I want it all: Stadiums, festivals and Grammys

Priscillah Zawedde alias Azawi. Photo | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Shooting high: Azawi is deliberate about wanting it all; she sees herself filling stadiums in the UK and South Africa, and winning a Grammy. She believes there is more African music to offer and more Ugandan artistes can achieve if they only dreamed bigger, writes Andrew Kaggwa. 

To tell the story of Azawi, Priscillah Zawedde, you need to know a bit about her background. A girl who worked and served food on the streets of Kampala, toiled, and had seen the worst in life.

But that is a story that very many people have heard; to know the artiste that is Azawi, you need to know the artiste that is Zed.

Before the Lo Fit EP in 2020, very few people knew who Zawedde was; she was not famous and neither did she have a renowned song to her name. Yet to people who stormed different hangouts in the search for live music, she was a common fixture.

Then, she played with a cover band; they did a number of songs, but whenever they did a reggae fusion, Zawedde, then known as Zed, would come to life – she was a gem on that small stage, easily fusing reggae, dancehall, kidandali or whatever Uganda does effortlessly.

But on another day, she would take Winnie Nwagi’s Kano Koze to school with a lot of ease. There was a lot of talk that she had original material, but she did not perform it as much.

But her vibe was always reggae or dancehall; whenever Karma, the band she played with, was on stage, you were sure Zed would perform a medley of Konshens songs before winding up with a song or two from Chronixx.

The beginning

Then, in 2020, the girl surprised at least many people with Quinamino, a suggestive balad that basically invites you to dance. Now, the surprise was not the fact that she could sing, but the fact that she was now known as Azawi.

Stories have been told of how the girl had gone to Swangz Avenue with the idea that the label would buy the song for another artiste; they ended up signing her instead.

And it is almost a dream come true for many aspiring artistes, to be signed by the biggest music label in the country. The belief is that half the work is cut out. Azawi’s perspective is that she needs to work twice; she scoffs at the idea that she is a planned artiste.

Since Quinamino, Azawi has come a long way, dropping Lo Fit, an EP, and African Music, her debut album. The two music collections may have come together in a relatively short time, but they sounded different in terms of motivation, production, messaging and above all, sound.

It is like Azawi took an immediate detour.

“It has to do with my taste in music; the kind of music I listen to is so connected to the kind of music that I put out. Sometimes I get inspiration from things I may not have paid attention to, but because they speak to the market and the continent, I feel like I should. For example, Amapiano was not something I felt at first, but understanding that Africans love it so much and that it is an African sound, I wanted to be part of that journey. But I also did not want only Ugandans to listen to my music; I wanted Africa to listen to it too,” she says.

At the moment, the artiste has quite a schedule. For instance, when her team accepted our request for an interview, she was not in the country. By the time we were doing the interview, she had jetted back less than 18 hours ago and had a rehearsal for her concert at the Kampala Serena Hotel. After the concert, she heads to Rwanda for the Trace TV Music Awards, where she is nominated for Best New Artiste and later comes back to Uganda to headline Oba Fest alongside Nyashinski and Bensoul on Sunday.

A tedious schedule, right?

“It is what we prayed for,” she says.

Azawi uses a lot of ‘we’ in her speech; it is part of her way of talking big. She believes when you aspire for big things, you attract people who can actually get you there. When she talks, it makes it feel like Azawi is not an artiste but a major corporation of sorts. She says ‘we’ a lot, but when she is being assertive about things she sets her eyes on, especially those that seem impossible, she will use ‘I’. For instance, “I will win a Grammy.” “We had a fantastic show”.

Azawi and the local scene

Azawi believes Ugandan artistes have not been deliberate about taking their music beyond the Ugandan border.

“If we had, we would have had that recognition, but we only have a few artistes such as Eddy Kenzo. Where are the others? At first, we had Chameleone; he was so big outside Uganda, but I do not know what happened; maybe his goals changed or he was never hungry from that perspective, but even up until now, those who understand him outside Uganda still talk about him,” she says.

