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Interview

Mark Da Urban freestyled his way to the limelight

Mark Da Urban

Breakthrough: Everyone has a story but Mark Da Urban, real name Mark Olule’s story is an interesting one. From mining gold, to attempting to walk from Mubende to Kampala and then freestyling on almost 100 instrumentals, it is a story of hustle on another level as Isaac Ssejjombwe writes.

How did the name Mark Da Urban come about?

I grew up in the village, Nyenga -Buikwe North to be specific. Growing up, our father used to tell us that unless we studied up to university and learnt English, we wouldn’t reach Kampala. He said this to motivate us, so I decided to name myself an urban boy, thus Mark Da Urban.

Does that mean you completed school?

Yes, I completed school but not in the ‘normal’ way. When I completed S.4, I decided to branch off and join a vocational institute, where I studied electric engineering. I kept upgrading until I got my degree. Besides motivating us, my dad also kept encouraging us to get a hands-on job because even if it is out of Uganda, you can still get a job abroad.

With a qualification that could earn you a decent salary, why venture into music?

I come from a musical background and I knew what I wanted. I know music can take me places that perhaps engineering can never take me. Music can get me connections to practice what I graduated in. I finished my studies when I was still a young man. By 27 years, I had my degree, but no one would trust me with their projects at that age, so I kept working under people and many kept motivating me to do music because they knew what I was capable of.

You said you come from a musical background. Tell us about that?

My mother, Juliet Ereme, is a teacher and among the subjects she taught was Music, Dance and Drama and also a music judge at district level while my dad, David Oguti, has been in politics. He is the LC1 chairman of Nyenge, a pastor and played lead guitarist in the school band. My grandfather wrote hymns for churches. When my parents got saved, my mum was in the church choir doing praise and worship and they used to push us to sing as well in Sunday school.

Are you the only active artiste in the family?

I am the only one who is focused on music among my brothers. I am the second born.

How did your parents respond to you taking on music as a career?

They were disappointed but my passion and perseverance convinced them to accept my talent. My father sat me down one day and told me I was going to get wasted yet I was a bright boy. What he had learnt about the kind of music I was doing, is that I had to get dreadlocks, drink alcohol, puff drugs, mess around with girls, wear rugged outfits etc. With his reputation, position as a church leader, it would affect his legacy but despite being around people who use that stuff, I have never used any. It was until he saw my interview on TV that he came to terms with it. In fact when I went back home after sometime, I asked for his blessing, which he offered.

When did you start singing professionally?

My singing profession was a process. When the first lockdown was enforced, my wiring contract had expired, so I was okay with some little savings but then reality kicked in when the money got finished. All my efforts to get other contracts hit dead ends but a friend suggested that I go try out my luck in gold mining in Mubende and then do some shows as well because there was no lockdown.

I talked to my wife and off I went, but the situation got worse for me to the extent that I couldn’t even get what to eat. Some mines were closed and life was so expensive. A Shs500 water bottle was sold at Shs2,000. I barely knew anyone there but one day my longtime friend, Gashim, called me and said he had gotten me a studio offer. I told him I would travel to Kampala but I did not even have transport fare.

How was your family back in Kampala surviving?

When I had just gone, I used to get some money which I would send them. I used to freestyle in bars where I earned some Shs300,000 in a night and when the situation worsened, my wife took over and they survived.

What happened thereafter?

I parked my belongings from the lodge because I did not have any more money to pay and went and begged some friend to spend the night at his house. I woke up early in the morning, picked my items from the goldmines but as they were cleaning them, we found a gold item that measured two points, which is estimated at Shs30,000. Transport from where I was to Busega was Shs40,000. I spent another night with my friends, but had to feed, so I used Shs7,000 off that money and paid Shs5,000 to some lady I owed.

Out of pity, the guy who was accommodating me gave me Shs10,000 and told me to find means of returning to Kampala. I woke up at 5am and walked a distance equivalent to that from the Old Taxi Park to Bweyogerere and luckily enough, a colleague from the mines was riding a motorbike and he found me on the way. I gave him Shs5,000 and he took me to a stage where another boda boda took me to the main road. I had Shs15,000 which was the exact amount they charge to Kampala but I told the taxi driver that I had Shs8,000. He didn’t say a word and just drove off but after a few kilometres, he returned and told me not to tell anyone how much I was going to pay him.

How long did you stay in Mubende?

I was there for a year.

You still have not told us how you started doing music professionally.

