From as early as nine years old, Herbert Kinobe was experimenting with all kinds of music. It was in his blood and family line so it seems only natural that he would excel in it, Edwin Nuwagaba writes
As his age mates were playing hide and seek, Herbert Kinobe was following his mother as she went to sing in a church choir. And as students were reading for exams, under candle light, he was probably packing his bags for a trip abroad. That history has led to the making of an extraordinary world music artiste Uganda ought to celebrate.
Unlike most children, Kinobe spent much of his early life globetrotting. At the age of nine, he made his first trip to Germany, with the Buganda Road Primary School Choir. That trip was like a launch pad for several other trips which he would make many years later. He began playing professionally with Ndere Troupe between 1995 and 1996 where he played traditional instruments. From there, he played with Percussions Discussion Africa.
While at a festival in Europe, he was spotted and approached by Stephen Arthur, the director of World Music Stores. Arthur was moved by the young man’s talent. They had a chat and what followed was the release of Kinobe’s first two CDs Soul Language in 2004 and Soul Beat Africa in 2008, which are distributed by Virgin Records and Sony, among other distribution companies.
Between 2003 and 2007, he travelled even more. In 2007, Soul Beat Africa was formed. “I got a call in 2007 from Culture France, they wanted to send me to 20 countries and islands in the Indian Ocean, and they wanted me to have a band, so I called Michael Ouma a friend of mine with whom I had played in Europe and Samuel Bakabulindi and we figured how to work it out,” he says. Allan Okia, Jude Mugerwa, Richard Sewagudde and Ambrose Tugume also joined the band. Soul Beat today is an acclaimed band, with the ability to play a variety of genres.
If Kinobe’s music were a tree, it would have been the kind with roots deeply hooked inside the rich soils of Africa, but stretching its branches to the rest of the world. Kinobe brings influences like Jazz, Latin and pop to his music. He might be less popular on the local music scene, but his contribution cannot be ignored. And he knows it. “I believe I am one of the few people who have brought a new face of music to Uganda and being a part of the few bands doing live music with traditional instruments. I have raised Uganda’s flag high in North America, Europe, America where I have performed at concerts and festivals,” he speaks confidently of himself. World Music in Uganda is not popular, but he is convinced that it has taken some remarkable steps forward. “Milege and Qwela do many genres and World Music is one of them.”
Kinobe is proud to have performed alongside greats like Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidjo and Baaba Maal. The world has influenced him heavily, and the more it does, the more he gets fired up. He says he rejoices in seeing people of different races appreciate and dance to his music. What attracts foreign audiences to his music yet it’s done in a language they can barely understand? “The pure sound speaks to them. I have seen people come to me and say that I have touched their lives. And that is because my music carries a deep feeling - so it carries them away.”
Music is deeply woven in the bloodline of his family. His mother was a singer, as well as his father. His brother; Damascus Kafumbe a PhD holder in Ethnomusicology. Kafumbe lectures at Florida State University, and he used to play music as well, when he was young. His other brother performs in Soul Beat. Both his parents, Fred and Ruth Serunkuma were musicians.
Kinobe was born in July 1983. He went to Buganda Road Primary School and Makerere College School where he dropped out and pursued a music career. Because of his interests in African History, he went ahead to pursue African Studies in France.
He has two new albums out. They were released at the beginning of this year under Kinobe Publishing MaryLand (USA), his own label which he intends to use to promote artistes who sing World music in Uganda and the rest of Africa.
The first album Kinobe Awamu Nemikwano (Together with friends) is dominated by acoustic African musical instruments, the kora, endongo, tama (talking drum), percussions and an acoustic guitar.
He uses the bass guitar to provide the groove in a few songs. The second album Leaving the Song Behind is a solo. “I made the CD because I felt it was important to showcase the pure sound of traditional instruments without being interrupted,” he says.
Kinobe Awamu Nemikwano has an amazing richness which makes for an arresting listening experience. The first song Ontwale starts with well arranged metallic sounds with the adungu which starts on a low tempo and rises gradually. He is asking a woman to introduce him to her parents. He applies good melody. There is a surprise on this album – his voice. He was never a good singer. But in this one, he has really matured. Generally there is a lot of expressiveness in this song, especially with the instrumentation.
Yasmini starts with an inviting sound of the kora. As you listen on, you are led into a session dominated by drums. He says, “Let me walk as I ask for my friend Yasimini,” and the backups respond by encouraging him to keep on with the search. The calabash in here provides a unique bass.
Muddungu has a tranquility about it and evokes deep emotions. Bukunjja starts with a strong beat, and the singer is filled with life.
The thumb piano takes you on a smooth ride. There is a sound like that of a chair with loose joints that goes back and forth. The song is done in a storytelling fashion, which is typical of Kinobe.
Sorrow is dominated by the beautifully played talking drum and the artiste sings with deep emotions, though he seems to get stuck in one tone of voice. A couple of his songs have catchy endings which leave a smile on the face of the listener. His songwriting also is excellent. Other songs on the CD include Kaleeba, Bukunja, Kikwabanga and the remix of Abataka.
Leaving the Song Behind is a remarkably rich, rewarding folk album. It shines for his ability to explore each instrument at length allowing each to shine. The solo tries to prove a point of the mastery that he has reached. With this album Kinobe swells the length of each instrument. The album maintains the rawness of traditional folk and showcases each instrument’s distinctiveness.