Ruth Grace Namatovu emerged the winner of the second season of the Coca-Cola Rated Next singing competition. She bagged sh50m and a recording contract with Swangz avenue. Cecilia Okoth and David Lumu interviewed her
At 14 years, Ruth Grace Namatovu has suddenly become one of the richest and most admired Ugandan teenagers.
She is trying to deal with the latest radical change in life — Sh50m, new ‘relatives’, being a celebrity and how to harness her budding music career, not forgetting balancing the act with her academics.
Her mother, Eve Nanyonjo, a single parent, says she is not afraid of her daughter coming into the limelight as she started singing at the age of seven.
“She has always been singing with a local choir in her church. I will continue praying for her.”
Her father, Pastor Unity Kasiita, based in Italy, separated from her mother when Namatovu was very young.
Born on December 26, 1999, Namatovu, Nanyonjo’s only child, joined I Am Community Church in Lungujja, an organisation that takes care of orphans and underprivileged families, in 2007.
This is where she began her music career with the organisation’s choir called Mwamba Children’s Choir and has since been singing with them.
I Am Community Church, according to the organisation’s director, Barnabas Rwakatale, takes care of 500 orphans and children from underprivileged families.
The flamboyant Coca-Cola Rated Next season II superstar, who attended Buganda Road Primary School in Kampala and has scooped a recording contract with Swangz Avenue Studios, shares her journey into the music industry.
What was going through your mind the minute you were announced as the winner?
At first, I did not hear my name. I just saw my aunt put up her hand and I was like: ‘Oh, my God! I think I have won.’ I was so nervous. My mind went blank and it is not until I saw my aunt jump up that I knew I had won.
What was the most difficult thing you faced during the competition?
Facing the fans was quite a challenge. The questions they often asked tormented me as some came off as rude, although others seemed polite. But the bottom line is that you had to answer each and every one of them.
Some would ask: How do you balance books and singing? And I often told them I manage my time for books and music very well.
A 14-year-old should be in secondary school, focusing on education and not showbiz, but you are now a millionaire. Have you discussed with your parents plans for the cash?
I have been travelling a lot and I have also been trying to balance school and singing. I have teachers who come to homeschool our choir.
There are about 16 of us who go through this process, so I am used to it. I can sing and also do my school work. I can balance school and music very well. I will go back to school, but I am not about to give up on my music career as well.(Rwakatale says the choir travels annually to the US, UK, Sweden and Denmark, where they perform in schools, churches and theatres).
Have you already been hit by the star-bug?
Yes. I am already getting phone calls and many new uncles and aunts. There are also new cousins. The number of relatives has gone up.
Some are coming up and saying: ‘Oh, I am your aunt, I watched you grow up.’ The pictures are also many and the photographers always want me to smile.
What tricks did you use to beat your opponents?
I was super confident. I was ready to face any challenge and was not ready to take any bullying because of my age.
Sometimes I cried during probation and I even fell sick at a certain point, but I never wanted to let the audience know I was going through all that.
Who was your biggest competition?
Charles Ssekitoleko. He had very good vocals and many fans. Whenever he got to the stage, I would hear endless screaming from the audience. I was always afraid of singing after him.
General thoughts about the competition
It was fun and tough at the same time. Nothing comes easy. I wanted to gain the fame, so I had to go through each and everything I was told to do.
Who encouraged you to join the competition?
My uncle (Rwakatale), who also doubles as my manager, told me I had what it took to become a star. He also said the competition would help me gain the fame I had longed for.
Sh50m: What is the first thing that you are going to buy?
I intend to use it to boost my music career. I am not yet where I want to be. I will also go shopping for new dresses and shoes as I have a passion for fashion.
What difference do you bring to the music industry?
While many musicians use auto tunes and beats, my focus is going to be on the lyrics of a song. I enjoy singing for a good cause. It does not matter whether it is gospel or secular, as long as what you are singing for is for a good cause.
I want to change people’s lives with my music and i want them to listen to my message.
Who is your role model?
I look up to Mariah Carey. She is simply irresistible. I want to have a high pitch like her. I also love Beyoncé for the powerful vocals and energy she brings to any stage performance. Locally, Iryn Namubiru has a very strong voice.
Grace performed very well in a school music fest— former teacher
Catherine Najjuma taught Ruth in Primary Five at Buganda Road Primary School, Kampala. Najjuma told New Vision Ruth was a “well-behaved girl and very talkative” with “an amazing music” appetite.
“When I saw her on television, I did not recognise her. She had changed. However, when her name was mentioned, I immediately recalled her. She joined Buganda Road Primary school in Primary Four,” Najjuma said.
She added that Ruth’s win made Buganda Road Primary School proud.
“We felt very happy that our child from a school under the Universal primary Education programme had performed very well in music,” she said.
Najjuma noted that Ruth performed exceptionally well during a school-organised music and dance competition when she was in Primary Five.
“We have the video of her performing.”
According to Najjuma, Ruth joined an organisation that takes care of orphans and underprivileged.
“While at Buganda Road Primary, her setback was that she always travelled to America. However, she always passed her examinations,” Najjuma said.
She added that Ruth passed the Primary Leaving Examinations in second grade.