Underrated: At some live music events, you will likely chance on a new talent. It is usually a good voice that pierces through the silence of a wondering audience. That is how artistes such as Kenneth Mugabi popped onto the music scene. There are many such underrated artistes whose music is not conventionally appreciated but are gifted voices. Nsubuga Galiwango profiles some of these stars.
Wake The Poet
Wake is a rapper. No, that is not a description he fancies. He prefers to be defined as a spoken word artiste or poet “who is very passionate about African heritage”. Whereas a typical rapper’s lyrics are barely audible, Wake makes every word in his songs clear. Above all, he loves to say, “I am a Mugwere, born in Pallisa,” a line he mentions whenever he gets an opportunity. Wake’s back-up sound is filled with local traditional instruments and his message is usually inspiring the youth to believe in and work for their home. That is the story behind his first EP, Mwana Weika and in his songs he features singers who provide the choruses as he delivers punchlines. This is how Wake, real name Gordons Mugoda, has tapped into the audience of singing artistes as he builds a following. With a discography of 25 tracks, Wake has performed at various shows, including Fete de la Musique, Pearl Rhythm Festival and the defunct La Ba! Festival. He is inspired by various artistes, but he never limits himself, “lest I lose the richness I have.”
“I drive towards people being proud of where they come from.”
He comes off as a neat cool kid when you watch him perform at those upscale events. My first encounter of Muyonjo was at Maurice Kirya’s Kirya Live 2018 at Kampala Serena Hotel. You could have mistaken him for John Legend behind that keyboard. And boy did the girls in the house scream at the climax of his performance! “I don’t go with the trend because that does not reflect my identity properly,” Muyonjo says. Although love is the main topic in his music, the song that got him attention was If We Try, an inspiration from the infamous Arab Spring. “I believe in justice, so I try as much as I can to infuse those beliefs in my music,” says the socially conscious singer-songwriter, music producer and visual artist. Muyonjo says he got inspiration from hip hop artistes such as 2Pac and Nas, but as he grew up, Kirya, Blacksmith, Sauti Sol and Fella Kuti influenced his music. On not bending to the rules of mainstream, Muyonjo says music is bigger than a hit song, and there are many avenues to sell music.
Did you know that music instruments can speak any language? Yes, if you thought a guitar is about just plucking, Aloysius Migadde has made a name among live music lovers for making his guitar speak whatever sound you can think of. But the marvel in his performances is the way he brings out traditional sounds from across Uganda. One would refer to him as a guitarist, but Migadde sings and plays a variety of traditional music instruments, including Endigidi, Omukuri, Adungu, Amadindi, and Akogo and he plays sounds of traditional instruments on his guitar. He has collaborated with folksinger Suzan Kerunen and EDM DJ Faizal Mostrixx on a musical project called Ebikokyo, produced in a futuristic style. They believe the predominantly electronic production is the music of the future, and it has got them tours to Sudan, Ethopia, Burundi and Kenya. He also plays in different bands and has exported his art by performing at festivals in Taiwan and Philippines. Migadde believes it is easy to sell culture through sound.
Shifah Musisi is a princess. A music princess. This girl oozes royalty in both music and demeanor. The composure in her voice, sound and song progression will effortlessly command a listener’s attention. Clearly, she produces music for the soul, perhaps it is the reason she defines herself as an Afro-soul artiste. She fuses soul with other contemporary genres on a bed of Afro music rhythms. Her songs are purely Ugandan life stories. With two albums; Olugendo and Dark and Happy Times, Musisi takes the listener through a cozy, emotional journey of stories of a Ugandan girl in a village setting. At events, she will turn up on stage with a guitar, clad in a bloomy elegant dress. Her crowd-favourite is the groovy Ow’oluganda, which cherishes family and kinship. Musisi was the only Ugandan artiste chosen to perform on a collaboration with other African stars on a song titled I am African that was released worldwide. Six years on the music scene, she has performed at various local festivals, Ongola Music Festival in Tanzania, and Adancas Festival in Portugal.
This is a son of a President. Yes, you read it right. If he says so, who are we to argue? Yes, literally he might not be so, but figuratively, his song Son of a President is as true as they come. Baguma is a special breed. Although he still stays in a local residence, as his lyrics say, he is a total contrast of what you might perceive of him. Young and slender, Baguma radiates an infectious temperament while performing, that it is hard not to love his music. With his blue guitar, he shot to the live music scene last year. He announced his presence with a self-titled album, Andereya. On the title track, Andereya, he lyricizes in Luganda to introduce himself and whenever he performs it, his audience sounds like a choir. The singer fuses different sounds as he crafts messages that are evidently least expected of a 24-year-old. Lyrically, Baguma says he was inspired by Mowzey Radio, and musically, Maurice Kirya and others across the African continent.
