If you do not know Joshua Baraka by now, it is probably because you have not listened to radio for a very long time.
Well, a smooth vocalist is the new heartthrob in town, one you might ignore but get reminded by your girlfriend that he is a cool lad. Girls love Baraka so much that it is hard finding a social media tweet about him that has not been authored by a girl.
“I cannot accept these things Joshua Baraka says that we keep it on the downlow, nedda, I won’t,” tweeted one, referring to the lyrics of his latest chart-topping song, Nana.
Nana is that song by the singer that took Kampala by storm, first Ugandan song to top Apple Music’s Top 100 since 2023 started and while at it, the song has accumulated more than 146,000 views on YouTube in less than 15 days.
At the just-concluded Roast and Rhyme, the crowd went wild when the DJ sampled the song, they sang literally each and every lyric Baraka put on the beat. It was one of those songs all DJs at the venue played and yet the enthusiasm was always the same.
But Baraka’s story is older than this song. In fact, his dive into the industry started at the most unfortunate time of the industry – in 2021, during the two-year lockdown.
Then, he had been doing music at church, like many singers. However, he confesses that he was not a singer at church, “in fact, most of those people in church were surprised I could actually sing.”
At church, he played the keyboard most of the time. He says his knowledge of the keyboard, acoustic and electronic guitar, among other instruments, makes production easier for him.
“I can easily grab a guitar when I am trying to write a song,” he says.
It is in 2021 that he was still learning and honing his skill as a singer, songwriter and a producer. That is the time he made Baby Steps, his debut EP.
“At that time I just wanted to get my music out, to get it heard,” he says, adding that after his debut back in 2023, he has not been a regular at the church he honed his skill at.
As you could imagine, for an artiste who started out in church, there are always many questions about them ditching the pew for mainstream stages and he always says there is so much to life that he can talk about, things that people go through, but not necessarily through gospel music.
The vocalist believes his current kind of music gives him freedom to sing and tackle a number of topics.
Baby Steps, as the name suggests, was Baraka introducing himself. He was a serious artiste yet accepted the fact that he was stepping into the unknown, thus allowing himself to make mistakes with the music, production and mixing.
“When you listen to Baby Steps, you will notice that the mixing is whack, I was learning about many things at the time. I knew there would be a time to grow,” he says.
Baby Steps is a crossroads of soul and Afro Rhythm and Blues, whose main focus is in celebrating the message the artiste wanted to put across.
The EP was also personal in many ways, with songs such as Be Me, a song he wrote for his father. At that time, the song was trying to communicate to the father that it is music that he wanted.
“I tried doing a number of things and many did not really work out and others were disapproved of. Be Me was me telling him to let me do what I wanted to spread his wings,” he says.
For Baraka, music is everything. In previous interviews, he has noted that if he was not an artiste, he would be nothing.
“I haven’t found that extra thing I can do. Every other thing I have tried has failed. I tried being a doctor, an accountant, an engineer, software developer but none was coming through. If I was not doing music, I would probably just be hustling because by the time I did music, I was sure that it was the only thing I could do.”
Today, he says his father is one of his biggest supporters.
“Of course in the past, it is not like he was not supportive, but you know he was afraid if music could really work out,” he says.
Having started out in church, Baraka says he got a lot of support from his mother, a worship leader who taught him how to sing when he was growing up. And of course, he appreciates all the love with a song, Mama I Made It off his second EP, WaterShed.
Here he comes
Since he released Watershed, Baraka has been the talk of town, from one stage to another and he has been winning audiences with each show.
He describes the five-song project as a soulful body that is also his most honest one. With each song, such as Next To You and You, the singer caters for a soul audience that has been underserved. He seems to write his name close to those existing in this forte such as Kenneth Mugabi, Maurice Kirya and Kohen Joycee. What differentiates him, however, is the little reliance on the guitar. He instead exploits the piano for the big part of Watershed, which is an interesting take on this particular music.
However, even when he confesses that he has covered Naava Grey and Maurice Kirya’s music before, he notes that his music is not any specific genre, it is neither soul nor Rn’B.
“It is just Joshua Baraka, it depends on the song, I do not feel like I have any specific genre. I do not think I have to be anything,” he says.
The Watershed album was also deliberate with cameos of Lagum the Rapper and Izabel, two artistes that brought both poetry and soul to the EP.
Over the past two years, with two EPs to his name, Baraka has not stopped working and pushing the envelope. He has released a number of singles such as Belinda, Omu alongside A-Pass, Bend It alongside Maya Amolo and Sana, alongside Merry Lynn. However, he also has his sights on collaborating with Azawi and Sheebah Karungi, whom he refers to as Uganda’s Beyonce.
At the beginning of the year, Baraka released his latest single, Nana.
Produced by his friend and collaborator Axon, he says the song is a result of his other inspiration, reggae, specifically Bob Marley and Chronixx.
“With Nana, I was trying to show a different side of me,” he says.
With the song catching steam, he says he is humbled by the support he has received both from the media and friends.
“I think the reason Nana is becoming popular is because I have finally released a song that can be played in a bar. Previously, people always said they loved my music but could not play it in a bar,” he says.
The concept of Nana’s video was by Prnz, another friend of his. He says they did not have a budget for the shoot, thus did all the scenes in the same house and many of the people they worked with were close friends.
His love interest in the video is also a friend, Rianne Bateeza, a dancer who is currently in the contest for the Miss Uganda crown.
Much as Nana is raising the singer’s status, he says he is still pushing himself to give people the best.