Jocelyne Tracy Keko has taken the Ugandan music scene by storm.
Within one year in the industry, she has scooped The Buzz Teenies’ award for best female and best upcoming artiste. In a country where many who join the music industry are looked at as wannabes trying to earn cheap popularity, Keko stands out.
By her own admission, she never dreamed that she would be a star, although she always told herself, “I will never be background noise.”
And when you hear her talk about music and listen to her free-style, you clearly get the feel that she isn’t hitting the charts by chance. Her musical journey is a twist of fate. Twenty-four years ago when she was born, Keko, the youngest in a family of three girls, had something weird about her.
Unlike most kids, she loved and still loves the dark and quiet places, attributes which she says have helped her become a good songwriter. In fact it was after writing a verse back in high school that she realized she could actually rap. It was also the same time that she decided to use her real name on stage.
Most people are shocked when she tells them that Keko is her real name. Yet to the people of Tororo where she hails from and the Japadhola her ancestors, Keko means a rescuer and peacebroker.
While at Maryhill High School Mbarara where she did her HSC, Keko and two friends formed a girls group, the Soul Sisters. She recalls that the group was an underground unit with no guts to perform, until one Sunday they were asked to perform. The other two girls were ready with verses in the song but Keko had none.
She sat down and came up with a rap verse in a day and on the D-day she stole the show and her friends convinced her to concentrate on rapping. After high school when she joined Makerere University for a degree in Commerce, Keko trashed her friends’ advice and focused on basketball which was her first love.
She joined the university team – Makerere Cubs – where she was the star player from 2006-2009. She was so good that her teammates felt betrayed when she switched to the senior side, Makerere Sparks.
At Makerere Sparks, the super star status she enjoyed with the Cubs was no more; she was limited to the bench; so, she lost interest and quit basketball.
Though she doesn’t play anymore – not even for fun – the basketball fraternity are her number one fans and whenever she shows up at YMCA to watch a game, she is given a red carpet welcome.
After quitting basketball, Keko escorted one of her friends, Priscilla, a member of the Watoto Church choir, to Roota Records where she worked on a gospel project.
At the studio, she met Sam Lamara, producer of GNL Zamba’s first album. There, as she played around with the instruments, she knitted up a few lines and came up with Maisha, her first song.
When the editing was done, the song still missed something and she was advised to partner with someone to improve it, so Rocky Giant chipped in. Like with many upcoming artistes, her song struggled for airplay but finally Hot 100’s Mackenzie played it on his show and the listeners loved it.
Henceforth, Keko’s world would take a whole different path. Weeks later, Benon Mugumbya of Swangz Avenue records called her to help in recording the MTN caller tunes campaign. When she got there, she developed a strong bond with Benon who guided her in making her real first hit, Alwoo, a Japadhola word loosely translated as cry for help.
The song tells the story of the plight of women. Listening to the song, you are left with that ‘wow’ feeling.
“Writing that song was effortless. In fact, all my best works have been done when I don’t put pressure on myself,” she says.
Because a number of artistes go through Swangz Avenue, it was easy for Keko to get acquainted with the Goodlyfe boys, Navio, Tonix, Angela Katatumba, Vamposs and others.
Then she dropped the infectious How We Do It. She has already had her share of negative publicity that inevitably comes with success.
Tabloids have had their share of Keko, first labeling her Navio’s ‘side dish’ then branding her ‘gay’ because of her tomboy antics. She says at first it really got to her but with time she has come to let it be because, “none of it is true.”
Did you know?
- Keko wears size 12 sneakers only.
- She once sold sugarcane while in the village.
- She doesn’t celebrate birthdays; considers them irrelevant.
- She buys airtime in denominations of Shs 1,000 and 2,000 only.
- She finds big earrings irritating.
- She does video mixing and animations when not in studio.
- She has not yet graduated at Makerere where she was doing a bachelor of Commerce degree.
- She doesn’t own a single skirt.
- She has a crush on Navio.
- She is happily single.