How Pearl Rhythm is redefining the Ugandan sound

Pearl Rhythm is a Ugandan grassroots music and creative community that aims to strengthen the independent music scene in Uganda. One of its main goals is to contribute to the formation of an identity for Ugandan art and a clean and professional sound for the local music industry. Suzan Kerunen, Pearl Rhythm's founder as well as partnership and sponsorship director, spoke to Music In Africa about the activities of the budding community and the challenges they face.

Ugandan artist Haka Mukiga. Photo: www.artmatters.info
Ugandan artist Haka Mukiga. Photo: www.artmatters.info

Every year, Pearl Rhythm embarks on an ambitious plan to contribute to the creation of a larger pool of authentic, creative and original artists showcasing the indigenous cultures of Uganda. Through its mentorship programme, known as The Stage Coach, four new talents are identified and mentored in various areas of the music business.

“The academy looks for young and fresh artists to join the team of talented and skilled artists to grace the annual Pearl Rhythm Festival," explains Suzan. "Selected talents go through a two-month mentorship, including studio production and rehearsals to prepare them for their first Pearl Rhythm Festival performance, which for some is usually their first in the area of live performance.”

To date, the Pearl Rhythm Festival has mentored numerous up-and-coming musicians, including Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi, Undercover Brothers, Charles Obina, Raymond Parwot, The Arppegio Band, Afrie, Haka Mukiga, Lynn Aineomugisha, J.Wonder and Kenneth Mugabi. After qualifying at the audition stage, the selected acts (usually four per year) enter the academy between February and April. After the academy the acts are presented on small 'activation stages' ahead of the main festival in October.

Founded in 2012, Pearl Rhythm has since 2014 presented exciting new acts to Ugandan music fans. More importantly, the festival itself has also become a platform for other authentic artists to perform on a professional stage, with the festival assisting artists in various aspects of live performances such as sound, stage, make-up and costumes. Additionally, the festival assists artists in branding themselves and dealing with the media.

Just like any other budding organization, Pearl Rhythm is faced with numerous challenges. A key challenge for the foundation is heavy taxation by the Ugandan government, which stifles the development artistic expression. Inadequate staff to properly run the foundation's activities as well as a lack of adequate funding are other challenges the foundation faces. To counter this, Pearl Rhythm has collaborated with like-minded institutions to bring to the world an authentic Ugandan sound. Over the years, the foundation has partnered with Alliance Francaise, Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, the Uganda National Cultural Centre and the Kampala Capital City Authority. To continue giving audiences unique sounds from Uganda’s emerging new artists, the foundation is looking at collaborating with more like-minded organizations and individuals. 

How to apply

As it looks forward to hosting the third group of artists in 2016, Pearl Rhythm hopes to provide the artists in residency an extended period of time at the academy. The organizers also hope that they can break ground into newer territories (both locally and internationally) to promote authentic Ugandan sounds.

Any musically talented person qualifies to apply and be selected through a jury audition in a one-day live presentation. This year, those hoping to join the music industry in Uganda can look out for the call to auditions, which Suzan says will commence sometime in mid-February. Artists who would like to be part of the 2016 artists in residency are encouraged to keep an eye out for the call for registrations on the Pearl Rhythm website and other social media platforms.

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