Prior to last night’s concert, I knew precious little of Edith We Utonga or her music. I knew that she and her band are from Zimbabwe and that she’s the band’s lead vocalist, bassist, producer and songwriter.
I walked into the Sheraton Kampala Lion Sports Bar at 8pm and was reminded that being a stickler for keeping time rarely pays off in Uganda. I was grateful for the company of my date because we spent the next hour and a half watching the stage being set up which prompted the said date to ask, “What were they doing all day? Did they just find out they have a concert tonight?” The delay may have been deliberate because the small audience multiplied in that time.
The stage was finally ready at 9.30pm and the MC came on to introduce the opening artist, but then Myko Ouma walked onto the stage and the audience’s cheering was proof that an introduction was unnecessary. They could not have picked a better artist to kick off the show. It doesn’t matter how many times you have seen him perform, with Myko, every time is different and special. He made me forget that I’d waited in the cold for over an hour (and I can assure you, not many guitarists can make me toss a grudge out that fast). I was so caught up in his music that when he finished playing 30 minutes later, I was shocked to hear my own voice among those that yelled, “Encore”! He humored us and played his song ‘Smile’ once more before he left.
Edith did not waste time coming on after Myko. As soon as the MC introduced them, the band took their places on the stage and Edith walked in from the opposite direction. She had on a black African print cat suit, a scarf tied around her hips sarong-style, subtle make-up and a giant afro held back with a ribbon. She said a hearty hello to an excited audience and apologized for the delay which she said was caused by traffic in which she was stuck for over an hour. She introduced her band members who were as full of energy as she was. This was Edith’s second visit to Uganda and she said she was glad the weather was warm here compared to Harare and Johannesburg where she was recently. (And there I was thinking it was chilly).
She made sure to explain the meaning of every song she sang. The first one was an upbeat number which got people so excited, many got up to dance. The message of the song was that envy is a waste of one’s time and only serves to hurt the envious. There’s something about music in a language you don’t understand that makes you pay more attention than you normally would, and I quickly learned to detect the theme of the song from her body language and facial expressions. (It also helped that some words like ‘Mama’, ‘Mwana’ and ‘Abantu’ have a universal meaning in all Bantu tribes). The songs I liked best were the aforementioned one, one titled, ‘Strong Child’, and a funky one on how class cannot be bought.
Edith’s slightly husky and powerful voice and her bass guitar skills are a winning combination. She sings with feeling and passion and managed to move me especially with the song Strong Child. I had read that she is a bassist but had not really expected her to play as exceptionally as she did. The music ranged from traditional beats merged with some contemporary sounds and if you weren’t on your feet dancing, you were tapping your foot in time with the music, nodding to the beat, or clapping.
The band took little breaks which We Utonga (real name Edith Katiji) used to explain the meaning of her songs, or ask us if we were having a good time, or if we could ululate as loudly as Zimbabweans do, (A lady in the audience proved that we can!). She is an engaging performer who involves and entertains her audience with ease. She also proved that she has a sense of humour to boot when she told us how Zimbabweans choose dramatic names for their children; for instance she called the baby she had last year, “Blessings Be Happy”!
A couple of her albums ‘Utonga’ and ‘Wahcha’ were on sale for UGX 20,000/= and as people made their way out after the concert, some stopped to buy a copy to take home. After a week of tremors and earthquake scares, Edith We Utonga is exactly what I needed to unwind.