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Mugerwa is all about giving world music a chance

Jude Mugwerwa

He has ventured into exploring new directions in the world of Uganda’s music. From his tenure as a keyboardist to being a music producer now coupled with sound engineering, JUDE MUGERWA has been an integral part and continuously pioneered a groundbreaking for many of Uganda’s world musicians. Many of his compositions are classic, writes Andrew Kaggwa.

There is something so pure and yet so simple about refined music; it’s friendly to the ear and finds ways of letting you appreciate all the instruments, known or unknown.

The first time you enter the Little Penny Studios in the basement of the National theatre building, the good feeling will eventually engulf you, and that is because you will either find an artiste recording with multiple cultural instruments onset, or a listening session.

This particular day, the mood is more relaxed, and the strategic location of the studio, which is accessible through the crafts village side, makes it one of the few quiet places around.

Of course, even as we get into the studio where much of this interview happened, we come across a number of ethno musicians, commonly referred to by the media as world music artistes.

In the recording room, we can still hear music; the song playing is by Ceaser Kajura and Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi. It was done about two years back, but it seems the artistes are listening to it for inspiration for some new projects.

This is how Mugerwa’s day is almost on a daily basis. He is one of those most sought-after music producers and sound engineers in the country that when he is not talking about an upcoming recording session, he will be talking about so and so’s concert where his ability to man sound will be needed.

He says that one of the qualities of a good producer is being able to identify talent, and a direction for that talent or the science of finding out what is good for a certain voice.

In a very short period, Mugerwa has made a mark on the industry with artistes such as Myko Ouma, Herbert Kinobe, Kiyingi, Jackie Akello and Susan Kerunen, among others.

Some are his friends way before and probably Kerunen his wife, but for many younger artistes, Mugerwa has mostly been tracking them down from the different art activities that happen throughout the year and a personal project, Stage Coach, which is a part of another bigger one he co-founded, the Pearl Rhythm festival.

Through the Stage Coach, they have managed to give audience to Kiyingi, Ann Nassanga alias Afrie, Undercover Brothers, Appegio band and Haka Mukiga, among others.

“It is fantastic seeing many young talents develop into brilliant artistes,” he says, adding that just this year, many of the former Stage Coach artistes have been programmed for festivals like LaBa! art festival, Milege World Music festival and Nyege Nyege International Music festival, among others.

But before the magic, before he became ‘Jude the producer’, Mugerwa was just a simple chap that loved music. Then at Bukalasa Minor Seminary, he was one of the few in his class that studied music from senior one to six.

“The seminary had way too many instruments. Thus, it was easy to learn how to play them,” he says.

In fact, it wasn’t surprising that even when he joined Makerere University in 1996 for a bachelor’s degree in Arts, he majored in music and psychology.

It was at the university where he met Tony Sengo who convinced him to join Badindas, a band he was part of at the time as a keyboard player. It is during his time with the band that he was privileged to meet music legends Jimmy Katumba and Elly Wamala.

Mugerwa’s music career could have gone a different direction when he chose to get a white-collar job as a programs manager for the Lutheran Media Ministries. Here, he was totally on a different path; however, since Lutheran was into awareness campaigns using different media, the organization happened to have a studio where Mugerwa would start frequenting, slowly teaching himself a few things about production.

He would use his little skill then to work on a few artistes’ music, most notably, most of the songs on Pastor Wilson Bugembe’s famous Yellow album as well as folklore artiste Sarah Ndagire. But it was in 2005 that he left formal employment, using a few of his savings to start the Little Penny.

“The name came from a fact that we started with little funds,” he says.

That is when he met friends: Myko Ouma, a guitarist, and Herbert Kinobe, a percussionist and folklore artiste, and together formed the famous Soul Beat Africa band.

“The real reason for coming together was that there was an opportunity to tour 21 countries and a band was needed,” he says.

Jude Mugerwa in studio

Since they had been friends, it was easy putting the music together that by the time the tour started, they had a track list to last them at least for a show. Mugerwa was playing keys alongside others like drummer Ambrose Mugume and Samuel Bakkabulindi, a guitarist then before becoming the renowned percussionist today.

Many argue that this was the birth of the Afro-fusion of traditional instruments with Western ones famously termed as world music in Uganda, though Mugerwa seems to differ.

For instance, he notes that some artistes like Percussion Discussion Africa, Kerunen and Kinobe, among others, were already doing it, though on a smaller scale.

“We only blew it up because of our travels but artistes were already doing it,” he says.

It was on one of these travels that Mugerwa was asked to step in as the engineer, since the organizers couldn’t sponsor the person that was to do it. Good for him, he was told while there was time, thus, he had time to do some reading and research.

When Soul Beat Africa travelled again in 2010, through 2011, Mugerwa wasn’t on the keys but, rather, on sound engineering, a role he has since taken on and has seen him manage sound at Bayimba International festival of the arts Joel Sebunjo’s concert at Sheraton, World Music day and the Pearl Rhythm festival, among others.

Today, Mugerwa is one of the most sought-after sound engineers, especially if there are African instruments on set. He says the trick in programming African sound all comes with appreciating it.

“Those instruments are not like the Western ones. They react to temperature, weather, thus, one must understand them to program them,” he says.

However, since Soul Beat Africa wasn’t formed on objectives to outlast the tours; all the members ended up falling back to what they had wanted to pursue before the group – Kinobe continued working on music in the US, Mugerwa went on to produce more artistes while Ouma too launched his solo career.

Because of the exposure of performing in developed economies, Mugerwa had known that world music was respected and was the only sound that could represent where a person was from.

“I made my choice with principles. I played mainstream music before but when I started doing fusion, I found it rich,” he says.

Currently, Mugerwa is dedicated to pushing the folklore sound, which he believes is the only way Ugandan music will get the deserved respect on the world stage, and as much as notes that he left the mainstream kind of production, he says that he would freely work with mainstream artistes, especially if he can get to put his fusion in their sound.

“I am all about promoting a Ugandan sound,” he says.

What people say about him

Ann Nassanga alias Afrie, Stage Coach product

Jude is a patient and selfless producer. His passion for developing a unique East African sound is so evident, and I guess that is why he keeps track of artistes that he mentors to see that they never lose focus.

I remember asking him what he thought of my music and he told me that as long as my art reflected who I was, I was on the right track and that he was proud.

Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi – Artiste, worked with Mugerwa on his Amakondere album

Keep time. Do not step on stage and present without rehearsal. Always mind the quality of work you give out; otherwise, when it’s good, everyone you work with is successful. Once you lose, we all lose.

If you accept to do something, give it your entire body, heart, soul and mind, you don’t know who is watching!

Yes, and however small a slot is for a good artiste, it’s seen in 15 seconds of his or her playing. That is the Jude I have worked with.

Ras B Ssali – Proprietor of Turbo Rays events company

He is a very detailed person and that helps him perfect his art.

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