After settling down on my return, Gashim picked me up and took me to Bigwave Records and I recorded my first song, which took everyone by surprise. I recorded seven more songs for free at that studio. I only contributed to the power bill. Towards the end of the second lockdown, Gashim connected me to a promoter who is well versed with most ghettos around town.

I was taken to Bwaise where I met a guy called Bosa Mustapha, alias Tough Mustapha. I freestyled for them on several instrumentals and they asked me to come back the next day and I found different instrumentals, including Hip Hop, dancehall, kadongokamu etc. I ‘killed’ them all and that is how my name started spreading in the ghettos and in the neighbourhood I live. They even said I was better than Mudra who also hailed from the same neighbourhood. From there, Mustapha took me to Kiseka market, where I learnt to be a mechanic. I got in contact with a presenter called Stickman Musudan from UBC.

He invited me to his show that aired late in the night but I didn’t move with anything. He was very disappointed and left me there seated from 8pm until 2am but the producer noticed that I was seated for a long time and asked how he could help me. I explained myself to him and then typed my song on his computer, and he played it three times. He was so impressed and asked Musudan to get me on set. I asked him to give me an instrumental.

The show which was supposed to end at 3am, ended at 4am and he asked me to do a short clip at my workplace. He didn’t play it on TV but uploaded it on his new YouTube channel and it went viral. Azawi shared the video and I did another one with Nutty Neithan. That is how my career started.

How many songs do you have so far?

My first song is titled Yes Game, which I did at Zion Studios, Easy Access and Wine For Me and another one we are about to release called Wuhu Wuhu, among others. The reason I can’t name all the songs is because we are reworking on them to be released some time.

Why dancehall yet you are versatile?

I chose dancehall because the genre is being misused. They pass out wrong information. The reason we sing is to become the voice of the voiceless and mend broken hearts. I used to look at my surroundings and know many others in the same situation. Someone will listen to my songs everywhere they are. Even if I do dancehall, there is a message in my songs.

How are you going to stay relevant in the industry?

I know where I came from so I know where I am heading. I am inspired by my surroundings and I am not doing music to enjoy music even though when I sing I enjoy what I am listening to. I sing to make a legacy. For example, Bobi Wine is what he is today because of the music he did. Even if I switch to other things, I want people to know that it was through dancehall music that I got there and the legacy stays on.

Are you doing this on your own?

I belong to the Tough Empire but it is not a management label, but rather, a foundation that deals in so much. It is a home of talents. It has boxers, carpenters, footballers, dancers, designers, choreographers, artists etc.

Which artistes inspired you growing up?

Before dancehall I was doing Hip Hop at school. I was listening to G-Unit, Eminem, Jay-Z etc but after getting in contact with some Kenyan friends who were listening to people such as Turbulence, Glen Washington, Richie Spice, I started appreciating the genre. I was hooked to every dancehall artiste such as Beenie Man, Vibes Kartel, among others. Even in the East African market I listened to a lot of East African Bashment Crew.

Why switch from Hip Hop to dancehall

I switched because of the community I was living in. It influenced my dancehall love. Out of 10 friends, one liked Hip Hop. I couldn’t please the one person but the majority.

What is your focus in music?

I want to do things that will leave a trail for others. I want to start employing people. I am not all about building a house, buying a car and stuff like that. If I do that, I would have disappointed people who have contributed to my career.

What are some of the challenges you are currently facing?

Big name, with nothing to show. For instance, people see you on TV and mock you when they see you on a boda. They have a lot of expectations. Your song will reach places while you are grassing.

To take you back, which schools did you attend?

I went to St Jude Riddle Junior School before joining Nyenga Girls’ School.

Did you just say Nyenga Girls?

Yes. When I had just joined primary, the government had taken over single sex schools and mixed them up. Nyenga Boys had girls and Nyenga Girls had boys. So I just joined Nyenga Girls because my mum was a teacher there and they were given privileges of two pupils to study for free.

I then went to Vision for Africa International School after getting a scholarship from my dad’s friend. Then went to Namungona Parents for Senior One and later joined Mukono High for Senior Two, where I got interested in music. I escaped to perform at a function and on returning, I was expelled. I sat home for a year until my mum started getting me past papers and a place to dig instead of being idle. I planted cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes and I made Shs700,000 after eight months, which I used to pay for my school fees at Allied Teachers School, Nyenga where fees for a term was Shs250,000. I paid for two terms and other requirements. My father got to know when the term had ended and I presented him my report. Mid S.4, I switched to vocational and upgraded until I got a degree at Do it Virtual university, an Australian University with affiliation in Uganda. I graduated with a second class upper degree in 2019.

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