Women’s Day means different things to different people.
For many, it is their second Mothers’ Day, while for others, it is a day to celebrate strong women.
For soul and Afro-fusion artiste Ann Nassanga alias Afrie, it is the day she debuted her much-loved song, Let her Know at the Wizarts Auditorium two years back.
In the song the artiste talks about things going on in girls’ lives, what the society wants them to be as opposed to what they want to be, of course, with sharp piano chords and yet her raspy yet smooth voice, towers over her instrumentation as she asks; “but who is this African girl…”
Her name is Afrie, an alias she developed out of her love for the continent. When she had just released Let her Know, she would refer to her followers as Afriecans but it is okay to imagine that she found that title confusing and so later changed it to Afriedom.
And that, was aptly the title of the production she staged at the Design Hub in Industrial Area on Women’s Day.
Talking to Daily Monitor before the show, she had noted that the show will celebrate music, offer a story to her supporters about the journey and the future – she had insisted the show was not a concert but a production.
And girl did she keep her promise!
Afrie was everything she did not say she is; her production was a story that was made up of different chapters of music, emotion and mood.
Her choice of location had been bizarre from the time she had chosen it. Design Hub seemed good for a creative hub, but for a concert, it has always been problematic. It has a brilliant space outside but that would have been too big for an artiste without clout, handlers and hangers-on like Afrie.
To many people’s satisfaction, it was not the location, but rather the exhibition room where the production was held. This has in the past had visual art exhibitions for artists like Matt Kayem with his Cool Africa and Helen Nabukenya and her threading brilliance that was Tuwaye.
A full blown production was not something to imagine at the space, but she did it.
With an artistic stage that remained minimalistic probably because of the budget constraints, her name Afrie created the backdrop that was crafted out of bamboo, bits of wood and sunflowers.
The show’s theme colour from the posters she had released earlier had been yellow thus the sunflowers were easily predictable, but what threw the audience off were the more than 100 yellow balloons that were spread on the grounds people were meant to dance.
The balloons later defined the experience and engagement of both the artistes performing and the audience, especially when they went flying over Afrie’s head during a performance.
The show was a testament of the artiste’s hard work that has seen her perform at different gigs and festivals like Pearl Rhythm, the Stage Coach activations, Blankets and Wine, A Ka Dope and Doadoa among others.
From all such places, she has made a legion of fans and thanks to her bubbly self, all these people keep following her wherever she goes. Of course, besides those performances, in 2017, she started something new, the Afrie-bytes, these are online concerts that people can watch for free on her social media sites every last Thursday of the month.
It was not surprising that much of the audience even knew each other from somewhere, either social media or from a certain festival.
Afrie took to the stage at 8:30pm, this was after a performance by her collaborator, rapper and poet Gordons Mugoda alias Wake. Clad in a sparkly metallic dress, she kicked it off with Yodi Yodi, a feel good fusion song that is better appreciated with its organic audio sound.
For this show though, with band CtrlAD manning the instrumentation, the song was given a funk, punk rock feel; in fact most songs performed had the kind of effect.
The singer has presence and energy. While performing, she would pause and tell a story that led to a certain song being written, throwing balloons back to the audience or solving riddles with them.
But when she was singing, she helped you feel the emotions of the song. As an instrumentalist herself, she was the opposite of Uganda’s mediocre mainstream scene that has given DJs and producers lots of power, she knew how and when to change the tone and tempo of her songs at will.
She says this is a skill she picks from her experience of writing and performing music before she eventually records it, “after singing a new song before recording it, you get to know its DNA and can alter it at will while performing.”
She performed Gusula Muli, a song she is yet to record and judging by the reaction of the audience, she may have to record it sooner than later.
Her biggest strengths were her with a piano and she had her moments, but being Women’s Day, nothing stood out like the performance of Let Her Know in a way she has rarely done, with a full band. They complimented each other; she sang while the band – instrumentalists Roy Kasika on the drums, Mutabingwa on the bass, Timothie on the keys and Fidel Mambo on the lead guitar – at this time assumed a well-choreographed backup role, letting her introduction be heard before weaving through with their sound effects off guitar pedals and drum kits. It made the already good song richer.
As many nights such as this, Afrie’s production had its own shortcoming especially with the sound – the band’s music at times was louder than the artiste though her microphone was never raised.
She finished the show at 10:30pm after laughing, dancing and crying with her audience, but that was before her ballad Mulala and the audience was not willing to take any of it.
She bowed to the pressure, performing Mulala playing the keys for herself for much of it and later inviting the audience that was already singing along to join in.