Sylver Kyagulanyi is everything that the typical Ugandan celebrity is not. He is not a pompous Smart Alec, drunk on fame and fortune. He is not a cynic who wants to see everything around him collapse in a heap because that’s the way life goes. Instead, writes STEVEN TENDO, Kyagulanyi is a study in meekness and modesty.
The song-writing genius is a small-bodied man who is unassuming in everything. He sticks to a programme and tries not to disappoint those who have to meet him. Since the year 2000, when lady fortune smiled on his work, any other artiste would have taken it for granted that they have arrived what with the rave reviews and the fan mail that pours in everyday.
Instead, Kyagulanyi has maintained his profile as a press-shy guy who is known for his work and not for off-stage shenanigans. Six years down the road and the Kyagulanyi roller coaster still moves, growing stronger and stronger. He is the real Ugandan doctor of the music world, the one everyone whose sales are dropping or whose creativity is waning, will be advised to run to to make things right.
Point out any Ugandan musician who is making waves in the country or in East Africa and chances are that they are riding on the wave of a Sylver Kyagulanyi song. He has penned most of the mega hits on Ugandan radio and he can confidently say he has worked with all Ugandan musicians.
Kyagulanyi was born in September 1979 and he never went out of the country for his education.
“I started singing professionally back in 1999,” he explains. “I started producing about the same time, mainly because I realised that getting airplay was not easy. I have written songs for musicians sometimes even without coming to any agreement with them. Sometimes I am only helping to get a note right and I end up writing a whole track for someone just because their voice is good and I think it would suit a particular song.” Kyagulanyi enjoys a lot of respect in the musical circles but also among the fans. For one, he is rare in the places that other artistes patronise. On a given evening, one would find him at a club in Makindye, a Kampala neighbourhood, rehearsing his songs or helping out other musicians.
“I have written some songs that are not attributed to me,” he says. “Some musicians find it a blow to their ego to admit that they did not pen a song so they prefer to pass it off as their own. This happens mostly with the male musicians. The females are open about it and they have admitted.”
Kyagulanyi has been credited with the biggest songs of the last two years; Nabikoowa (I am tired) by Juliana Kanyomozi and the recent hit riding on the waves at the moment, Nkuweeki (What should I give you?) from Iryn.
Kyagulanyi has also written for other artistes like Blu*3, Sara Zawedde, Sophie Nantongo and many others whose songs have gone on to make them stars in their own right. He has also embarked on talent scouting and from his recent success with the Obsessions girls, this could also be yet another of the many facets that make up the man, Sylver Kyagulanyi.
“The Obsessions did not believe that the girls could sing,” he says. “I thought otherwise and I told them so.”
Kyagulanyi penned all the songs on the last album from The Obsessions, Weekuume (take care of yourself), which also is the first effort from the girls, who hitherto were only backup dancers.
Critics have said the Obsessions girls trying to sing just showed the desperate situation in which they were, but Kyagulanyi does not have to hang on to them if they have no talent. The fact that he decided to groom them into songstresses shows that there is something the rest of the world missed.
Kyagulanyi started out as a guitar aficionado and he still passionately plays this instrument that he believes communicates best among all the musical instruments. The guitar is one of the items that saw him through school. “I had bursaries throughout school because of my talent,” he says. “I believe I am blessed to have this talent.”
The musician has produced five albums to date, including Ekyasa ky’abakyala (Era of women), Omuzadde katonda (the parent is God), Congratulations, Abaana bo (your children), and Tebalemwa maka (they never fail in marriage), which he launched in August 2006.
All of these albums have almost the same theme: educating the masses. “I sing to teach,” Kyagulanyi says. “I am interested in shaking the brain as opposed to shaking the body. I am trying to show the listeners that they can enjoy the music but at the same time they can learn life lessons out of it.”
His songs are danceable, underlined with heavy bass guitar lines and the popular drums in Uganda today but he differs from the others in his dress sense. He always dons a suit and he cuts a respectable figure while up there on stage.
“Off stage, you will never find me in a suit,” he says. “The way one dresses is important and I choose to wear suits to make my message sink in even more.”
Does Kyagulanyi pander to the public demands? He says he does not try to write songs that are meant to stimulate some shallow desire. He believes in producing what is good for the listeners. As long as it will cause a positive influence, he thinks an artiste should pursue it.
“I want to be important and not popular,” he says. “If I can be important in people’s lives, I am satisfied.”
He believes that there is a lot of potential in the country but many people are unfortunate because they don’t have someone to guide them in realising their dreams.
Kyagulanyi is an ordained evangelist and that probably explains why his favourite word is ‘blessed’.
Kyagulanyi’s life is music. Even if he stopped doing it commercially, he says, he would always be involved somehow.
“I am actually going into music education,” he says.
He has started New World Foundation, an organisation which focuses on talent search and development.
“I believe that the words I put down as music are not really mine,” he explains. “They are divinely-inspired. That is why I have no right to hoard them. That is why many times I write songs and give them out for free.”
Kyagulanyi’s evangelistic background is evident in the softness of his voice and his get-up.
The bespectacled artist drives a green Honda.
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“I am blessed with enough,” he says. “I believe I have enough food, clothing and I don’t have to pay rent to any one. What more can I ask for?”
He is not too keen on talking about his family, though.
“I have made it a policy not to talk about my family because they have their own lives and it would not be fair to force them into the limelight just because they are related to me. My mother and siblings are free from the attention that I have to live with because the media do not really know them,” he says. “They can go about their lives, take boda boda (motor bike taxi) rides without any trouble.”
But he divulges that he plans to marry in the near future, a prospect he is evidently excited about.
When ArtMatters.Info asks about the name Jalia on his key-holder, he beams as he talks about her. But she is another of the people he is going to keep out of the media, he says.
Kyagulanyi, who says he reads and writes a lot, adds that he is hopes to publish his first novel, a book written in Luganda.
“I am an advocate of self-study,” he says. “I think I can find out a lot on my own and that is what I am writing about in my books.”
He has two other novel-writing projects waiting and he looks forward to a great time as an author.