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|
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.