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The midas touch of an audio engineer

Anel Lukwago says he went against his parents’ wishes to study music and later audio engineering. COURTESY PHOTO

Behind every chart topping song, there is a producer listening to and analysing every note. And behind every producer, there must be, by international standards, a certified audio engineer ready to accord the song the professional and global appeal it deserves.

Sadly, that is not the case for many a Ugandan artiste that view music as a financial venture rather than a lasting entertainment and award winning enterprise.

For 33-year old audio engineer Anel Lukwago, local musicians can for now afford to shun the services he offers but soon or later, it will become inevitable for anyone intending to attract the global market.

According to Lukwago, a producer creates the beats and determines the direction of the song and whereas an audio engineer gets the work of a producer, he makes it sound the best it can be, giving it that melodious quality. The audio engineer also enhances the emotion in a song and the vibe.

“We are ignorant about the fact that in production there needs to be specialisation and currently everything is done by the producer. The phenomenon of our job is still new and the few artistes embracing it have realised the difference and the value,” Lukwago reveals.

He says artiste Moses Ssali aka Bebe Cool, in a desperate bid to break into the international market, has taken it a notch higher and sent his songs abroad to be handled by senior audio engineers.

New artistes embracing the innovation

Lately, Lukwago’s Black Art Studios in Bunga is frequented by budding singers such as B2C and Lydia Jazmine who are seeking to improve their music productions. Lukwago has worked on musical projects such as You & Me – Lydia Jazmine & Daddy Andre, Masuuka – Lydia Jazmine, Komeza – Charly n Nina (Rwanda), Munange – Winnie Nwagi, Timetable – Ykee ft Rekkado Banks (Nigeria), Onaabayo – Ykee Benda, Incredible – Ykee Benda, Tukumbe – Lydia Jazmine, Omwooyo – Sheebah, Nkulowozaako – Sheebah, Mpa Love – King Saha ft Weasel, Koona – Ray Signature, Hit & Run – Lydia Jazmine, Love – Aziz Azion ft Sheebah, Drum – Lydia Jasmine, Wanyonoona – B2C, Superman – Ykee Bender, Chips Na Ketchup – Vinka and Wankona – Sheebah, among others.

Tough Start

After attending Buganda Road P/S and Kibuli SSS, Lukwago went against his parents’ wish and studied a Bachelors degree in Music, specialising in contemporary composition from Makerere University. He first worked with veteran musician Dan Kazibwe a.k.a Ragga Dee as his audio producer on hits such as Move, Kazeke and many others before heading to Canada to undertake a course in audio engineering for two years.

“While in Vancouver, I mastered using waves plugins in Nimbus school of recording arts Vancouver. I worked on a project with super Germany reggae star Gentleman and it was then that I fell in love with audio and decided that it is this that I will do for a living,” he reminisces. He stuck with Ragga Dee when he returned, helping to fine-tune budding artistes’ songs before lady luck smiled his way.

Becoming household name

Lukwago, a voice over artiste that has appeared in many adverts and also the station voice for Galaxy FM, is grateful to Swangz Avenue’s Benon Mugumbya for embracing his services right away.

“Mugumbya gave me some projects to work on such as Lilian Mbabazi and later introduced me to Julius Kyazze who has turned out to be my biggest client,” Lukwago says.

Soon, through producer Bushington, he started working with Coke Studio, associating with international artistes, including Mr Flavour (Nigeria), Yuri Da Cunya (Angola), Waje of Nigeria and Lizo James of Mozambique. Coke Studio songs would be sent to Lukwago in Kampala to ‘make them better’ before being sent back for the shows.

Last year he was privileged to work on the remix of the World Cup anthem done by Jason Derulo ft Ykee Benda while this year he is working with American Gospel singer Jeremy Le Sando.

How it works

“When I receive a song, I do house cleaning (getting files arranged in order, which is the most important part and normally done by my assistant). I then apply the right balance, volume wise to help me get a rough mix and a picture of how the song will sound,” Lukwago says.

“We sit with the artiste to discuss how they would like it to sound and they give me their version, then I apply effects to meet the vision of the artistes. I do not intend to change the original work but to help achieve the artiste’s original goal. I use effects such as equalisers, compressors, distortion, delays, reverbs, flangers, doublers and within hours it is done.”

Challenges

Lukwago, born to Isa Lukwago and Hasifah Nakku in Nakulabye in 1985, says he is still hampered by the insecurity of producers, who when asked for data by an audio engineer, tend to refuse, thinking their credit will be taken away.

“Some believe they will be underlooked while some artistes still have a mindset that it is not necessary since they have had good songs before that have not been mastered.”

Cost

Yes, it can be costly for a local artiste to pay an additional $100 (Shs370,000) for mastering yet it can bring rewards when push comes to shove with say the South Africans or Nigerians on the continental or global market. Lukwago charges between $500 (about Shs2m) and $7,000 (about Shs27m) for foreign artistes.

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