By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published April 24, 2013
Watching them perform live in Kampala confirmed that Ugandan Qwela band has mastered the musical art of playing modern rhythms embedded in the traditional African roots producing a unique afro-soul flavour.
Qwela presented Ugandan music from their two albums, Kidepo and Afrotopia, played over a fusion of Western and traditional instruments backed by magnificent sound, visual effects, lighting, and a smoke filled stage.
At the event dubbed Qwela Live In Concert held at the Kampala Serena Hotel on March 28, 2013, the band’s menu included Ingaha, Africa, Happy Song, Ensi, Rukira Boona and a seven-minute medley of Mwana Wanje/Tana Tana/Mama Tokaaba/Tendeko.
They also played Eija Nkutware, a popular hit off their 2013 album, Afrotopia. Their fans who had parted with UShs50,000 ($19) would not keep to their seats; they joined the band on stage with the ekizino dance from Kigezi in western Uganda.
They performed Eija Nkutware, a blues, folk and hip-hop song featuring Qreaus that has received the most radio play on the new album.
With Siima Kyakuhaire Sabiti blowing the flute, they played Lela, a song advocating for better public health policies to reduce infant mortality.
Qwela shared the stage with guest artists from Zawuka band and Brian Mugenyi. Former members of Qwela–songstress Sarah Tamba and guitarist Myko Ouma–also performed in a kind of reunion. They also had collaborative performances with Qreaus, House of Talent and M-lisada brass band.
Commenting on the concert, the band leader, Joe Kahirimbanyi, told ArtMatters.Info, “The special thing about this concert is that we hadn’t done one like this since 2010. We have grown a lot since then; we have worked very hard and grown our act since then. So we were much more versatile then we normally are including a whole range of traditional and classical instruments. We also did a lot more interaction, did some daring collaborations and also incorporated a lot of choreography.”
Their debut album, Kidepo, full of heartfelt African tunes and rhythms that was released in 2007, was well received by their fans.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm for Kidepo by our fans, both local and international, which was a beautiful thing,” Kahirimbanyi said.
As to why they named their second album Afrotopia, Kahirimbanyi said: “We believe that in order to achieve something you have to perceive it. Afrotopia, therefore, is our perception of an ideal Africa. An African Utopia.”
“Afrotopia was released in early 2013 and is faring well on the local market. We have done OK so far. We don’t have a big distribution network, but somehow we have managed to move sales. So I would say we have done well,” Kahirimbanyi said.
Founded in 2007, the band plays Afro soul and fusion music. Its music is a socially conscious fusion of African rhythms, melodies with stories and messages about hope, faith and love. These songs are on life occurrences in the last decade. Each one represents an experience that has affected our lives or of someone else,” Kahirimbanyi says.
According to Kahirimbanyi, Qwela is a short, nice word, easy to pronounce and remember.
“It has many beautiful meanings in different African languages which all coincidentally rhyme with what Qwela is all about. Qwela means to make music with a flute, it means bright, it means rising. So we are bright we are rising and we are making music.”
Qwela prides itself as a band with a unique fusion of African music with a Western musical approach. Its niche- reaches a section of society that is not catered for by the current of digital, recycled music.
Kahirimbanyi observes that live bands have begun attracting big audiences that they had lost to hip-hop artists.
I think that the audience for live bands is on the rise and I think there are a lot of things we are doing right. The reason why some live band gigs may not be well attended is because it costs a lot to put up a production. So the ticket prices are higher and not as easily affordable. However, that said, many live band performances are still sell out concerts even when the tickets sell for as high as UShs150, 000 ($57).
Qwela was named top live act of 2009 by the New Vision Band Survey. They have performed in Zanzibar, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kigali.