Tshila unveils another side of Ugandan music in Zanzibar

By Vision Reporter

Sarah Tshila, a member of the Bataka Squard, a popular local hip hop group, represented Uganda at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) which took place in July.

Sarah Tshila, a member of the Bataka Squard, a popular local hip hop group, represented Uganda at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) which took place in July.

At the festival, Tshila, who was one of the highlights in the Music and Performing Arts Programmes, performed alone on stage, as well as with Kinobe and the Soul Beat of Africa, also from Uganda. Tshila also did a documentary film with Alliance Française called Wild Sounds which was screened at the festival.

Tshila’s first album Sipping from the Nile, which portrays different styles and sounds as well as those original to Uganda, is set to be tentatively launched this October, and will run for three consecutive weeks at the National Theatre. Tshila is also associated with the Bavubuka Foundation.
Tshila, who hails from Mbale District, says, “My aim is to expose Ugandan music in a different light from what the international scene has been exposed to. We have a few Ugandan artistes who are putting a stamp on Ugandan music and saying this is how it sounds when in actual fact, there are different styles, sounds, and tribes. We have many different tribes and all of them have different expressions so I am trying to mix this up and bring it out to the international scene,”
On July 30, Tshila travelled to Senegal to do some collaboration work with a Senegalese group.
The spectacular film festival, also known as the Ziff Festival of the Dhow Countries, screened about 100 films. It has already gained the reputation as “East Africa’s premier cultural event. The chief guest at the festival was Melvin Van Peebles –– the legendary filmmaker who is often referred to as the “Godfather of Independent and African-American Cinema”. The ZIFF attracts a lot of people from all over the world to East Africa. Jane Musoke-Nteyafas of www.ugpulse.com interviewed her and below are exerpts.

Question: How did you get invited to the ZIFF?
Answer: I was invited to play at ZIFF by Alliance Française Uganda. Alliance got to know me through projects I was doing with Kinobe, and invited me to come along with him and his band, Soul Beat Africa to represent Uganda in Zanzibar.

What was your impression of the ZIFF?
The festival is a wonderful opportunity for Ugandan musicians like me, who are trying to think outside the box. My main aim of being there was to expose and share my people’s music with them. When we were leaving, one of the people there told me they were not keen on Ugandan music and did not expect much, but were pleasantly surprised by our performances. I am currently submitting my material to the next Zanzibar festival in February called Sauti Za Busara. It is more focused on music than ZIFF.

Did you have a chance to watch any of the ZIFF movies? Which one did you like most?
As a matter of fact, a documentary in which I starred was submitted as one of the films for the festival. It had played in Kampala on closing day of the Amakula Film Festival to a surprisingly wonderful reception. It is called Wild Sounds, and was produced in association with Alliance Française. I did not get to see anything else, because of the little time we spent in Zanzibar. However, Wild Sounds is a must-watch for any Ugandans in the diaspora who want to find out what the music industry in Uganda is going to be like in the near future. Explosive!!

How many and which songs did you perform at that event?
I performed four songs the first day - Scientific Love, Naabone, Urumi Moyoni and Buli Shensi Nhola in the Old Fort.
The audience was very lively and the show was fun. The second day was outside in Forodhani gardens, with a much bigger crowd and was fun too. However, due to night prayers, we had to cut the show short and I ended up doing only The Night is Mine (not yet recorded), and Buli Shensi Nhola.

Buli Shensi Nhola is one of my favourite music clips and it is mostly sang in Lugisu. What does the song mean for those who may not understand Lugisu?
Buli Shensi Nhola literally means “Everything I do (is not good enough for you...) The song should be a women's anthem because it is about feminine empowerment. It has this line: “Egotistic, chauvinistic, animalistic, masochistic, doministic –– I'm not a feminist, I'm realistic!” That says it all

What about Naabone? What is it about?
Naabone literally means –– I have seen, but figuratively means... “I see!” It is like: “I see! So you're not all that fancy after all!! Outside, you are beautiful, inside you are crap!” Okay, not that blunt, but it's a song written about that moment of revelation when you see people for who they truly are! It is about a village schoolmate who likes to show off, but I am not buying into the hype surrounding her….because I see beneath her exterior.

Scientific Love... What a concept! What exactly is Scientific Love? What inspired you to write it?
The poem –– Scientific Love , which itself was born out of the desire to impress a loved one with sleek poetic talk. The things we do for love!!

How do you come up with the beats? Is it a collaboration between you and the band or do you already know what you want it to sound like beforehand?
It is crazy, but I write the beats when I write the songs. When I finally sit down with the band, the song has been through five remixes in my head. We basically just figure out the arrangements together. At first, I used to think I was strange because I did not know how other musicians did it. Where I was not sure of the guitar chords, I would tell Myko what the tune was and he would help me figure it out.

What about the words of your songs?
I come up with the words through emotion. If I don't feel the song, I can't go past the first line. I will post the words to my songs on my website when I release the CD.

How did the crowd react to your music?
I have never performed in front of such a vibrant crowd, and I do not think that kind of crowd exists in Uganda. But then again, I have had very few performances here to judge by. In my experience, however, Ugandan crowds tend to be a bit passive, and even though they appreciate what you are doing, they barely participate.

Was there a big Ugandan representation there?
There were a good number of Ugandan artistes. Alliance Française was able to bring a big number –– 13. There was me, Kinobe, the six instrumentalists in Soul Beat Africa, and five hip-hop acts. The rappers included Emma Katya, Pato, Lyrical G, Abrams and Sylvester.

Please tell me how you met the members of your band?
The creation of my band has been one the most absorbing experiences I have been through as a musician. I say experience in that, I can now make sound judgement based on what I have been through. I started out really aflame; enthusiastically wanting to be ethnic in my sound! I was on a mission! I travelled the country looking for traditional instrumentalists and brought them to my home in Kampala to practise with me. I had eight talented boys that I had picked up from Soroti, Masindi, Mbale, and Kampala. I now have three left.

How did you meet Kinobe?
Kinobe found out about me and my fanatical, over-enthusiastic projects from friends and was interested in meeting me. He took great pity and helped me a lot with some of my projects.

Hopefully. How would you describe your musical style?
Do they call it fused? Okay, so I guess I will go with fusion! Haha!

How is the musical scene in Uganda?
It is developing under the sheets. Uganda has so many revolutionary musicians, but they end up leaving the country. They need to stay there because together we can make it happen! And we will! I am already on board the moving train and nothing will stop me!

By the way, who designs your costumes? They are just so insanely creative. I mean I even want to wear them!
You will not believe it but I do it myself. I come up with the concept and purchase the materials, and have my tailor friend transform them into real life pieces. It is a great process! I definitely have to venture into fashion soon!

What can we expect from Sarah Tshila in the near future?
Expect a launch of my album in October which is planned to run three weeks consecutively at the National Theatre with different themes each night –– expect lots of theatrics!

Tshila unveils another side of Ugandan music in Zanzibar