Leading Ugandan hip-hop artists inspire youth at two-week workshop

Participants attending the annual two-week Hip-Hop Boot Camp in Uganda have been exposed to the realities of the music industry and beyond through a series of lectures.

Navio with participants at the boot camp. Photo courtesy of the Hip-hop boot camp
Navio with participants at the boot camp. Photo courtesy of the Hip-hop boot camp

Organised by Bayimba Foundation with support from the Royal Danish Embassy Kampala and the Danish Center for Culture and Development, the two-week workshop kicked off on 5 July and runs till Saturday 16 July at Fort Portal in Uganda.

The Hip-Hop Boot Camp is an intensive, multilingual,  two-week residential workshop aimed at conveying music industry skills to talented young artists from various regions of Uganda who have the potential to become successful in the music sector. This year the workshop has attracted the participation of 11 aspiring artists, three of them female, who are drawn from various towns in Uganda, including Jinja, Kampala, Masindi, Gulu, Arua and Fort Portal.

A variety of facilitators, including some of the biggest names in the local hip-hop scene, offer a programme covering diverse aspects of the music business. The series of talks was spearheaded by artists Navio, The Mith and Lady Slyke, as well as music promoter Shadrack Kuteesa, who revealed to the aspiring artists the hard truth about how the music industry works, beyond the 'bling' celebrity life, with a special focus on Uganda's hip-hop scene. For the participants it was an awakening to what lies ahead of them in their pursuit of a professional music career.

Kuteesa, one of the biggest managers and promoters in Ugandan hip-hop, kicked off the guest lectures with a special focus on artist management and the state of Uganda's music industry. Besides running a successful talent and events management company, Kuteesa initiated the Hip-hop Canvas project back in 2005 as a means for the youth to express themselves through music and to deflect the negative image that Ugandan society had towards hip-hop . The first Canvas, the success of which can be seen today in artists such as GNL Zamba, transcended cultural and language barriers. Drawing on his vast experience and using local examples, Kuteesa struck a special chord with participants during his vivid lecture, which was characterized by concetrated silence occasionally punctuated by short episodes of laughter.

“When you stand out, it's easier to break through,” the promoter explained. "The average Ugandan does not know much about punchlines. You need to understand the kind of market you are in. Make your lyrical content friendly so that people can know what you are rapping about. It’s not about you - customize for the consumer; don’t do music for your peers. Most importantly, it's music with great lyrical content that stands the test of time."

The participants were reminded that success requires hard work and humility. “Talent can get you to the top, but it's character that will keep you there,” continued Kuteesa. "Don’t lose yourself. Music is not a part-time job; it demands your full attention. You must have no excuse for failing to execute. When you set your bar high, you will yearn for another. Keep humble and professional. Invest in a lot of research to get to know the kind of people that will give you value."

Kuteesa further encouraged the aspiring artists to plan their careers, manage their time and understand important issues such as copyrights. He reminded them to pay attention to their image and stage presence, since Ugandan artists cannot rely on album sales to make a living.

Echoing Kuteesa’s thoughts on artist branding, rapper The Mith advised: "All of us in life are influenced by different things. Infuse the cultural elements with the influences in your life to come up with a unique product."

Award-winning hip-hop artist Navio offered hope to the young artists by sharing his own musical journey. “Stick to your guns,” he told them. "Keep developing yourself, even when no one is interested. Keep rallying your fans and like-minded people to get behind you. Don’t be afraid to do it on your own. Don’t underestimate your power to achieve your innermost desires."

Lady Slyke meanwhile spoke about women in Uganda’s hip-hop scene. Active on the local music scene as a rapper, performer and songwriter since the late 1990s, Lady Slyke is regarded as the first female rapper in the local language of Luganda.

At the end of the guest lectures and before a deserved lunch break, Navio, The Mith and Lady Slyke joined the participants and recorded a cypher.

Sylvester Kabombo, coordinator of the Hip-Hop Boot Camp, said the guest lectures are an important element for the career development of the participants. “This is something very special: a chance to share with artists who inspire you, the artists you see on stage and TV,” he explained.

This year's event is taking place between 5 and 16 July at Youth Encouragement Services (Y.E.S.) in Fort Portal. Unlike in previous years, this year the participants were asked to submit an online application that included two or three songs they have worked on.

At the end of the training, the participants will collaborate on a 10-track album dubbed Hip Hop Boot Camp Music Vol. 4, the follow-up to 2015's Hip Hop Boot Camp Music Vol.III.

For more information visit the Hip-Hop Boot Camp Facebook page.


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