THREE DECADES: Tshaka Mayanja has been in the music industries for 30 years now and he will be celebrating his 30th anniversary tomorrow at the All Music Safari at Lugogo Cricket Oval alongside seven live bands. EDGAR R. BATTE caught up with him.
From your recollection, what was your first musical act?
The time I joined the school choir in Buddo Junior School ‘Kabinja’, in 1982. I was chosen by Mr Barnabas Katumba. I am not sure why he chose me or what he noticed in me at the age of 10.
How did you utilise the opportunity?
I learnt harmonies and music structure, which have helped me with mastered rhythm by learning how to play traditional drums.
Would you say music is a hobby?
Music was a hobby, now it is life. For me it is more than a passion, it is a vocation, a calling.?It is a natural progression. Once you understand your calling, you gravitate towards it.
How did you overcome family views to hold onto the dream?
By sticking with my calling and doing everything humanly possible to excel and not embarrass my family. By the grace of Tonda, the most high, and my ancestors through whom I am spiritually guided, I managed to stick with my trod.
I was obedient, and once I made up my mind to do something, I did it. If it’s the right thing, the cosmic system (obwengula) sees me through.
And how do your ancestors guide you?
I once received a message; “eby’omwooyo gwo tebigabanwa na muntu yenna, ebbanga lyonna”. In other words, that’s between me and them.
Who have been your biggest music mentors and why?
Timothy Kabali-Kagwa gave me my first chance on stage in 1989, performing my own compositions at Calendar Rest House. Also my uncle Steven Nsubuga from Mixed Talents, Hope Mukasa, Moses Matovu, Dede Majoro, Simon Umar Bbosa, Richard Mudhungu, Tonny Ssengo, Giles Warugaba and many others.
Newspaper lifestyle archives have you rubbing shoulders with big names as a music promoter, where did it all start?
It all started in 1995 when the late Dr Tadjhudin of the Pan-African Movement requested Andrew Rugasira that I host Lucky Dube since I was a Rastafari and reggae artiste.
What did it mean to contact big international names for shows, at the time?
A lot of hard work trying to build trust with musicians. Being trustworthy is not taught. You either are, or you are not. Hard work and talent aren’t enough. You need a lot of support from the highest, high eye and the guardians we were all given. So, guided by the system and by being as honest as possible, trust was built.
I cannot look past the grace of tonda, the most high.
Of the many artistes you have brought into Kampala, with whom have you sustained a relationship beyond stage?
Most of them, actually. I try to keep in touch with Gerald Albright, Maxi Priest, Chaka Demus, Spanner Banner and several others.
You took risks at a young age, some of which saw you behind police cells. Did it take a toll on you?
Not only cells, but civil prison too. All these are part of the furnace I have gone through to get here, as guided by the cosmic system (obwengula). Even in prison, I taught cell mates Rastafarianism, African history, traditional music etc. My only concern was shaming my parents. My father kept visiting me and saying he was proud of me. My mother couldn’t bear seeing me in prison. She never visited.
What kind of conversations did you have with your father?
My father went through a lot more to serve his calling. I am the only child who got both his names, Mayanja-Nkangi and he never stopped reminding me of that. The more I continue on my spiritual trod, the more we both realised how alike we were, even in tribulations. One thing for sure, we both came out of them, bore the bruises and scars, and still didn’t stop doing our respective calling.
What kind of relationship did you have with your father?
Way beyond biological, to the extent that we still have one to this day even when he is no longer here in flesh.
What memories do you have of him?
Him calling me “taata” (father) and the little notes and letters he used to write to me. I kept them all. His never ending thirst for knowledge; the man read daily, to his last days. Then his unwavering dedication to the Kabaka and to Uganda.
What are your observations on music promotions over the years?
I am extremely glad to see the growth of events companies. From having to import almost everything, we are now self-sufficient. We have Silk Events, Fenon Events, Events Warehouse, H Sounds, Sauti Warehouse, Gemi live, Balaam etc, all these have invested heavily. Then Swangz Avenue and Buzz Events which I have watched grow from nothing to where they are now. All these strides make the pain and strife I went through, bearable. It wasn’t in vain.
It is 30 years of promoting music for you, what have been your five big moments?
My first time on stage in 1989, my very first concert as Shaka Raama in 1991, my first album Boodshed in Africa in 1993, the Chaka Demus & Pliers, Spanner Banner shows in 1996 which set the ball rolling and managing the UB40 concert. I cannot leave out starting the Jazz Safari Festivals with Elijah Kitaka in 2008. I think there are many more important moments. Hard to grade them.
And the worst moments/regrets?
I do not have many regrets. It is all part of the trod in life. The worst moments are when people fail to put any value to the work we do, even being trivial about it. Nothing is sacred anymore but I overcome that by knowing that my guardians above and over yonder, see some value in me, otherwise I would have given up long ago.
What lessons have you learnt in those three decades?
Be obedient to the calling, and be patient. Stick with your calling.
What does TShaka’s future look like?
That’s between I and the most high and my ancestors through whom I am spiritually guided. I go where they want.
Who are these ancestors? When and how do you connect with them?
I connect with and they connect with me at all times. We all have ancestors; in case you didn’t know. Unless you think you came out of nowhere!
What are your thoughts on Uganda’s music industry in the last 20-30 years?
Music videos have improved. Music creativity in the mainstream is still growing. It is not there yet. It is great to see so many instrumentalists now, that’s very cool.
The biggest setback has been the infiltration of the music industry by self-seekers who only use music for fame and to buy trinkets. Once music isn’t “lucrative” anymore, you will see them moving on to other more lucrative opportunities. Music is not just an opportunity, it is art.
Which local musicians or artistes do you listen to and why?
Currently, Kaz Kasozi, Kenneth Mugabi and Naava Grey. These are proper songwriters. Afrigo Band’s new album is very good. Laura Atyang, Sandra Nankoma and some others who aren’t what you call ‘mainstream’, have good music. In the mainstream currently, Winnie Nwagi and Rema sing very well. I also like Fefe Bussi’s wit and wordplay, Vinka has surprised me very much. She has got good songwriters and is very adaptable. Brian Lubega is an amazing songwriter – he is top notch!
In your view, what things does an artiste need to know for a meaningful career?
Obedience, commitment, patience, humility and honesty. It is easy for one to choose music, but has music chosen you?
What is the best advice you have received?
The advice was from my father and elder brother Charles Lubega. Their impact on me is beyond measure. I revere them, so I keep to myself what they taught me.
What advice was it?
Study the lives of the two people I revere and tell me what you find.
How did you get TShaka for a stage name?
Studying African history in 1990/1, I admired TShaka Zulu’s commitment to creating the Zulu empire.
Who is Tshaka without music?
A roots warrior of, and from Nnalubaale. A mystic man from the past, living in the present, walking to the future.
What kind of philosophy is this?
It is not a philosophy. It is a livity; a way of life. Seek it and you will find it.
Are you married?
I am not.
Do you have children?
Yes, multitudes of them. None are biological, though.
Meal you can’t do without…
Ebiryo (pumpkin seeds) with unsalted, unroasted almonds.
Can you cook?
I can fry an egg or use a rice cooker if I had to.
Your definition of friendship…
Not sure I have one actually. I just know who my friends are.
Who is your best friend?
I have several. Jjaja Kalandalugo with whom we do spiritual trods, John Michael Kalule, Samuel Mugoya, my elder Charles Lubega, Gonza Kagwa, Fred Masadde-Kabuye, tim Kabali-Kagwa and my old school mates. I have known these the longest but I have many friends.