After only one year of study at Makerere University, Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi dropped out to pursue his first love, music. This was back in 2015 and he had been studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, Dance and Drama. He opted out because practical music skills were more rewarding in the field than inside the lecture room.
“I do not plan on going back to finish my studies, at least not here in Uganda. I would rather go on a musical journey, learning how to play different musical instruments from traditional artistes rather than doing that from class where some lecturers lack the skill,” he says.
Today, Kiyingi plays traditional instruments, including adungu, akogo, calabash, djembe, flute, among others; a skill he incorporates with his singing talent. His music has been described as having ‘rich instrumental textures and rhythmic influences from Uganda.’
His musical journey
Growing up, Kiyingi loved the works of artistes such as Richard Kaweesa and Alex Mukulu, who also is a renowned actor and playwright.
The outstanding songs he loves of Kaweesa include; Muschana, Ani akuba baby wange and Ewa muko. Although Mukulu majors in theatre work, he has a couple of songs, which Kiyingi relates. These include Bana Kampala, Empilivuma and Abe namutamba.
On what he loves about these respective songs of the duo, Kiyingi says all the songs have a Ugandan theme to them.
“All the songs have a home (local) connection in terms of the song title, rhythm, instruments used in the songs. But also, if you keenly listen to the songs, you will notice that they have a rare, unique sound created from playing the instruments. The sound spontaneously flows with the lyrics of the songs,” he says.
The mixture of these special ingredients in the different songs is what has kept him following their respective works over the years.
He was also a fan of Kadongo Kamu, an old Ugandan music genre created with only one acoustic guitar, although in some cases, other instruments are used as well.
“It is from such works that I gained inspiration to start writing my own music, which literature I compiled over the years,” he says.
His grandmother was also another inspiration for his writings.
“She loved telling stories late in the evening after dinner while seated in front of a bonfire,” he says.
Kiyingi spent a few of his earlier years with his grandmother after his mother passed away. Later, he was raised by his father.
Kiyingi released his first album titled Joy of an African (Essanyu ly’omufirika) in 2012, which had a compilation of 12 songs. The title of the album was a song itself, with 11 others, including Kanyimbe (a worship gospel song), Miss Buganda (highlighting the Buganda culture, norms and traditions), Segamwenge (about leaders who hold onto power and do not want to pass it over to the next generation), among others.
His second album, released in 2014, is called Mkatiko W’afrika; a Swahili word which means to “dance in Africa.” The album has a compilation of eight songs, including popular ones such as Ssekayokya, Ssekitulege, and Calling.
His latest album, the third one, mainly comprising dance, is titled Amakondeere, meaning trumpets and Horns of Africa released in 2016, with a compilation of 12 songs authored by Kiyingi.
“The album was inspired by the sound and a lot of other rhythm patterns I wanted people to hear,” he says.
The album has songs like Mandela (a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela for his fight against apartheid), Ssemusajja (kaleeba),Nkwesuunga, Buddu (a dedication to his grandmother for her storytelling tendencies around bonfires), and Everything (about not loosing hope in life and which says everything comes from God).
In 2014, Kiyingi was part of Santuri, an East African initiative that facilitates collaborations between artistes and music producers with the aim of nurturing creative togetherness. Santuri has worked with regional partners like Bayimba (Uganda), Doadoa East African Performing Arts Market (Uganda), and Sauti za Busara, an African music festival held annually in Zanzibar, among others.
“The Santuri project had me and a group of other artistes collaborating on a musical album, which was recorded here in Uganda and the final touches done in the United Kingdom (UK). The album was well received as it sold out after two days,” he says.
Locally, he has shared a musical stage with artistes like Susan Kerunen, an African contemporary music artiste, Micheal Ouma a.k.a Myko, a guitarist, Lawrence Okello, a multi-instrumentalist, Joel Sebunjo, a folk artiste, among others.
Kiyingi says the biggest challenge he has received as an artiste is the negative perception people have towards traditional music.
“There have been incidences where people have walked up to me asking why I am doing organic music rather than rhythm and blues (R&B) or hip hop,” he says, adding, “This is all because the Western culture is rapidly eroding away our African culture and values. We are losing a sense of who we are by adopting the outside lifestyle.”
It is because of such reasons that Kiyingi attributes for few Ugandans liking his music.
“My songs are more appreciated abroad than home. Very few people back home listen or buy my music,” he says.
Although Kiyingi has performed at different local events, including Bayimba International Festival and the Mileage World Musical Festival, he held his first concert last Friday titled “Just Giovanni Concert” at the Uganda Cultural Centre (National Theatre). This is almost six years after releasing his first album.
“I believed it was time to share my personal musical story with fellow Ugandans and that’s why I held the concert. That way, my fans at home would get a better understanding of my style of music,” he says.
Giovanni Kiyingi attended St Joseph’s Primary School, Naggalama, before joining St Joseph’s Senior Secondary School, where he completed both Senior Four and Six.
Music career. After one year of study at Makerere University, pursuing a Bachelors degree in Music, Dance and Drama, Kiyingi dropped out in 2015 to pursue his first love, music.