Remember NewzBeat on NTV? MC Yallah was one of the girls rapping the news. That came when she had spent time in the Lugaflow industry as a pioneering female MC in Uganda. Yallah’s music is a fusion of hip hop and Electronic Dance Music and it is taking her places. Her unique flow in mainly Luganda, Kiswahili, Luo, and English, has won her fans in Europe. Today, she is learning and throwing in a few lines in Italian, because she has and is growing a big fanbase in Italy. Initially influenced by old skool hip hop, Yallah says she is driven by the “love for the game”. Her latest EP, Kubali, featuring DJ Demaster, was released in Europe. It hit music charts in Europe, and also got her booked around the continent. From January to December 2020, the rapper, real name Yallah Gaudencia Mbidde, was set for more than 30 shows then Covid-19 happened, but she is all positive as she has performed at some paid online shows. At the Le Guess Who? Festival in Netherlands last year, legendary singer-songwriter and DJ Bjork performed Yallah’s song Dunia. “It was quite an honour!” she says.
For enthusiasts of live music around Kampala, she is known for three songs; Mulala, Let Her Know and Yodi Yodi. Usually performing with her piano, Afrie’s voice and lyrics carry the audience to ecstasy. She carries her joviality on stage, often engaging the audience in stories about her songs. For three years, Afrie, real name Ann Nassanga, has built a following and it keeps growing online, following her online shows dubbed Afriebytes.
“Everything I do, I do to make life better for the African girl,” Afrie, who describes her music as Afrocentric, says. Last year, she launched her first EP, Afriedom, a six-track collection of different African sounds. “I did it intentionally to make every song different. Being my first EP, I was trying to find what sounds work.” Last year, her song, Let Her Know, scooped her two nominations in the prestigious Africa Music Awards for Song Writer of the Year and Most Inspirational Song of the Year.
Lugaflow has created some of the most talented lyricists and poets and among those is the down-to-earth Spyda MC, who among the hip hop community, gives goose bumps whenever he opens his mouth. Lately, he has got some attention from local audiences, especially online for two viral videos where he raps with LugaFlow veteran, Babaluku, and another where he drums as a young female rapper drops lines. But to the hip hop community, Spyda never runs out of artistic surprises. Yet he remains grounded. “Art is an independent element,” he says. “People are just mere vessels that convey the art.”
He has traversed the art ecosystem, forming his artistic forte. He started out as a drama actor and in his journey, he has lifted many young artistes. He started Born Fire nights at National Theatre, which brought up many artistes from the slums. Spyda, real name… joined Nilotica Cultural Ensemble eight years ago, introducing rap on the drums. Consequently, he joined a Nihiloxica, a dance/electronic music group. He believes underground musicians will define the sound that identifies Uganda on the global music scene.
He is the definition of creative versatility. Today, you see his name on a line-up of a dance show, tomorrow on a music show, and the other day on a fashion show. Faizal Mostrixx is a versatile experimental artist. One thing, however, doesn’t change as he exhibits in the different dimensions of his artistic realms: Afro-futurism creativity. He started out in dance, composing music, then sampling/remixing different African vocals. During the DJ set, he is covered under a head veneer. Faizal is driven by diversity and beauty. “Understanding the instruments and the stories and the practices that have been demonised in different ways, yet these are the foundation of who we are.” The diversity in our cultures around here keeps me thinking, to experiment with different elements, experiences and ways. Faizal has travelled, taught and performed around the world.
There is singing and producing music in your mother tongue, and then there is making people love or envy your language. That is Sandra Kay. She takes pride in her heritage so much so that the fans couldn’t resist the urge of christening her “the Busoga Princess”. The singer-songwriter and dancer now goes by the stage name Sandra Kay Busoga Princess. But before you even recognise her passion for her roots, her vigour on stage will strike you. “I realised my language is very rich and people needed to hear it in form of music, so I started believing it was me to do it,” Sandra Kay says. Her music journey dates back to Milege Acoustic Nights at Makerere University. Her crowd-favourite song is Tomaite, still the only recorded tune off her 12-track repertoire. She has performed all the other 11 songs without recorded versions.
Sandra Kay believes Covid-19 has given non-mainstream artistes a chance to be heard. She did an online show that garnered her new fans and is working on a studio album.
If the contemporary Afro-folk fusion music was a brigade, Suzan Kerunen would be the Iron lady. For years, Kerunen has been at the forefront of celebrating African heritage through her own art and mentoring others. Her music, which is mainly in Alur, has its strength in the truths it propagates about culture. Her Primar Crossing Cultures Concert celebrating 10 years of music in 2017, was a celebration of cultures from Uganda. Primar, her fourth album, features a fusion of cultures and styles, with traditional sounds. Kerunen began a campaign to preserve cultural totems, proverbs, riddles and music. Part of the result was Ebikokyo, a project with Deejay Faizal Mostrixx and Aloysius Migadde. It has seen the trio travel to different African countries. Previously, Kerunen won the Best Folk Pop Artiste at the defunct Pearl of Africa Music Awards, and was nominated in the Best East African and African categories in the 2008 and 2009 Kora All Africa Music Awards. She has shared a stage with music greats like Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba, and Oliver Mtukudzi.