SOULFUL THING: Mention the song title Naki and the crowd will go wild. That there is the song that earned Kenneth Mugabi crowds and today, the Afro-Soul singer has no trouble introducing himself.
Tell me about yourself?
With Kenneth Mugabi, what you see is what you get, although most times you get maximum. I am full of surprises that sometimes surprise me too. I live for music, I sleep music and all I love is music. Above all, I am African and God-fearing.
What kind of music does Mugabi do?
I call it Afro-Soul because it is soulful and I’m African. I combine my music with dance and drama and this is because in Africa, we tell and sell stories through dance and drama.
At what point in life did you decide to do music commercially?
Four years ago when I went for Coca Cola Rated Next competition, but before that, I was at Tusker Project Fame but was bounced in the second round.
At Rated Next, I did well with my original compositions and that is when people started recognising me.
Why did you decide to do original compositions?
I did not join Rated Next to win but rather express my passion for music. That is why the people who always win have so much pressure after the competitions that they end up failing. I already had songs even before I entered the competition.
Why didn’t you go back to Tusker Project Fame?
I realised Tusker Project Fame could not offer me the platform I have now. If I had participated, I would not have the downtown fanbase I have now. So it worked for me.
What has kept you going in the four years you have been doing professional music?
My love for music and urge to give Uganda that unique sound has always pushed me. I want to tell people stories and give them a piece of my mind.
Do you play any instrument?
Yes. I play the guitar and the tube fiddle. Those are the instruments that have taken me places. The tube fiddle is one of the hardest instruments to master as well as the easiest.
When did you learn to play the tube fiddle?
While at university. It is that one instrument that caught my attention and I really cannot explain the feeling I have while playing it on stage.
People know Naki and Kibuno Omu. What are your other songs?
I have an album that I named Kibuno Omu that has songs like Omusheshe, Maso Gotulo, Janzi, among others.
Why did you name the album ‘Kibuno omu’?
My interpretation is that many people will listen to the album but not all will love it but it will definitely take one person by storm. I know my kind of audience.
What are the stories behind your songs?
Anything can inspire me. Let me give you an example. A stool is for sitting on; a stool is made from wood. Wood comes from trees; to make a stool you need nails. Where do they come from? Already that is a song on its own.
Who inspired you to do music?
I was inspired by the desire to change what people listen to in clubs, on radios and other mediums.
What is your take on Ugandan musicians?
Most of them are in a comfort zone. That is why when they reach their climax and collapse they can never find the means of getting back up. Ugandan artistes need to be flexible. We need to be strategic in terms of thinking and delivery.
If you were not a musician what would you be doing?
I think I would be a community psychologist. It was the course I was going to do if music had failed. So I would be working in a certain office.
Do you rely entirely on music?
Yes I do.
Don’t you think the kind of music you do will always keep you in poverty?
That is the mentality people have. They think it is only dancehall that makes these other artistes get paid. Artistes force it on to them but there is no style of music that does not bring in money.
Which big events have you performed at?
Qwela Junctions like Aces, crooners, guitar Maestros, Blankets and Wine, Akadope, Roast and Rhyme twice, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia among other places.
Kenneth Mugabi’s journey
I went to Kibili Primary School where I was exposed to traditional music. Then Lubiri High School, Magere High School, Migadde then Makerere University where I studied Bachelor of Arts in Music, Dance & Drama.
ABOUT HIS BAND
The band is called ‘the Arpeggios Band’. Arpeggios meaning ‘broken code’ in Italian. The members are Ronald Bukenya on the finger piano and arched harp, Aloysius Migadde on the guitar and the percussions, Lawrence Matovu on the bass guitar and percussions. Eugene Gum on the drums and keys while Sheebah Umwiza is a vocalist. I play the acoustic guitar and tube fiddle.
I see my music playing on all radio stations. I would also have broken the boundary between the uptown and down town folks. I want to be performing at events such as Enkuka, Ekigunda and Embutikizi and lastly, I want Nigerians to come here and ask me for a collabo.
I have something with Irene Namubiru and other artistes as well. They will help expose me to a wider audience.
The main challenge is finances. Because I want my music to be embraced by people down town, I need finances to push it down there.