid-90s, Masekela began releasing a stream of albums and collections that showed his versatility and growth in South African jazz. He continued to be active into the first decade of the 21st century, singing Live at the Market Theatre in 2007, Phola in 2009, and a pair of albums in 2012, Friends (with Larry Willis) and Jabulani, inspired by South African wedding traditions he remembered from his childhood. Though the jazz content of his work has varied over the years, Hugh Masekela has far more material on the plus side than the negative.