THE TEACHER: Alex Bagonza, known to many as A Pass, is one helluva gifted singer and songwriter. The thing that makes him different is his versatility and wit. Although he has created some ‘haters’ over his social media rants and drama, he seems to always have his eye on the prize – good music.
When A Pass opened the gates to his castle, I could not help but notice the peace in his eyes. Still in his 20s, he lives in a three-bedroom bungalow in Ntinda that overlooks a well-manicured lawn, adjacent to a paved driveway, surrounded by a prison-high concrete fence. I could not help but ask how much he spends on rent. It is in the millions, he reveals, but adds, “I thought about buying the house but this is not the kind of house I want to live in for the rest of my life. I have decided to build in Fort Portal — it is an architectural miracle, you will see it one day.”
This is the kind of house that people sacrifice their dreams to join the rat race for. The kind that, after 25 years of slaving away, “corporate” people finally use their pension to buy (and probably a bit further than Ntinda). And yet Mr A Pass has broken the rules and done it on his own terms. I must add that on the pavement, gleaming like a diamond, lies a monstrous Pajero, the kind that normally bears government registration plates. But it is his.
For all its lavishness, the interior of the home is minimalist in its set up. There is barely any furniture in the living room and the absence of a television is conspicuous. He, however, says he has one in the living room but rarely watches it as he spends most of his time making music and reading.
The dining room is empty, except for a big modern reading table and a life size hand-painted portrait of A Pass.
A Pass wastes no time breaking into a philosophical monologue about music, success and life in general. I chip in occasionally to express my agreement. After what must have been a quarter of an hour, he ushers us into his fully-equipped music studio.
It is state of the art, and I say this with authority having been to many studios. The padding is dark blue. There is a long table on the left, and at its centre a wide iMac computer. There are all manner of controllers, soundcards, and at least six sets of Audio Technica M 50 headphones.
There are three sets of high-end recording microphones. There is no booth though. He says he had not slept the previous two nights because he had been recording non-stop. “I have over 5,000 songs to my name,” he says.
It isn’t long before he starts playing music from his new album, yet to be released. The music is beautiful. He has a song for every single emotion, and I tell him so. The most powerful is Musalaba, and we urge him to release it as his next single.
Musabala is a high pitched, heavily melodic song that talks about how he was carrying his cross and nobody was there. It may be sacrilegious to say this, but it reminded me of Mowzey Radio at his most earnest. It was also reminiscent of Brian Lubega’s Nungamya because of the intensity in the pitch and lyrics.
When he switches to another unreleased high-pitched song (a beautiful love ballad), I cannot help but think that it truly is lonely at the top. The person that gave us Wuuyo, Memories and other modern day love classics, lives alone! What’s a castle without a queen? I tease him and inquire about how many beautiful ladies he brings to his house every week. What he says next is startling, and yet the way he delivers it (unflinchingly), makes it sound believable.
He reveals that he has dated a Ugandan girl who lives in Sweden, for more than two years, and he has never “ever, not even once” cheated on her. He says he talks to her everyday.
A man who does not drink, smoke, or sleep around, must have an outlet. For some people it’s religion — he hinted earlier that he is a Christian. For others, it is sports but for A Pass, it is music. How about writer’s block, and loss of inspiration, I ask. Where does he get inspiration from in those times?
“I never get writers block and I never look for inspiration, I am always inspired,” he responds.
After about four hours of confiding in us and answering our questions, A Pass takes us to his reading table and shows us his book collection with utmost pride. “I spend [my money] on books. That is my biggest extravagance,” he admits. “And I do not share [them],” he quickly adds.
He is currently reading Robert Greene’s latest, The Laws of Human Nature. It cost Shs120,000, according to the writing in pencil on the second page. A quick summation of the other brand new books he spreads on the table, indicate that he has spent more than Shs1m on books, this year alone.
On our way out, he begs us to wait and meet Tyson, his exotic-looking German Shepherd. What a beast! It is almost as tall as him when it stands. Yet A Pass insists that Tyson is only seven months old. What follows is a display of genuine friendship and mutual love as they run after each other in circles, amidst giggles and barks. A Pass then proudly issues out commands and Tyson duly obeys.
The climax is when A Pass tells us to watch one more trick. He runs up the stairs of the verandah and summons Tyson. A few seconds later, there they are, standing side by side, elbows and paws on the railing, staring into the sunlight.
My colleague pulls out his camera and Tyson proves to be a better showman than his master, as he carefully changes poses from time to time and then afterwards, scampers excitedly to the man with the camera, as if to check whether the pictures were dope.
A Pass is one of the most gifted, prolific and well-known Ugandan musicians of our time. He is also one of the most followed on Twitter (more than 60,000 followers, including African luminaries such as Mr Eazi) and yet he follows no one. This applies to his real life as well. He is out to leave his footprint on the earth. His every move (or tweet) is calculated and he is steps ahead of most of his peers. He comes off on social media as “boasty”, but how many stars would be able to resist the urge to show off their material possessions such as a big car, modern studio or expansive bungalow in a prime location?
A Pass has achieved this rare feat of humility and simplicity. All while avoiding the slippery slope of drug abuse in the music industry, which lead to depression and premature deaths. Whether we acknowledge it or not, A Pass is a teacher with a lot of gems to share. And we would do well to pay attention.