Meeting the Ugandan gospel quintet, First Love in Houstonâ€™s humid evening conditions, was simply refreshing. Their faces were bright with anticipation and their movements were vigorous, even after making their way through Houstonâ€™s extremely busy evening traffic.
â€œWow, I think Houston should be our 12th city after several performances in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Tampa, Atlanta and other cities in the East and South of the United States (US),â€ said group leader Paul Kim, his hand brushing his brow.
Other members of First Love on the US tour are Fred Walusimbi, Sharpe Sewali, James Ddamba and Nicholas Mayanja.
That night, First Love was set to perform at an African church in Southwest Houston beginning at 7:15pm. Their first song, Bayete was a catchy Zulu gospel song with pop fusions that the First Love group performed with a fine mix of traditional leg raising and stomping and current R&B dance styles.
When First Love first began to perform the song, the congregation was subdued but soon got up and did things akin to what First Love was doing although none came close to the action before them.
The dance was different, highly energetic and animated. It was in Zulu and that night, First Love simply performed it better.
Later, First Love performed five other songs off their Asante album- in English, Swahili and Luganda, varied by arrangement, language, beat and presentation.
They introduced the Ngalabi and Bakisimba drums to the Houston congregation in a Kiganda gospel song. Their performance received rousing applause from the congregation. Clearly, First Loveâ€™s music had matured.
They were not the nondescript group that was formed 11 years ago in Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC) and for some time, struggled to reach beyond the walls of that church.
â€œIn the beginning, our vision was un-sponsored and even some of our relatives stopped us from doing the whole gospel group thing. But we are here because of Godâ€, said Fred Walusimbi, one of the First Loveâ€™s original members.
First Love disproved their detractors when they eventually took their act to the international sc\ene.
After the 2001 Asante album promotional tour of Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, First Love moved to London in March 2002.
Two weeks after their arrival in London, they performed to critical acclaim at the BBC Channel 4 gospel awards in the prestigious Brixton Academy.
Some months later, they performed alongside Raymond and Co., maybe, the biggest gospel act in the United Kingdom.
First Love did not lose a step. They did the London Carnival and several other concerts in the UK and later, crossed borders and did church concerts in Sweden, as well as AIDS awareness campaigns sponsored by Swedish International Development Agency. In May 2003, they did three concerts in Switzerland.
Have they met any challenges?
â€œOh yes. But despite the challenges, we meet on tour like financial difficulties, technical problems, home-sickness and scheduling conflicts, our mission is to reach all the worldâ€™s peoples and culturesâ€, said Sharpe Sewali, First Loveâ€™s lead vocalist.
Whatâ€™s next for First Love? â€œLater this year, we will launch our next album, Exodus, which is mostly in English with R&B, Reggae, Rock and Pop beats and fusions. We intend to reach even a wider audience with this next oneâ€, said Paul Kim. â€œWe will pre-release a track off Exodus called God bless Africa on Ugandan radio waves by June 2004â€, added Sharpe Sewali.
After performing in four Houston churches, First Love took the gruelling drive to southern California to start another series of performances that will take them all over the US west coast and northern cities.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about us, we will take some breaks at the beaches swimming and chillingâ€, said Sharpe Sewali with a loud laugh.
Who can blame them? Work, play and prayer have always given First Love group the freshness, creativity and fun they bring to all their concerts.
Ugandaâ€™s First love rocks America