Kampala has plenty of singers and with the live band craze; you’d be hard pressed to find a classy venue that didn’t host one at least once a week. So, even though I knew the wealth of talent that was going to grace the Qwela junction at Emin Pasha this month, I hardly expected to be surprised by anything. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised.
The very first thing that kind of threw me off my laid back game was the unexpected choice of MC. I figured that it would probably have been a smooth talking DJ or something. But it was none other than Fun factory’s Anne Kansiime! It’s not every day you have the coincidence of standup comedy and live singing.
Qwela started the night off with ‘Kidepo’, one of the singles off their first studio album. Joe’s voice worked its magic, highlighting my idea that theirs is Uganda’s new sound. Anyone who has listened to the band will agree that their music is as truly Ugandan as it gets while at the same time maintaining a beautiful universal appeal.
Richy took the stage amidst excited squeals from his fanatical following. I have it on good authority that if John Legend was to somehow disappear indefinitely, Uganda wouldn’t miss him because of Richy. He belted out the lyrics of his song, ‘Promise to do my best’ passionately, moving some ladies in the crowd to scream out “I do!” in response to what I assume they perceived was his indirect proposal.
Irene Ntale, the lead singer of the Uneven Band, combined pertinent message with beautiful melody in her song, ‘Politics’. The thing that I found particularly remarkable about her performance was the fact that she was backed up by the rest of the ‘Golden voices’ scheduled to sing that evening. The result was astounding! I think every artist at one point in their lives should have backups that talented to recreate that effect. Together with the rest of the night’s talent, she sung about the way the world is – to get anywhere; ‘you gotta know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody.” The song was a powerful exposé on corruption yet at the same time you could not remain oblivious to Irene’s remarkable talent as a song writer.
Evon took center stage with her singular lithe sound singing ‘Road to Jinja’. It just made you want to pack your bags and take a vacation. She has said in the past that musicians like Adele and Jessie J are some of her influences but I believe that she is making waves as an artist in her own right. Her sound was so distinct; I can’t quite compare her to anybody.
Hum Kay’s performance took me back to the smooth RnB voices of the nineties; the era when Boys to men was all you wanted to listen to on the radio. He was effortless, going over each note like a pro as he sung about there being a better way. At some point, I almost thought I was listening to amplified radio.
7th harmony, a group of former Gayaza girls, brought a whole different tone to the evening. Their sweet and mellow acapella gospel medley almost brought the audience to their knees. With flawless harmonies and perfect pitch, they reminded us that good music didn’t always have to be rocked out to. We did church – Gyza style.
Richy came back on with his groovy number, ‘Dance’. Interestingly even, though the song was about dancing, he admitted to not being able to dance at all. He tried, with little success, to get the crowd on their feet. Most of the people in the audience seemed keener on being entertained rather than participating in anything. At some point during the song, he invited Qwela’s Joe to show the crowd some dance moves and then things got real interesting. He dug up moves from back in the day like the house girl stroke that nobody appeared to remember until he demonstrated it. For a few charged minutes, everybody was jamming it old school.
Richy got back to singing, inviting the rest of the artists to a one on one ad-libbed sing off. He was seriously out done by the likes of Evon and Hum Kay, causing some in the crowd to exclaim that he had ‘died in his own movie’. Everyone was eager to participate except Irene, who when invited to the sing off just froze like a deer in the headlights. She only made a somewhat feeble attempt at a recovery after considerable encouragement from the audience and Richy.
Curious, a young rapper, astounded the crowd with Rukiga hip-hop. The performance of the song, ‘Ija nkutware’, was spiced up by Joe on the vocals and Moses of the Hip-hop quartet, beat boxing. John Kawa of Kads band also took to the stage with his hypnotizing baritone, singing songs a number of people remembered from their childhood.
As the evening drew to a close, Rachael Magoola came and raised the temperature in the place to an ultimate high. She looked ageless as she wound her waist, reminding us that some people just have that X factor. By the time she was singing her hit ‘Obangaina’, everyone was on their feet, dancing the night to a beautiful close.
Qwela junction is set to run again on the last Friday of May featuring some of Kampala’s most renowned guitarists.