What you need to know:
A new sensation: Can a drummer get some: It is a norm for lead guitarists and pianists to become lead singers but it is almost unheard of for drummers, yet one of Swangz Avenue’s new signing, Elijah Kitaka, is actually a drummer taking on the mic. Isaac Ssejjombwe talked to the man whose music and sound is unusual.
For anyone out there who does not know Elijah Kitaka, how best would you describe yourself?
Elijah Kitaka is a Ugandan. Most people think I am not Ugandan because of my unique sound, the way I produce music and my approach to music. Back then, so many people knew me as a drummer for a couple of artistes such as Maurice Kirya during some of his concerts and some other artistes I used to travel with during festivals, so drumming was my job before I started writing and releasing music. I actually write all my music, so I pass as a songwriter and I also produce music.
Tell us about the transition from drumming to songwriting, production and singing.
I think it was already a journey because even during the time I was playing drums, I was already learning how to sing and I would not say it was a transition but more of an upgrade at a job I was already doing.
Where did all this start from?
My background is very musical. At home we had instruments; my sisters sing and my brothers are in the industry, so it is a background of being around music.
Which of your siblings are doing music actively?
Eli Arkis who is a producer and Yesse Oman Rafiki, a songwriter.
You said you are a writer yet some people feel like there is an Azawi touch to some of your songs. Does Azawi write some of your music?
No, but I just have some work with her that you will listen to. When you listen to my music, I do not think it has any signature of any other person. That is why I call it unusual music.
You have played instruments with and for Sandra Nankoma, Maurice Kirya and Kaz Kasozi. Most of these are mainly jazz and soul artistes. Why drift to doing dancehall music?
I think it is love for who I want to be. Music is wide. We learn and keep what you feel as a person. I listen to a lot of genres and I have played jazz, I have played funk, dancehall, reggae, name it all so it is just the touch from everything I already know I am.
Having done all those genres, which one do you love the most?
I just love African music. It hits my ear because the most important thing is that music is a feeling. Even the songs I do most of the time are different genres of their own. Sometimes I sound as if I am doing dancehall, the next time I sound as though I am doing soul, so it is just being free with who you are and bringing the music out of yourself.
You are not the only Elijah Kitaka in the industry. Do you get bothered having a namesake in the same industry that you are in?
He is actually my friend and it just so happened that we have the same name and I really wanted to keep my name as it is because it is the original me. I did not want to call myself something else.
You recently signed with Swangz Avenue. How did you guys link up?
Due to my background of being a drummer, I already had friends in the industry. I was exposed as a drummer and had opportunities I got from the artistes I used to play with, including Kaz Kasozi from whom I learnt a lot. Actually he is one of my mentors in music and I respect him so much. Benon Mugumbya used to come for his shows and that is where we met and became friends. After the lockdown, I told my friends that I was going to contact Benon to give us an opportunity to perform at a show and he gave us a green light. I later contacted him to allow me use their facility and still he accepted. I used their studios for a year and they decided to give me an opportunity to work with them.
What do you think they put into consideration to sign you?
I would not point at anything, but I feel I have worked for it. It has been years of hard work and determination, so I understand them giving me an opportunity.
How does it feel being signed to Swangz Avenue?
I was happy because Swangz Avenue is the biggest record label we have. Having an opportunity to work with them is exciting. I have released music, the latest being my EP.
There has been a rumour that Swangz Avenue does not have luck working with male artistes. What do you have to say about that, being one of the two male artistes at the label?
The truth is I have not heard those rumours and what I know is that Swangz Avenue has professionals. What they do for female artistes, they do for us male artistes. Besides, there is also a female artiste who left, so these things happen in life. People come and go. I would not judge either them or those artistes.
How does it feel being around female artistes at the same label?
I do not see them as female artistes. I see them as artistes. We are actually working on the same goal.
We heard you are being managed by Jaylor Birungi, who also happens to be Azawi’s manager. Do you get the same attention?
