Kenneth Mugabi was a win for art

Kenneth Mugabi fans are the kind who will sing along to his songs word for word. Photos |Andrew Kaggwa

What you need to know:

  • Mugabi has always been appreciative for succeeding despite many people writing him off. For many artistes doing his kind of music, being written off is common, so it was very important for him to start the show with Neyazinza.

The past three months have been special for instrumentalists and vocalists. From Maurice Kirya in September, Myko Ouma in October, and Aziz Azion and Kenneth Mugabi in November, the men with guitars and vocals have held concerts at the Kampala Serena’s Victoria Conference Hall.

All these shows took place without the backing of a major sponsor, marketing budgets, or influencers, and neither of the artistes had a trending song to talk about. The shows were marketed purely based on their musical strengths.

With the exception of Aziz Azion, Kenneth Mugabi and Maurice Kirya have basically made their mark as ethno, world music or soul music artistes. It is greatly believed that these kind of artistes cannot make it in Uganda, considering that most of the music played on media is meant to be danced to.

Alongside the soulful artistes, there are a number of art disciplines Ugandans rarely appreciate, such as poetry, spoken word, or beatboxing, among others. Yet, all these came out to play at Kenneth Mugabi’s concert on Friday night. It was a success!

This was not necessarily Kenneth Mugabi’s first show; in the past, he has hosted smaller intimate gatherings, but all those were expected to be successful; they played in his strength.

For instance, his Strings of My Soul, held at the National Theatre, was basically taking place in his forte. The theatre, where talents such as Mugabi or Maurice Kirya were nurtured. The Stage Coach, where Mugabi was part of a band, Arpeggio, was birthed at the theatre and in an earlier interview, he once revealed that a number of songs off his debut Kibunomu album were written using the auditorium piano.

His other shows at Goethe Zentrum, Alliance Francaise, and Design Hub are still in spaces where he was expected to thrive because of the people that usually come to the venues.

His concert on Friday, however, was not the kind of show. Serena’s Victoria Conference is a venue that has gone through transformations.

At the beginning of the 2010s, it was a venue where the finest and most equisite Ugandan shows were held. From Jazz Safari, Maurice Kirya, Suzan Kerunen, Qwela and Joel Sebunjo’s shows, it was a place where a rare kind of art and sound came to play.

Yet, when Bebe Cool took his concert to the venue in 2014 as a flex among his peers, the taste of the venue changed for a more mainstream sound and artistes. That is whether their art was outstanding or just basic.

On Friday, these sounds were back on the table, and they were not even introducing themselves; they were imposing. From vocalists Masha Davids, Lilian Mbabazi, Charmic Sentongo, formerly of Canaan Gents, Naava Grey, and Xenson to Cherubim Chior, a message was being sent.

Mugabi on stage with Naava Grey. Below, the artiste playing a tube fiddle.

Mugabi has always been appreciative for succeeding despite many people writing him off. For many artistes doing his kind of music, being written off is common, so it was very important for him to start the show with Neyazinza, backed by Cherubim Chior.

He says he rehearsed many songs with them but only did a few of them on the day. The show was, however, his way of telling us he’s going to work with them more in the future.

Most times, incorporating choirs in pop music is incredibly hard; blending and finding rhythm can be a daunting task, yet these ones found ways of making it work on songs such as Mumbejja alongside Xenson, Muvubuka, Nkwegomba, and the title song, People of the Land.

With the guidance of Eugene Gum, the music director of the show, and alongside many of Mugabi’s friends from university such as JJ Bugoma, Happy Kyazze, and Ronnie Bukenya, they turned songs around, remixed others, and got the audience engaged, but above all, they did not violate songs the way most live bands in Uganda do.

They managed to maintain the essence and integrity of the original songs while adding their own unique touch. The result was a captivating and refreshing live performance that showcased Mugabi’s talent and creativity, leaving the audience in awe.

Mugabi’s show showcased a lot of vocal strength, body movement, instrumentation, and production values, so picking a highlight is incredibly hard.

Be it Steve Jean and Fenon Production or the children who joined him on stage to dance ballet as he performed Cinderella, there is a lot to write home about.

But for a night, most people simply came for Mugabi’s music and the jam session between Ebrahim Soul’O, Andereya Baguma, and Mitch Isabirye. The trio fused spoken word, poetry, and music to get the audience eating out of their palms, and by the end of the evening, those that did not know them, wanted to know more about them, which technically has been the other purpose of such shows: lighting other candles.

Mugabi closed the night with Sanyu and Naki, two songs that took the audience from a soul concert to karaoke and later a choir and disco. Everyone of them was singing along.