The return: Maureen Rutabingwa may not be a mainstream artiste but her music appeals to those who appreciate instrumentalists. Besides her vocal prowess, she plays the saxophone and keyboard. Isaac Ssejjombwe caught up with her ahead of her concert tomorrow.
You’ve been so lost. What’s happening?
I came back to Uganda a month ago, I’ve been spending a lot of time in London for work because Diageo relocated so I moved into the global innovation team that’s based in London, so I spend most of my time there as well as other countries in Africa like Nigeria, Ghana etc.
It seems you are a busy woman. Where does that leave your musical career?
I feel that has never been a barrier because even when I was here and working at UBL, I was still singing and performing with Qwela. So that has never been a challenge. While there, I’ve been able to work on a solo project, come up with an album and all this is possible because I have time, space and a lot of inspirations. London is an artistic place, so you meet a lot of people, you get inspired, you see things and it has helped me sit and create my own work from my own brain and my heart so that is what I’ve been doing for the last two years.
What have you been missing in Uganda?
The weather; especially the sun. In London, you will go through seasons without seeing the sun. During winter, you only see the grey sky which later turns into a black evening. I missed the vibe, the community feeling and family. I also miss having that consistent systems of support.
Tell us about your new album?
The new album is called From the Sun. My name is all over it as the executive producer, writer and artiste. It is co-produced by Roy Kasiika, alias the Drum machine. It’s an 11-track album that also features Kaz Kasozi and Sandra Suubi; I collaborated with Sam Kimera to co-write a song as well. It is a dope Ugandan team that did all this in 18 months. It took this long to be ready because I feel like great music takes time.
We were done a year ago but we had to plan how we would set and launch it. I took maybe two months to write it, six months to mix and produce it while mastering took two months. We used one year planning, putting up a website, a proper distribution team, marketing team around it and to also penetrate and get listenership. The album has songs about love, society, growth and hope.
Did the album inspire your upcoming concert?
I knew that I had the music, people could stream and download it, but then, a big part of what Mo Roots is known for is on stage, the one people interact with during performances. That is an important aspect of me, my personality and artistry; thus, even when people can download the music, this is an avenue to interact, share stories behind the music. And I have not been around for a while, so we thought it would be cool for people to get that Mo Roots experience.
You are also performing at Blankets and Wine, a day after your concert. Will you perform to your expectations on Sunday?
So this is the thing; one of the things we thought about when creating the music for the concert is that we needed to be able to flex and stretch to connect with the audience and I think Blankets and Wine is funky, fun and family day out, so the music we are bringing there is exactly that. It will be very energetic, good vibes, care free. So I’m excited and a little nervous after four years since I last performed there.
What do you think about Ugandan music now?
It is interesting and quite dynamic. I like the fact that people are experimenting with different sounds, applying our ethno sounds in modern ways. I love artists such as Kenneth Mugabi or Shifa Musisi that seem to be having their take of the Kadongokamu storytelling with acoustic instrumentation. So I think it’s nice seeing their experiments.
Top five Ugandan artistes
Kenneth Mugabi, Fik Fameica, John Blaq, Sandra Suubi and Mo Roots.
Speaking of that name. Where did it come from?
I’m into history, being grounded, figuring out your history or searching for the deeper meaning of things and I feel like understanding where we are and where we are going but also and more simply, it’s an abbreviation of my two names; Maureen and Rutabingwa.
Are you here to stay?
I’m not here to stay for now but nothing is permanent. I will be going back for a little while and in 2020, I will be touring with this album, we are going to try to perform it in at least 20 different countries. It is an ambition.
Artistes who do secular music are believed to be earning much more than you guys. Why do you think this is the case?
One of the things I’ve been fortunate to experience for the last two years and exposed to is that our industry in Uganda is quite under-developed and not as formalised or structured for artistes to be able to earn from their music. I come from a place of privilege, music is not the only thing I do and good at but to be an artiste in Uganda is probably one of the most difficult things to do because returns are not immediate or guaranteed. I would recommend that unless one has the absolute passion for it, then be an artiste.