Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It is almost a month late but that does not diminish in the least Ugandan musician Maurice Kirya's feat of being the 2010 RFI (Radio France International) musical discovery. Yes, Ugandans who have listened and watched Maurice Kirya grow up from an unsure 16 year old musician to the vastly self confident 25 year old he is today will find it a bit strange that some musical audiences may consider Kirya a newcomer in the business. Kirya has been just on the periphery of massive fame in Uganda for so long that his name (the Kiryas' interestingly are three singing brothers in vastly different musical styles) is one all those with a short attention span for Ugandan music vaguely recognise.

Once upon a time, Maurice was one of the unpaid, struggling young musicians who was haggling to have 15 minutes on any stage that would have him. This blogger remembers going to watch Maurice perform at Steak Out about six years ago. (Maurice has been around that long and then some longer. Officially, he lists 10 years as his the time he has spent honing his craft). That Steak Out performance this blogger watched was tumultuous to say the least. At the time of that show, Maurice was actively in the process switching from a 'CD musician' (as many Ugandan musicians are) to performing live. As in going on stage and insisting that he play his guitar or sing without the aid of playback CDs.

Most Ugandan bars and restaurants, though they play host to so many musical performances, are actually far from equipped to handling concert performances. Or live shows. Many are not built with any thought put into the kind of acoustic feedback they will produce. In fact, if you have the chance to patronise most of them, I doubt in the beginning, they ever thought they would host musical performances. One of the few 'legendary' bars however that seemed planned with that in mind was the defunct DV. 8-at which Maurice and nearly all our notable musical performers first learned to perform 'live.' These bars and restaurants, when it comes to stocking up on musical equipment, believe the bigger the speaker, the better-and no, they do not have to be first hand speakers-even Katwe wonders can work. So you can understand the fights that were likely to erupt when some singer decided that they did not want to sing to their CD but wanted to 'do it live.'

MK's win means so much more
That was the atmosphere I watched and attended my first Maurice Kirya live performance at Steak Out, about six years ago. What remains from all those years ago is the memory of the joy songs like Stop brought to the audience, as Maurice would launch into it. Even then, Maurice already to some extent had this core group of fans (you couldn't strictly call them 'groupies' ) infused with an unbelievable volunteer spirit, who were 'fighting' with the Steak Out owners to make sure Maurice's show went ahead without a hitch as much as possible. It was one of the first shows where I first started getting intrigued with what goes on back stage, beyond the lights and the glamour, we see on the stage-I started wanting to know how it is all put together.

Maurice Kirya comes from that sort of background. The very rare kind of Ugandan musician, well, actually any artist-who with very few concessions and compromises-manages to bring his 'dream' to mainstream success without it losing its essential quality. Once upon a time, Maurice had a dream of Ugandans appreciating live music performers. He had to adjust that dream to incorporate the rest of the world-because after three or four years of struggle, he began to realise that he would never get enough Ugandan music fans to support him financially. He would need more fans. But unlike his brother Saba Saba or Krazy Native (Alex Kirya) who decided to fly out to the USA to get that audience, in another audacious piece of bravado, Maurice decided to 'make' the audience out there come to him. How did he do that?

Essentially, with periodic tours abroad, Maurice became one of the first Ugandan musicians to realise the potential of modern online media that was coming up and exploit them. From MySpace to Facebook to Reverbnation, search for Maurice Kirya and you will find him there. Maurice tried it all out and soon figured a way out to grow his audience, one member at a mouse click participation until today, Kirya's pages on those fora are some of the most active. This is one of the secrets of Maurice's 'underground success' and why when you ask a Ugandan music lover about a musician who can ably represent what is happening in Ugandan music, a musician they would proudly call Ugandan and who they least fear accusations of plagirism might be levelled against, once critical scrutiny is directed at them-out of five names, Maurice Kirya is likely to pop up. 

So is this why Maurice Kirya's RFI win matters so much? As a vote for originality, for daring, for staying true to one's essentials? Yes, and so much more. Because MK's win is not his alone. It is a massive vote (for Kirya won through votes of listeners of RFI) for Ugandan music. For as much the potential of what it will be as what Ugandan music is right now. Not just for the last 10 years of MK's hard work but the nearly 30 years of renaissance that Ugandan music has been going through. The RFI Award confirms that despite all our issues, our problems, and shortfalls, something magical is brewing in Uganda and music is leading the way.


Perez said...

Many a times, We undermine the GRAVITY of things like these. Most definitely the RFI Award is sooooo much more than many people think. Besides the award carries a lot of weight and is marketing Uganda & Our Music worldwide.
Thanks to people like you who Notice - since not even the MEDIA seems to take adequate notice. As MK says, I will also say TWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE
as we export TMKE all over the world.

Iwaya said...

Perez-It still baffles me how the importance of this RFI win seems to have eluded so many of the people I would think would understand and appreciate it the instant they heard about it.

Meanwhile, there is a series called GRAVITY. Have you watched it?

Michael said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful posting about Uganda's rising international superstar. Maurice deserves success because of his dedication to quality and attention to detail.

I will be posting this on Maurice's social networking websites for the entire world to read.

Well done!

Iwaya said...

Michael-you are welcome. But really, Maurice is the special one here.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I try had to avoid tags like 'Special One' and 'Superstar' especially where art is concerned. Apart from putting pressure on whichever artist in question, these tags and titles are subjective, relative even. Above all, are they necessary? To be called a Superstar or Special One is to be in the realms of MJ, Prince, Quincy, Miles and the like. Do we have ANY musician in Uganda who has attained this level of ability and brilliance?
TShaka Mayanja

Iwaya said...

Tshaka-welcome! Good to have you in this debate. Like you say, the terms special one and superstar can put pressure on an artist. There I agree with you. But the mark of a great artist is to always supersede even these great expectations placed on them.

As to do we have artists worthy of such tags, well I think by the fact that Maurice has managed, against overwhelming odds, to achieve a new musical space for his kind of live performance and actually different sound already makes him special. I have also had the privilege of listening to some unreleased material from him and I can testify it is blow your mind great stuff, Tshaka!