Jazz music on the rise in Uganda

In the past when people talked about Jazz music in Uganda, the first name that came to mind was not that of a Ugandan artist.  Kenny G, an American saxophonist was more likely the name you would hear. This is changing though.  A sizeable number of Ugandan artists are venturing into Jazz music and Kampala’s nightlife is now painted with theme nights at various clubs and hotels with Jazz music themed nights being a majority of the popular nights at these establishments. 

Ugandan artist Brian Mugenyi. Photo: www.chano8.com
Ugandan artist Brian Mugenyi. Photo: www.chano8.com

Isaiah Katumwa, Pragmo from the Black Roots Unlimited outfit, Michael Ouma, Jude Kiracho, Fred Walusimbi, Michael Kitanda and Brian Mugenyi are among the artists keeping Jazz music alive in Uganda. While speaking to Chano8 Magazine, Elijah Kitaka the co-founder of the Jazz Safari says, popularizing Jazz in Uganda hasn’t been an easy journey. ‘It has taken more than 12 years to grow the jazz community and change people’s perception about the genre,’ Elijah says of the genre.

In the past people viewed Jazz music as for the expatriates or the super-rich or for the show-offs. But this perception is slowly fading and more people are seen to embrace the genre. Artists who have kept at pushing the genre to new limits are reaping the benefits. Isaiah Katumwa one of Uganda’s leading Jazz artists has been performing Jazz music for the last 20 years. Katumwa now commands great audiences at his concerts. In early 2015, Katumwa hosted a concert whose entry fee was UGX 100,000 ($27) and surprisingly had a full house at the Kampala Serena Hotel where the concert was held.

But there are dissenting voices as to whether the growth of Jazz music can be attributed to the growing attendances at events. ‘The growth of Jazz can’t be seen from the number of increased concert goers, Rwamiti,  an NTV show host says in the September issue of Chano8 magazine. He sees this trend as many people trying to fit in but they have no understanding of Jazz music properly or even truly love the music.

Nevertheless, an increased number of events that seek to unify the work of Jazz music artists are being witnessed. Jazz Safari started in 2008 by Tshaka Mayanja and Elijah Kitaka will mark its eighth edition on 2 October in Kampala.Qwela Junction is yet another event that seeks to bring together Jazz artists. Elijah Kitaka who is also the brains behind this bi-monthly affair says that since Jazz music isn’t main stream it is difficult for audiences to know the various artists. The event that was held on 30 August 2015 therefore is an effort to provide audiences a chance to understand bands that dabble in Jazz music. Through Qwela Junction events artists try to connect with their fans.

Maureen Rutabingwa popularly known as Mo Roots says people’s minds have been opened to Jazz music because the new crop of artists is doing things differently. ‘We are doing different types of music that are fused with jazz and people are starting to appreciate this new sound’ she says in the September issue of Chano8 magazine. Besides events,  there are radio stations such as Radio one and Sanyu FM that have specific shows dedicated to the genre of Jazz music in Uganda. 

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