It has taken the proverbial girl next door to inject life into Uganda’s ailing music industry.
Irene Ntale looks and acts just like anybody’s sister that you know – young, fresh and natural. But unlike everybody’s sister, she is hugely talented and works hard.
For a long while now, Ugandan connoisseurs have been grumbling over the disappearance of fine, quality music. They have been passing blanket judgment against young musicians claiming that they lack talent, training and refinement.
No wonder, concert attendance has been dwindling because a typical Ugandan musician can hardly perform to a tenth of the quality of “their” songs on CD which production houses release with a lot of computer-assisted auto-tuning.
Little wonder that hundreds flocked to the Serena hotel last year to attend renditions of singer Elly Wamala, 10 years after the man died.
The posthumous Wamala concert mostly got its credibility from the fact that Afrigo Band, which has been in action for 42 years, was the one doing all the music instrumentation for the rendition.
But there is hope from Kampala Muyenga suburb, in a production house called Swangz Avenue. The outfit operating on Tank Hill Muyenga where Irene Ntale and others are trained, is the brainchild of Benon Mugumya, himself a musician who must have been fed up with the accusations by music lovers that artistes were lazy and offered electronic sounds in the guise of music.
In business since 2008, Swangz Avenue has produced a number of artistes such as Iryne Namubiru. But their big find now is her namesake, albeit with a different spelling, Irene Ntale.
There have of course been great names in the business for the past decade or two, the likes of Joseph Mayanja aka Jose Chameleone, Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine and Juliana Kanyomozi.
What makes Irene Ntale different is that with other new artistes in their early to mid 20s like Winnie Nwagi who are undergoing a tough mentorship under Benon Mugumya in the “boot camp” that Swangz Avenue is, they represent the rescue of Ugandan music that seems to be finally here.
Young Ugandan diva Irene Ntale brings on board talent – nurtured in church choir and now on strict commercial stage – both in her wonderful vocals and mastery of the guitar.
Recently, Irene Ntale held her “inaugural” big concert at the Sheraton Kampala Gardens. She mostly does “new-old-school” Rumba that appeals across the generations of audiences. She has been performing for four years and it was only last year when she released Gyobera (Your Home) that the song became a radio hit, a nursery rhyme, dancehall hit and an anthem for social functions.
The highlight of her debut concert in August was Sembera (Come Closer) currently receiving massive airplay on FM radio stations around Kampala and its a favourite tune for mobile phone ringtones.
Ntale brings on board talent – nurtured in church choir and now on strict commercial stage – both in her wonderful vocals and mastery of the guitar.
Her guitar strumming skills are exceptional. Unlike decades ago when a musician typically had to master an instrument before they dared sing a line, recent years has seen some singers gain prominence without knowing the ABC of music. Ntale’s dexterity with the guitar is something of a novelty to an audience that already admired her only for her voice before they see her on stage.
She has also had the wisdom not to associate with any political camp, an affliction that has taken the shine off a number of Ugandan musicians’ appeal despite the fact that it is their right. Hers is just music.
Though very much the girl next door, her mother and siblings openly deride her for her short temper which they do not seem to have got used to for the past 20-something years of her life.
Still a bit raw and unpretentious, Ntale speaks freely about the hardships of training with professionals, being made to redo a line countless times before finally being allowed to record. And unlike many contemporary Ugandan musicians or their producers who seem to think that glamour gimmicks and lighting effects make an artiste, the Swangz Avenue team work hard on the music first and add the rest.
It would be tempting to describe Irene Ntale as the new star that is going to make a big difference. But then, any Ugandan commentator has to be cautious and conservative when making predictions over stellar performances by Ugandans.
This happens not only in art but sport as well. We have seen a girl of great promise break a world athletics record (Dorcas Inzikuru, world champion in steeplechase) only to promptly disappear into oblivion shortly after, pressures of lifestyle and family being cited.
It was the same case with Pastor George Okudi, who won an international award and that is the last the world heard of him, at least musically – he faded away as a one-hit-wonder.
Uganda is thus a nation of very short-lived stars. But if Irene Ntale maintains the discipline she has had so far, then she will reign for a long time to come.
The East African
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