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Kerunen and team do it better at Pearl Rhythm Festival

Haka Mukiga performs

If you have attended local music festivals before, the Pearl Rhythm Festival that took place at the National Theatre on Saturday would have left you nodding in  approval of its different stroke.

For its second edition, instead of struggling with not-readily-available stars, the festival continued with its artiste-tutoring, guiding and later helping them record music. Most of the songs recorded by the artistes rhyme with the festival’s theme of having a Ugandan sound attached to it – that is why they call it the Pearl Rhythm Stage Coach.

A three-month music academy, the Stage Coach usually provides performers for the festival, and it works. Last year, the Stage Coach artistes were Raymond Parwot, Arpeggio band, Undercover Brothers and Charles Obina, but on Saturday, we were introduced to Ann Nassanga aka Afrie, Haka Mukiga, Lynn Aineomugisha and J Wonder.

Suzan Kerunen, one of the festival organizers, says Stage Coach was started as a fuel pump for the performing arts.

“We had started a festival looking at celebrating a Ugandan sound, but didn’t have many of such artistes to programme,” said Kerunen, a world music maestro.

Afraid of recycling artistes, the Stage Coach was born also as an opportunity to give talented people necessary guidance and mentorship.

Kerunen says they scout and hand-pick the artistes for the Stage Coach, but will be looking at having auditions if funds allow next year. Kerunen notes that four of the first lot out of the academy are doing well in all their fields.

Arpeggio Band, which at the time of the 2014 Pearl Rhythm Festival was a group of students from Makerere University, has provided the industry with some of the funkiest instrumentalists such as JJ Bugoma, a percussionist, and Happy Kyazze, a saxophonist.

Much as the band has not played together a lot, some original members, including vocalist Kenneth Mugabi, have gone on to do great things. Mugabi performed at the unveiling of Kahiri, a project by Qwela’s front man Joe Kahirimbanyi, and has graced the two Qwela Junctions, as well as performing at Laba and Bayimba International festivals.

Raymond Parwot is into teaching music at the Bayimba Academy while Charles Obina is more of a session instrumentalist.

The Undercover Brothers, probably the most resilient ones, have been all over the place; since the festival last year, they have released a debut album, At Dawn, and have toured the East African regional festivals. Kerunen says Uganda is rich in sound that has not been represented by many of the mainstream acts.

“It’s mainly because Uganda is porous; we are so open to cultures from elsewhere.”

Much as she believes a Ugandan sound cannot be attached to a beat or a solo, Kerunen says featuring at least an Acholi or Kiganda drum on a song represents the people from that region and the country at large, something she emphasized in the Stage Coach performances.

On Saturday, the Stage Coach artistes were joined by Sabar Zibula, Michael Kitanda and Saava Karim who performed mostly his Kiganda folk songs. The legendary Sammy Kasule pleasantly surprised by turning out with Uganda’s oldest band, Afrigo, to thrill festival goers further.

Afrie, a final year dental surgery student at Makerere University, says the Stage Coach is a great opportunity and much as she has class work to attend to, she wants to perform more. A select group from the audience got a chance to walk away with an original album with music by some of the performers.

kaggwandre@gmail.com

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