FREEBOY: Mubarak Mandela, aka Freeboy, is one of the good things that happened to us in the lockdown. He gave us an earworm and eventually something to keep us busy on TikTok. Isaac Ssejjombwe caught up with the “Kwata Essimu” singer.
1.You have been doing music for some time. How can we categorise you?
I started singing in 2002 while still in school and now, of course, after getting a breakthrough song, I can no longer be categorised as an upcoming artiste. But either way, I do not believe in the word ‘upcoming’ because if you are already a musician in the industry, you cannot be coming up. However, most artistes use it to console themselves because their careers are just beginning.
2.18 years in the industry without a breakthrough song, what do you think was the problem?
A lot. I had to discover who I was, both as a person and as an artiste. I had to get a formula of the industry and the moving up and down from Kampala to Arua (where I come from) and back did not help much as well. I was doing this all alone but I have been stable for three years now since signing with Viva Entertainment.
I bring unique style of RnB. I sound friendly and I embraced my Ugandan touch, a style that everyone can relate with. I listened to Dan Mugula and Paul Kafeero among others, so I incorporated that old touch of kadongokamu to come up with something new. Also, I do not write songs, I freestyle in studio.
3.Going back to 2002. What are some of the projects you did?
I did “Sitabadirika” in Arua, a big song by then, and “Kwanini” with Mr Blu from Tanzania after his show in Arua. I then came to Kampala in 2011 and met GNL Zamba, who signed me to Baboon Forest Entertainment alongside Mun G and Big Trill. I was among the voices on his “Speaking Vernacular” album before he left. I was also part of his “Dreaming in Colours” album. I appreciate him for having mentored me and taught me things about the industry but Baboon Forest seemed to be mostly a Hip Hop label and I was doing RnB. I looked at it as leeway to work with no competition but I later realised it wasn’t my thing.
So I returned to Arua to find myself and get more love upcountry, which I achieved not just in Arua but the West Nile region and I have been among the top five artistes that side for five consecutive years. But I wanted more. I wanted my dream to spread across Uganda, so I made the decision to move to Kampala. I had to make my presence known, competing with bigwigs in the industry and I feel I am on that journey now.
4. “Kwata Essimu”, which we might say is your breakthrough song, has done quite well. How did you get to work with Winnie Nwagi?
I did the original last year and it picked up at the beginning of this year but my management told me the song deserved more. That it deserved a bigger picture and to get that broad picture, we needed a bigger brand, a lady on the track and Winnie Nwagi came into the picture.
5.Usually with such big hits, artistes fail to get other equally big or bigger songs. What strategy do you have to stay relevant?
Most of the artistes in that situation did not or do not have a fallback plan. A hit comes as a surprise to them when they are not ready. Me I already have a blueprint for it and I know where it will end. I have more than 10 songs in that line waiting to be released. We need to give the industry what it really needs. After “Kwata Essimu” we wanted something with a low tempo and that is why we released “Touch Me Slow”, which is a continuation of “Kwata Essimu”. So, we got this.
When I went to Arua the first time, I was challenged to interact with people who thought I was proud. I told my mum my dream of joining the music industry and she advised me to be a free boy and I took that as a blessing and coincidentally, it rhymed with my personality.
Since I was an independent artiste back then, things were difficult financially. I wasn’t settled but I’m so grateful that my management believes in me.