She adds that today, only a few artistes are trying to push their music beyond Uganda, but she believes it would have been much easier if there were many.

“I feel like we got so comfortable; we got so comfortable selling out Freedom City, like, our dreams are so small. I saw Chris Brown sell out a stadium. I need to do the same thing because we are blessed to be living in a time when African music is getting embraced, and for us, it is like we do not want to be part of that history, yet it is something we would have jumped on. Some of us are small dreamers,” she says.

“I want to win a Grammy; I want to sell out at Madison Square Garden; if I fail, at least I know I have tried and another person will get there.”

Uganda’s music is evolving, something Azawi says older artistes should be scared of. There is a crop of daring futuristic artistes who are not only announcing their arrival but also inserting their presence.

These artistes, whose sound and attention have divided public opinion, are doing Amapiano, Afro-electronic, and Afrobeats in a whole new frame. There are beliefs in the industry circles that these artistes or their sounds are fads whose music will not be understood by people in rural Uganda. Not Azawi.

“I have been to Luweero, Arua and Lira, and I have seen locals gravitating to Amapiano and Nigerian sounds; it is a sign that things have changed. This generation is educated and educated people think differently. The people we make music for now are not the same people we made music for five years ago; our audience is on the internet, yet our artistes are not even online; it is bad,” she says.

Second coming

Today, Azawi will be staging her second concert at the Kampala Serena Hotel. This is on the heels of the release of her second album, Sankofa, on Independence Day.

She says there was a lot to learn and take in at the African Music concert and she believes those coming for her Friday concert will experience growth and transformation.

Her African Music concert at the Lugogo Grounds was a mixed bag, highly anticipated in some circles and thought-rushed in others. At the time, her album was barely a year old, but the movement and people listening to her music were massive.

“When we decided to have the African Music concert, some people thought it was about time, while some critics thought I was yet to build a defined fanbase of my own. On my end, we thought it was a perfect time for us to get to know who our fans are,” she says, adding that they were not scared of going to an African Music concert because the EP released earlier had done well and so had the album.

“We were confident we had what mattered most, which was the music.”

Her new album, Sankofa, is very deliberate, from Jonathan Kabugo’s graphic painting to the naming. Named after one of Africa’s biggest concepts, Sankofa is a Twi language word from Ghana that means to go back and get it.


So what exactly did Azawi want to get with this music?

“Sankofa is very vast, but it comes down to how each generation relates to it. Everyone has a past. Events from my past served as inspiration when I was writing the album. This was the first time I had to sit down and talk about myself. For example, in a song such as Omwenge, I grew up in Nakulabye, where there is a stretch with many bars. I saw people drink and by the end of the night, they forgot the people they came with. Basically, this album was about me reconnecting with myself,” she says, adding that everyone relates to Sankofa in a different way.

The first time Azawi hit the stage as a Swangz Avenue artiste was at Jahazi Pier during 2020’s only edition of Roast and Rhyme. She showed up to perform Repeat It and later, Quinamino. As she ended her performance, she did a verse from Konsens’s Couple Up. With that, she announced herself in another dimension.

The video of the performance went viral, reaching Kenyan media personality Calvin Wanguku of Trace FM.

While interviewing Azawi on Trace FM in Nairobi, Calvin made her do the Konshens verse again and made sure the clip this time reached Konshens.

“I was at Homme Boyz Radio, and there is a guy – I think he is G-Money – who showed me a direct message from Konshens asking him, “Who is she?” He told him, “She’s an artiste from Uganda; she is a good one; what’s up?” and he did not respond.

“I think he did some digging about me. I had already told everyone that I was a big fan and if he jumped on a record with me, it would mean everything. That made the conversation easier. I had to be that Zed for a moment to make this record work,” she says.

Sankofa for Azawi is about reconnecting; she started her musical journey worked with Kika Troupe and collaborating with them on some of the songs was beyond personal but brought her entire story to a full circle – a troupe dancer, Zed, morphed into Azawi.

Yet for the Swangz artiste, it is almost just the beginning.