Kerunen: songbird dedicated to honouring her culture and family

Kerunen's Alur culture has curved her art into what it is today

Susan Kerunen has promoted a unique brand of cultural-based music for the past 10 years. COURTESY PHOTO 

BY Edgar R. Batte


  • Susan Kerunen has promoted a unique brand of cultural-based music for the past 10 years.
  • She tells of juggling love, family and music.


West Nile is home to ‘the great’ Pakwach Bridge and the waters of the River Nile on its way to Egypt through Sudan. It is also home to singer Susan Kerunen. Kerunen who hails from Palwo village in Zombo District uses dance as one of her artistic expressions. She comes alive with the Agwara and Njige dances that are rich for the percussion patterns in rhythm and physical display.
Kerunen, who will stage a concert dubbed Pimar- Crossing Cultures at Sheraton Kampala Hotel gardens tonight, is enchanted by her culture.

Love gives rise to music
Pimar is Kerunen’s fourth music album after Nimefika from 2006, Lek from 2008 and Acher Achera from 2012. She works with partner and husband, Jude Mugerwa who has managed much of the production and music arrangement process.

The album that is culminating into a concert is not just a celebration of her 10-year career journey but also of her daughter- Pimar.
During her pregnancy, there were many experiences, challenges, triumphs and expectations. “I started writing songs on the Pimar album when I was expecting my daughter. Songs off the album such as Pimar, Olobo, Minkulu and Faithful are largely inspired by my life after becoming a mother,” Kerunen, a world musician, explains.
She adds that the songs speak about the daily experience of looking after children, about family and marriage as a whole. Listening to them, you will appreciate the mix of a mother’s emotions from conception to delivery.

Sacrifices for family
“I realised that I had to make many sacrifices for me to remain balanced as a woman, a mother, and an artiste in this crazy world. I did all this for love- Pimar, love of myself, for family and my art, faith and other personal foundations that I am loyal to,” Kerunen adds.
Career is her first child but there is motherhood, parenting and being a wife. “I cannot lose focus of it at any point. Motherhood and parenting is in-born and a daily learning experience.
Being a wife is a full time job. Even when I make decisions such as choice of branding, interactions, travel, I have to create a balance,” she further reveals.
When you are an artiste such as Kerunen, you have children at home but you will also not allow your music baby to die. “It is a struggle to do gigs till late or work in studio everyday back to back and find less and less time with your children. I try to reserve my weekends and go home early when I can. When I am away, we talk throughout the day especially with Pimar who is now five years old.”
Kerunen is a reserved person. “Most people will mistake it for pride. I love quality time alone or with my family. I enjoy serenity. I love travel, watching movies and deep worship,” she reveals.

Born to a politician father and an artist mother, Kerunen says she was raised in a family of strong Christian values, full of love for each other. She went to Mbuya Nursery School in Bugolobi, Kiswa Primary School, City High Secondary School and Makerere University Business School in Kampala, where she pursued a degree in hospitality management.
The deepest advice anyone has given her was to stick to the truth and what she believes in, with the promise that it would pay off one day. She owes her career to that advice.
It must also be for the respect for parenting that she made the sacrifice to stay home for three years as a mother. Through the three years, she created too. Part of the fruits of her stay at home is the batch of 12 songs on the Pimar album, which is a mix of folk and fusion music.

Cultural ambassador
“I have already started promoting cultural and tourism education in my Village. I am getting in touch with my community to identify and create cultural itineraries and packages that can start to create demand for the cultural experiences,” Kerunen explains.
The Nubian influence among local residents in West Nile is cross-cutting; from rich clothing colours, spicy food and culture.

The languages from West Nile are another enthralment for the artiste. They are rich, with proverbs, riddles, most of which she learnt from her mother and which feature in her music, including on her album Pimar, which has a special set of folk music, chants and storytelling.
In 2010, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), appointed her the official national goodwill tourism ambassador.
“I love culture. The appointment found me already doing my thing. I believe it is through culture that we can know who we truly are. It has taken me to heights and places I did not ever dream of. I believe I would not know or enjoy what I enjoy in culture if it had not been for heritage passed down. It is the core of my art as a musician,” the artiste explains.

Link between culture and tourism
To her, culture is a link to tourism, adding that her art is a docket of cultural tourism. With the rich blend of the two, she is happy to have travelled places, won been recognised by valuable people and won awards.

Kerunen is 2010 Pearl of Africa Music (Pam) Awards winner in the ‘Best Folk Pop Artiste’ category. She is a two-time nominee for the Kora All Africa Music Awards in the ‘Best East African and African Artist’ in 2008 and 2009. The Kora awards recognise musical achievement in sub-Saharan Africa.
She owes her music strength to the truths it propagates about culture. “Culture is a part of us, who we are and what we are made of as a people. My Alur culture has curved my art into what it is. It is still a journey of course.”
She adds, “Tourism in Uganda can be better especially where artistes like me are concerned. I think there is still a missing link and a gap which needs to be closed for the tourism industry to benefit from the arts. ”

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