Behind the deal: Last week, Irene Ntale became the first Ugandan musician to be signed by the African wing of Universal Music Group. Although some details are still scanty, this deal should be exciting, not only for Ntale fans but the Ugandan music industry because it might open more doors for other Ugandan artistes. Isaac Ssejjombwe explores the deal behind the deal.
Why Irene Ntale
Irene Ntale is one of the exceptional talents that have graced a Ugandan stage in the past few years. A vocalist, songwriter and instrumentalist, she cut an image of a complete performer Ugandans were yet to embrace. It wasn’t surprising she literally dumbed those acoustic instruments to sing for Ugandans that are addicted to heavy sounds.
And it paid off, she won awards for those exploits and had two successful concerts at both the Sheraton Gardens and Kampala Serena Hotel. With that musical success, it was not as surprising when she became the first Ugandan artiste to sign to Universal Music Group.
The group had embarked on a journey to seal her signature for more than two years. According to Sandra Ntale, the singer’s manager and sister, the first attempt was in 2017.
“Irene had just left Swangz Avenue and we didn’t know what to expect,” she says adding that they needed time to focus, of course, they turned them down. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make at the time; the label hadn’t signed anyone from Uganda and there was nothing we would relate to,” said Sandra.
Knowing what they wanted, Ezegozie Eze, the general manager of Universal Music Group Nigeria, took matters in his own hands. He kept flying in and out of the country trying to convince Sandra and Irene to take the deal. But they still rejected it.
In March, this year, they reached an agreement and the artiste signed.
According to Ezegozie, the group stuck to Ntale because of a number of reasons; he says that Ntale is dedicated to her craft, is an amazing performer whose work ethics is way up there. “Besides that, she is willing to work on what is needed to take her career to the rest of the world.”
Universal plans for Irene
“It begins and ends with music. We have hits back to back, we are making sure that everyone is in love with her,” Ezegozie says, adding that because Ntale has been quiet while making music they are going to make sure her sound is out there.
The long-term deal includes the label putting focus on Ntale’s prominence in Uganda, thus, they will be involved in her local tour. Ntale notes that her deal with Universal is the best she could have imagined even when she doesn’t give much detail. The 30 year-old artiste says this is a partnership that will mainly develop and push the brand Irene Ntalé in the best way possible.
Where does this leave Sandra?
Well, she’s in their plans as well and she’s still her manager and will be handling anything related to her along with Universal. “One of the reasons we took up this deal is because I’m still managing Irene Ntale. This is more like a partnership deal. We agreed that if I get a good idea, they build on it,” adds Sandra.
What happens to her old music?
In 2017, Irene Ntale through a Facebook post announced her departure from Swangz Avenue, a record label she had been signed to for four years. She said they reached a mutual understanding for her to leave. Now that all those songs legally belong to Swangz, Eze points out that they all belong to the past.
“That old music stays with them. Our involvement is only with the music we are making from now going forward,” he says. And to emphasise his point, he notes that they have already done 28 songs.
Is Irene relocating?
Usually with such deals, artistes tend to relocate, for instance, since her concert at Serena Hotel last year, Ntale has spent most of her time in Nigeria though she is quick to say that she will be in Uganda.
Ntale says she’s grateful and excited to be a part of Universal because the deal is for the Ugandan industry as well. “If one of us is affiliated to a great power house like Universal then it opens doors for the rest of them.” The Ugandan power horse expects that they both create something great and magical and definitely one for the books.