Exceptional, magical and awesome, are some of the words you can use to define the sound. It is edgy, calm, yet classy.
The music is most often folk songs, country dance or similar types, but it can also be pieces from renowned composers and maybe the “pop music” of many cultural enthusiasts.
Yet the brains behind such genius genres go uncelebrated in many markets. For many, it is called world music, although for other music critics, it is alternative music, which would still sound complicated to an ordinary Ugandan.
Suzan Kerunen, a Ugandan fusion and world music artiste, is one of such geniuses. The double Kora award nominee writes and performs her music in local languages including Alur-Jonam, her mother tongue and Kiswahili.
“World music is any form of ethnic sound with a cultural route inclination and fusion. I believe kadongokamu is the best world music export central Uganda has produced and it hurts to see people look down on it as ‘local’,” Kerunen says during an interview with The Observer.
Kerunen started her music journey at a tender age. Then, she could play the xylophone and perform with her two sisters. They later formed an all-girl group – Soul of Africa.
“We usually performed pop songs and rap at times,” she says. Kerunen rapping; now, there’s a thought!
However, when Kerunen embarked on a solo career, she decided to embrace world and cultural music.
“When I was growing up, I used to watch a lot of music shows on UTV (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation): Kora awards, Africa Musica and Miss Malaika. Little known to me at the time, much of this was actually world music and I guess it influenced my music decisions,” she says.
Today, the Alur princess is arguably Uganda’s most respected female artiste in the world music genre with stage appearances and performances with heavyweights such as Suzan Awiyo, Miriam Makeba (RIP), Oliver Mutukudzi and Herbert Kinobe, among others.
In 2008, she was one of the few African acts chosen to headline the Kora All African Music awards media launch in Benin. While there, Kerunen performed alongside, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, ASA, The Jaziel brothers and other artistes.
The singer has since recorded three studio albums and is currently working on a fourth album at her Little Penny studios in Mengo. Her debut album, Nimefika (Kiswahili for ‘I have arrived’) was lauded for its richness and authentic sound.
With a mix of Njige, Agwara and Ndara drums from her Alur-Jonam (central Luo) people of Nebbi district, Kerunen created a masterpiece. It was the single Ngom, from this album that got her the two Kora nods.
She followed that up with two more albums; Lek and Acher Achera. Unlike the three where the singer employed a heavy western influence mixed with Ugandan sounds, Kerunen says on the fourth album, more traditional instruments will be heard.
“My fourth album is more authentic. I am not fusing with the western sound, it’s just me and the home-based instruments,” she says.
Kerunen’s love for her heritage is not only imprinted on her songs, it is clear even when she talks about Uganda. It is no surprise that in October 2010, she alongside Moses Kipsiro were named Tourism goodwill ambassadors for their role in promoting Uganda’s image and brand.
“The best thing every artiste would want to achieve is identity. Even before I was named an ambassador, I have always wanted to sell where I come from to others through my music,” Kerunen says.
On November, 23 at Jazzville in Bugolobi, Kerunen will wow her fans with some of their favourites including Anyira, Leo and Ngom in a show titled Kura – culture in Alur. The up-close and personal show is meant for Kerunen’s most intimate fans and will feature Garmela Sinko, a pianist/keyboardist and composer based in New York, USA.
As a pianist, her performance repertoire includes art songs, opera, music theatre, cabaret, pop and rock standards, classical solo and choral works.
“This concert will be different from the ones I have done in the past. I will feature Sinko on renditions of some of my favourite songs; it is like a cultural exchange,” she says.
Plus: “We are streaming the show live on the internet.”