The first time I heard Irene Ntale’s love letter hit in January, I had it on replay for a whole day. I just couldn’t have enough of the song. There was something about that very husky voice that had me wanting more and more of that sound.
I had my first encounter with her late last year, when she was at a live performance with her band, Uneven, at a popular hang out in Kampala. The revellers went into ululations when she stepped off stage, and there was more euphoria when she hummed her way into their hearts. It wasn’t hard to notice how much love and praise she drew from the crowd.
Unlike the case with many of our local artistes, there seems to be little knowledge of how this 25-year-old former church girl made her way up the musical ladder, or even where she was before that. In one of the many conversations I held with a few friends many compared Ntale to songbird Irene Namubiru, who the starlet apparently takes much likening to.
Roger Mugisha, a radio personality, however, believes this comparison is farfetched as the two artistes are classes apart, with each having their own style. “The two are good and unique in their own way. They have different styles, so, I don’t see how these two can be compared,” he says.
I arrive at Swangz Avenue studios, for our appointment, and after a few minutes, she steps in. Her red hair is the first thing that I notice when she walks in. she has on her signature rock chic jewellery, which this time comprises of a pendant and crucifix earrings.
Ntale, who was born on January 30, 1989, grew up in Ntinda, with her 12 siblings. Unfortunately, her father passed on when she was one year old. She admits to having no clear memory of him.
“My 13 siblings and I were brought up by my mother, Robinah Kamya Ntale,” she shares.
She attended Kitante Primary School and later Kitante Hill for her secondary school. There after she joined Kyambogo University, where she obtained a degree in Procurement and Logistics.
She admits that as a child, she was rather reserved, and kept to herself most of the time. “I didn’t engage in so many activities like most children my age; not even singing,” she explains. So, I struggle to actually figure out how this girl, ended up in music.
She explains that her turning point came when she got born-again during her Senior Four vacation and joined Victory City Church, in Ntinda.
“I guess you could say my music career started from here. When I joined the Victory church the choir leader, Vivian Awil encouraged me to join, because she believed I had a very unique voice.
When Vivian asked me to join, I gladly took it up, and before I knew it, I was getting all major lead roles in the choir,”Ntale adds. Ntale was with the choir for four years.
While she loved singing, she admits that her mind was focused elsewhere; on instruments, particularly the guitar.
When she wasn’t singing at church, Ntale together with three other male friends at church, she started a band they called the Uneven. The group was comprised of Simon tamale, Tsabo David, and Steven crane, and Ntale.
“We chose the name Uneven because I was the only girl in the band we also wanted something catchy.
We would perform at weddings, events, and small parties, for free. We did this for a while, on a trial basis. And before long, people were asking us to turn this into something commercial,” she explains.
So, with the new band to deal with, it became increasingly hard for her to keep up with her church choir. After a while, she quit to focus on her band. At the time, Ntale was in her final year at the university. The death of one of the band members, however, brought the once promising band’s journey to a halt.
“Our bassist, the late Steven Crane passed away in 2012. He drowned in a swimming pool. We didn’t feel like having someone else replace him, so, we decided to take a break,” Ntale says, with sadness in her voice. However, with the extended break came the demise of the band, and this meant that Ntale had to find a way to keep her passion for music alive.
Soon thereafter, she began doing some back up singing for artistes like Jamal, Azziz, Grace Nakimera, Bobi wine, and many others, both on stage and in studio. Later, she was booked in to perform at Emin Pasha’s theme nights, after the hotel’s manager spotted her out while she was doing back up for Tchilla.
It was at Emin Pasha that Benon Mugulumya, a music producer from Swangz Avenue, heard her sing, and after talks were held, Ntale joined the Swangz family. “I spoke to my mother about taking on music as a career and she seemed okay with it.
I feel that the meeting with Benon was a great transformation for me; I was used to my comfort zone and always performing at events. So I can’t thank Benon enough for spotting me out that night,” she adds.
That was in February, last year, and since then she has released over eight songs under Swangz Avenue, including the love letter, which featured Bebe Cool. On her first hit, Nkubukinze, Ntale says it was loved by the crowds, and this paved way for more hits.
Her collaboration with Bebe Cool came as a bit of a surprise, being that she was still an upcoming artiste, and managed to get the flamboyant artiste on her collabo list. So how did that happen? “Bebe Cool happened to drop by at Swangz Avenue, during the time when I was recording that song. Somehow, Benon convinced him to listen to the song, and he liked it. So he agreed to add a few lines to it, and before I knew it, the collabo was sealed.
Two weeks later we were shooting the video,”Ntale adds. While it may just have been another great track to the public, for Ntale, it was a blessing and she explains that she was over the roof. “I was sleepless for a few nights, especially as the release day of the song drew closer,” she says with cheer in her tone.
Rewarding moments and the price she has to pay
After a year, and two hit songs, Ntale received her first award at the HiPipo Awards early this year. “That was one of the highest moments of my career. I had been nominated for Best Female Breakthrough, and when I was announced winner, it took a few moments to register that I had won,” the very excited Ntale recounts. She also walked away that day with the Best Collabo award for her love letter hit with Bebe cool.
However, with all the success came the media craze over this newcomer, and of course, not without some bad press. Her worst media report, Ntale shares, was the morning she woke up to a story in one of the tabloids that she was dating one of the biggest male celebrities in this town.
“I won’t even mention who because that is the one thing I never want to come up again. It was very disturbing,” she adds.
Her new popularity has also made it hard for her to do things she would have done freely before. For instance, she explains that whilst she would love to go downtown and buy a pair of shoes at Shs40,000, she cannot do that.
“Sometimes, I crave a rolex and I just want to go by the roadside and buy one, but I can’t. Not without risking being in one of the tabloids the next day. So, I resort to sending my boda guy,” she says. Fitting into the new lifestyle of stardom also came with its own hefty tag, as she not only had to take dance classes, but also learn to be more responsible, especially after she realised there were many young girls out there looking up to her.
With her ever-growing fan base, Ntale seems destined for greatness. Before we leave, she shows us the two awards that she won at the Hipipo Awards, and the excitement on her face deems these two gongs her pride and joy. And this was just before she had scooped the three awards and Buzz Teeniez Awards.
She dreams of becoming a big brand like Rihanna someday and believes that with continued hard work, the right collabos will come her way. We shall be watching.
Irene Ntale, 25, only burst onto the music scene last year with her popular collaboration with Bebe Cool, Love letter. Today, she is winning awards and releasing more hits.
What do you want to achieve as a woman?
I want to be independent. I want to inspire, and I want to be able to have a family some day with a blessed and fruitful marriage.
If you had to give a talk to the girls in your high school, what would it be about?
It would definitely be about following their dreams and surrounding themselves with people and activities that will help them realise their dreams.
What are you most proud of?
Hmmm… I am proud of all female musicians!! We are all trying our best to make our mark in the industry and satisfy our fans! That is all I can say.
What don’t people know about you?
People probably don’t know that I once worked for Jennifer Musisi at her cake house, The Cake Lady. I was baking cakes, helping out with decorating, and the like.
My style: My favourite fashion item is denim jeans, but I love jewellery. I pick my items basing on current fashion trends. I also love big and outstanding jewellery. I buy from different boutiques. If I see something I like, I buy it doesn’t matter where, but I do spend quite a reasonable amount!
Songs: Stay with me, Love letter, Eno ye sawa, Katambala, Remote control , Smile uganda , Nkubukinze, Politiqx, and the most recent hit, Gyobera.