Yes, of course. Everything is moving according to plan. There is balance and I see the work they put in for us, so I am not complaining.
Months since you joined the label, how many projects have you released?
I first released my single Nothing, which is actually on the EP and then Ndiwuwo and then the EP, which has seven songs.
Talking about the Bedroom Essentials EP, where did the whole idea come from?
The EP is just inspired by the romantic erotic feeling everyone has. Either alone or with someone. There is that moment you are alone in a room and you feel you are making love to someone. What inspired me is the relationship we always have with our lovers in our bedrooms. So all the music I was writing was related to that moment.
Have you limited yourself to this kind of music?
I would love not to limit myself because music is about daily life. We just have to think as creatives. You never know, the next time it might be an office album. It is just an imaginary kind of picture every time I sit and write.
Listening to some songs on this EP, you must have experienced some things first hand. Tell me about your love life.
I am not in a relationship. Sometimes you need to have breaks from relationships. I cannot go deep into what happened because it is confidential.
Were you heartbroken or was it you who broke someone’s heart?
Everyone gets hurt. So every time you think about those moments, of course you feel hurt but I am not in a relationship for now.
Where have you performed so far?
I have performed at Feza platform online, Roast and Rhyme, some nights in town and some gigs while trying to push my music. I used to move with my band everywhere.
Which band is this?
It is called the Double Black Band. I actually work with them here.
I thought Double Black was a new band.
No, it is not. It is my band and it is also now signed under Swangz Avenue. They signed us both.
Every artiste has at some point gone through a hard time. Tell us some of the challenges you have faced in this industry.
You know music is money and money is music, so reaching where I am has been hard. I have hustled a lot with a team of many people who have helped me get to where I am. Not getting paid, but again you have to work. It has not been easy because you have to put in a lot of time and a lot of sacrifice. I have to be in studio every day. To think of what to write, what to produce, what to sing, what melody would sound good on a track.
Artistes have their best hours of work. When are you most effective?
Whenever I am peaceful, I work. I do not have a specific time. Morning, evening, afternoon. Any moment I get peaceful, I work.
There is an interview where you said you are bringing a Grammy to Uganda. What are you doing towards that dream?
I am putting in the time, I am dreaming of that Grammy. I am putting a lot of time in studio to create quality music for Africa. When I am doing music, I am not thinking about Uganda, I am thinking of Africa.
Do you believe winning a Grammy is the greatest achievement for an artiste?
It is an achievement, yes but the biggest achievement for me is touching people’s hearts because people need music to survive. People are depressed and going through a lot of things and music is their remedy.
What is good music to you?
Good music is what you feel as yourself. For example when I write and produce music, I have all it takes to call it good music because of the time I put in and I would not judge anyone who calls their music good because it is what they feel about themselves.
But I thought music is for the consumers to determine what is good and what is not.
Almost all the music we have done as musicians is from us. You do you for the fans to connect with you. My own thinking about music is that I want to think the way you are thinking. I want to think the way I am thinking so that you can embrace me.
There is a belief in Uganda that to make it, you have to be dramatic and have beef with other artistes. What is your take on this?
I feel music should do the chaos. We spend a lot of time causing chaos yet we would have spent that time doing quality music. I know it is entertaining at the end of the day but you can get rid of it like you can get rid of anything else. So it is understandable but not advisable.
A lot is happening in Uganda lately. There is a federation, then artistes are demanding for copyright etc why has your name not popped up yet?
I am still observing to see what people over there are bringing on the table, so I would not want to comment about it for now.
Which artistes do you think would suit your style in a collaboration?
I would really want to work with people such as Joshua Baraka, Fik Fameica and then doing collaborations in Nigeria, among other countries. I have some projects with Kenyan artistes and Rwandan artistes, although I do not want to limit myself.
What do you think you are not doing right as a Ugandan artiste to reach the international stage as Nigerians?
People need to embrace the new wave of music of Uganda because we are the future. It starts from here. We are pushing ourselves to the boundaries and we need support from the people and it is the new sound we have to open boundaries.