Fans of Afro-soul got a taste of Ugandan music as the up-and-coming Kenneth Mugabi put on shows at Choices Pub on 29 September and 1 October at the GoDown Gig in Kenya’s capital.
His rich voice, stage presence and signature endigidi (Ugandan tube fiddle) left a lasting impression on the audience. Mugabi believes that with each performance he shares more than music. He has been on the music scene for the last three years and his wholehearted performances have helped him win over fans wherever he performs. Besides the endigidi, Mugabi also plays the guitar. The two concerts were his first in Kenya and the artist had nothing but praise for the country.
“Nairobi! Thank-you for letting me tell my Ugandan stories! Nga! It’s been fun,” the artist wrote on his Facebook page immediately after his first performance at Choices.
Mugabi is currently promoting his debut album Kibunomu. He spoke to Music In Africa about his musical journey.
“Getting into music was ironic. In 1999, while attending Sunday school, I was forced to perform a song in front of an audience. This totally put me off the music stage and I never thought I would ever be on stage to perform music,” Mugabi explains.
Growing up, he says he was a funny character and most of his friends thought that he would pursue a career in comedy. This was not to be. After completing his A-levels he joined Makerere University to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree, with a focus on music.
“I thought I could finally get to learn more about music. My mother had been a singer with the church choir,” he offers. And for him understanding music was all he intended, with the hope that he would do other music-related work. Later, during his internship with Afrofusion band Qwela, his desire to get on-stage and share his stories grew stronger.
He took part in various competitions, with the aim of developing his musical performances. Among the contests was Tusker Project Fame and Coca Cola Rated Next. He was one of the top ten finalists at the debut Coca Cola Rated Next competition in 2013.
“The competition required that one had to compose their own songs. I believe this was a great platform and the judges saw the desire in me to succeed in the music world. That’s why I got that far,” Mugabi says of the competition.
Even though he did not win the ultimate prize, he learnt a lot that helped him launch his music career after the competition.
“When you do not win at a competition, you strive to work harder. Unlike winners, who are assured of further career development assistance...you have to go back to the drawing board and evaluate why it did not work out for you. The desire to succeed is always greater,” Mugabi notes.
Professionally, things have started looking up for the Afro-soul artist. In early 2016 he released his 11-track album. He wrote all the songs on the album Kibunomu (“shooting star”) as well as did all the background vocals. On some songs, like ‘Naki’, he played the acoustic guitar as well as the tube fiddle. The album has been well received. Ugandan critics have noted that the album is a refreshing addition to the local music scene. The album is also said to define the artist’s music while making him stand out.
Speaking further about the album, Mugabi says he is on a quest to create content that resonates with middle-aged and older music fans. He says he is keen on promoting the album beyond Uganda and is grateful that Kenya was the first destination where he brought his brand of music. He hopes to stage performances across East Africa.
He says he loves the endigidi as it provides authentic sounds. “Everyone is embracing technology and what it can do for the music industry. While this is great, this does not mean that we completely ignore traditional instruments such as the endigidi.”
Besides promoting the album in other East African nations, Mugabi has his eyes set on performing at major regional festivals like Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar.