by Kate von Achen
I hate to say this, but coming from a musical family and having a deep love for “World Music”, or more specifically music from, or influenced by Mexico and Latin America, West Africa, South Africa, and a significant portion of Europe (East and West), upon visiting East Africa, falling in love with Uganda, and subsequently moving here, I have (and again I’m sorry) frequently felt that I came to the wrong side of the continent musically. This is not to say that the music in Uganda is bad or that there are no talented musicians here. There most certainly are! But it has been work to come across many that are genuinely, holistically, well, music to my ears. And I can’t lie, many times when I hear a song and decide I love it, I find out it’s some new West African or Congolese song, which makes me feel guilty in a way.
That said, there are some amazing musicians that truly stand out to me and my apparent pickiness. We have highlighted some on the Awava blog before (Maurice Kirya), but I do not believe we have adequately covered Qwela.
I have seen Qwela perform here in Uganda countless times. I’ve seen them for free at Emin Pasha Hotel, The Lawns Restaurant and Katch the Sun, and I’ve paid top dollar to see them open for Salif Keita at Serena Hotel. Each time I have loved them and yearned to see more.
This past Tuesday I went to see them at one of their weekly gigs at Katch the Sun and something was different. I don’t know if my ADD took a hiatus or if there had been just the right amount of wine in my system (not too little, not too much), or if it was the brief interlude to wait for the rain to stop or what, but they were even more remarkable than usual. I realized that this band is not only talented, they’re magnificent! So many of their songs have such schizophrenic tempos and not a single member, from conga drums to guitar, keyboard, or vocalists (who also dance) missed a beat, were I was missing many (which is abnormal for me). They perform such technically difficult songs with beauty and ease.
If you are in Kampala and have somehow never seen this band perform, the time is now! Actually, tonight! Qwela plays for FREE every Friday night at Emin Pasha Hotel in Nakasero and every Tuesday night, again for FREE at Katch the Sun in Bugolobi. I would carry a bit of extra cash because they do have some pretty cool t-shirts and amazing CDs to sell!