Behind the scenes of the making of a conversessions Season II

Swangz Avenue’s  Vampino (L) talks to artiste The Mith during the shooting of an episode of Conversessions. PHOTO/COURTESY/SWANGZ AVENUE 

What you need to know:

CONVERSESSIONS: The choice for artistes is usually determined by what they have to say and most of the time, the character of the artiste determines the location. For instance, The Mith’s confidence and aura suited the golf course and King Saha’s love for nature also determined his location, writes Andrew Kaggwa.

The lockdown came with many things that did not stand the test of time.  For instance, there was a time when everyone became a podcaster, talk show host, or cooking show host. You could think everyone out there owned a YouTube channel and was creating content in one way or another.

Then there were artistes and the lockdown shows. With a camera and a mic, audiences were serenaded. It was something that many artistes thought was serenading, but truth be told, there were just a few shows where people were indeed serenaded.

But online shows had not been entirely new; for example, in 2017, singer Anne Nassanga, alias Afrie, organised a series of online shows to launch a number of new songs and tease her EP.

Thus, by 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to stay at home, the idea easily became a hit, and soon, big brands had already come on board.

The first was Club Beats at Home. Swangz also organised Uganda Strong and United, which may easily pass as the clear home concert in the two years of Uganda’s lockdown.

The concert was remotely done, or, we think, without the aesthetics of overproduction, LED screens, and a big band. The artistes sang stripped versions of their songs, and it was fun to see.

Then, there were the Tusker Malt Conversessions,  that were online shows, but music here was not the winning factor; it was the artiste’s story.

The beginning

Unknown to many, the first conversession was done for Azawi, recorded during her EP listening party that was held at the Swangz Avenue offices. In the episode recorded almost two months before Uganda registered an index Covid-19 case, the latest Swangz signee at the time talked about the inspiration behind her music and how she had intended to have some of her songs sang by different artistes instead.

After that unofficial debut episode of conversessions, it took over a year for the first official Tusker Malt Conversessions to stream.

Featuring Winnie Nwagi

On Sunday, the second season of the Conversessions ended with a performance by Vinka. The episode shot at Riders Lounge in Entebbe was meant to capture Veronica Lugya in a way most Ugandans have not seen her before.

The sQoop team has followed the season from the debut, which featured Julianna Kanyomozi and on the way, there was a lot to chew on, from the creative point to the entertainment part of it.

Conversessions in many ways, is an answer to the changing media landscape. For instance, it is not produced with a TV audience in mind; it is meant for the small screen.  Because of this, it comes off as a very tight production that rarely goes on for more than 30 minutes, regardless of the artiste’s large catalogue.

Unfortunately, experiencing the show’s shooting is never a tight affair, besides the strict orders from Hosea Jemba, who is usually the director of photography. He hates people moving on the set because they are likely to walk through a shoot they are interested in.

Managing people

However,  at times it is hard to restrain humans; someone will always get ideas and surprise you. When they shot Juliana Kanyomozi’s episode at Zara Garden Hotel in Muyenga, she started with a flawless performance of Kanyimbe.

As she was ending the performance, an employee of the hotel walked through the shot of more than three cameras. Just like that, Juliana had to do a second take. Yet, surprisingly, Julius Kyazze, the director of the show, says most of the time, when they are recording, they are mainly looking at capturing all the instrumentation.

Kyazze, a multimedia entrepreneur who has worked with artistes both at Swangz Avenue and Buzz Events, says that in his experience, artistes do not get a chance to speak without being interpreted.

“Conversessions are a chance for the public to get it from the horse’s mouth; we are not looking for controversy; we are trying to get to know the artistes and get them to address some of those topics that have been around,” he says.

For instance, when Nwagi was on the debut episode, she had to talk about a saga involving her and beating her maid.

Some of these conversations, Kyazze says, have taken him by surprise as well. For instance, he says talking to Naava Grey taught him that she was deeply spiritual.

Most of the interviews are done after the artistes have performed. So, this is the rundown, the artistes perform all the songs they have to do and then sit through an interview.

The performances are energetic and are attended by a select number of fans, usually invited by Swangz Avenue, the production company and Tusker Malt’s team.

Because sound is one of the most important parts of audiovisual production, there are house rules set before the camera starts rolling. For instance, if it is okay to enjoy the music but you cannot start chanting ‘wulira omuziki’, your phone needs to stay away from your hands and should either be off or silent. The team cannot afford to capture a buzz from a vibrating phone or the actual sound of one ringing.

Then, the select audience is expected to enjoy and show it, thus, even when they sit through the performance, nodding and silently singing along is something expected of them.

Surprise surprise

Many shows usually go as planned but others do not, and for a good reason.

There was that Lilian Mbabazi episode, shot at Onomo Hotel’s lounge, it took place on a day when there was a graduation and the moment she started singing Dagala, one of the people from the neighbouring restaurant came out with a phone to record.

“We are a company that works in silence, so we always find a way to keep the artistes we are programming a secret, but during the shoot, there are ground rules, but surprises will be there,” Kyazze says.

When Benon and Vampino recorded their episode at Riders Lounge in Kamwokya, the duo did their five songs, but since it was an energetic set, they decided to perform more songs than those that ended up in the episode.

In fact, unlike many episodes where the audience is only part of the extras, at the end of the performance, they were so involved that some requested songs such as Vampino’s Love to Dance and Smart Wire.

Behind scenes, the Benon and Vampino shoot was more engaging, fun, and over-the-top than it was on screen; it was one of those shows where the behind-the-scenes could have made an equally entertaining and thrilling show, from the banter, the extra songs, jokes, and the audience itself.

There were times, for instance, when Benon joked about some of the people in the audience, especially those known to him such as Viboyo, who was late and had to look for a seat when the band took a break.

But there are other surprises that even left those in attendance shocked. Benon Mugumbya, for instance, says they were mesmerised by Zafaran’s vocals when she backed King Saha during a season one tap. They had not signed her yet.

But that was just the beginning. When they shot Mbabazi’s episode, backup vocalist Esther Ariho, alias Essie, had a solo on songs such as Danger. She gave the song the much-needed jazz and blues feel, which got Mbabazi nodding in approval a number of times.

After their performance, Kyazze walked onto the set with a napkin and asked Essie if she is open to being signed as a Swangz Avenue artiste.

Much as the audience and Lillian kept asking her to say yes, the equally shocked Essie asked for time to process everything. Little is known whether Swangz will eventually unveil her as their artiste.


Benon says the choice for artistes is usually determined by what they have to say and most of the time, the character of the artiste determines the location. For instance, The Mith’s confidence and aura suited the golf course and King Saha’s love for nature also determined his location.

Surprisingly, both Kyazze and Benon seem to agree with the public that King Saha’s conversession episode was indeed outstanding. Yet, a source reveals the episode nearly did not happen.

“Most people thought King Saha did not fit the profile of the artistes the show intended to present to a premium consumer. However, the show was a hit the day it went live.”

As the show’s curtain falls on the second season, both Benon and Kyazze believe there is room for the idea to even become bigger, probably incorporate artistes from other countries, but above all, it is a space they both agree artistes come to be understood and own their narrative.

“I also hope we can do an episode with a larger audience once in a while, but I know that has its risks,” Benon says.

So, is the team satisfied with the Tusker Conversessions so far? Yes, though they all wish they could have Maddox on their set soon. Why he has not, is a story for another day.