1 on 1 with Krazy Native aka Saba Saba, Slowly Conquering the USA
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First published: October 20, 2006
Uganda's own Krazy Native, aka Saba Saba is currently in the United States making a voice for Ugandan youth on the international level. From filmmaking to concerts to record producing, Saba is representing Uganda on all levels. However, the journey has not been without struggle or hardship, especially as this has been Saba's first taste of the American way of life: one that leaves each to his own, contrary to Ugandan's community-driven lifestyles. Beautiful moments of inspiration and hope have kept Saba's morale high though, and as the following account of his journey demonstrates, Uganda is making its mark on the international hip-hop scene through this artist's many talents.
Rhyming in Luganda, aka Lugaflow, is Saba's specialty; one that he was able to demonstrate on a number of occasions on his journey through the U.S. The significance of Lugaflow lies not only in the level of skill it takes to deliver rhymes but through the underlying authenticity of rapping in one's mother tongue; it is about keeping it real and not denying one's own roots. Thus, rapping in Luganda emanates Ugandan pride, and this was exactly the case as Saba delivered performance after performance to audiences who had never heard the language. The response from the public couldn't have been better; from New York performances in Prospect Park (Brooklyn), to the Trinity College International Hip Hop Festival in Connecticut, performance in Boston Lugaflow made waves. Throughout the incredible journey, Saba also had the opportunity to rock the mic alongside artists such as Michael Franti.
Fellow Bataka Squad member Silas Balabyekkubo aka Mr. Africa has also played his role in demonstrating Uganda pride through hip-hopping in the name of Ugandan youth. A recent reunion of the artists in L.A had both working hard at promoting hip-hop as a means to achieve positive change in the world. Their attendance at several free hip-hop shows including the Roots, Jurassic 5 and Talib Kweli only stressed what they already knew about the far-reaching effects of music in general, and hip-hop in particular. Case in point: Jurassic 5 performed in the name of a charity organization set on cleaning up the ocean. This type of performance foreshadows similar lines of involvement that the Bataka Squad members will take on once back in their homeland. They have ambitious plans to build and manage a community center in Kampala to offer hope and inspiration for the youth of the streets.
This journey was about making global connections and important strides in the competitive world of music producing, but it also had another goal. In a world saturated with mass information through incredible technological advances such as the Internet and satellite television, it seemed that Africa was still only being represented through negative imagery. Saba Saba's performances stressed that discussions about poverty and world injustices should operate as a dialogue between nations, rather than as a one-way discourse delivered from the American media to the American public. In other words, the images about Africa in the media were obviously not enough to educate the American public about the realities of daily life in countries such a Uganda. Therefore, Saba Saba's dedication and honest attempt at keeping his message real should be considered the missing link in bringing about true consciousness.
Krazy Native aka Saba Saba in Brooklyn, New York.
The Bataka Squad also received a chance to take the stage in Hollywood, CA as well. They were invited to play on Hollywood Boulevard's famous CineSpace. CineSpace has cemented itself as a venue for live hip hop with acts such as Wycleff Jean, Kanye West and now the Bataka Squad gracing the stage. Similar to Connecticut, Saba had the crowd singing along in Luganda within moments, but this time he was able to tag team it with Silas. The other thing that was different about this show is in Los Angeles you never know who is going to be in the audience. After catching the CineSpace performance, Music Plus TV invited the boys in for an hour long interview and showcase. Music Plus TV is a budding new internet site, which has MTV and VH1 in it's site and it is gaining ground. They got a chance to sit down with the American hip hop audience and talk candidly about their aims, ambitions and plan of action. Check it out at musicplustv.com
Singer Terra Naomi.
After attending a show of American singer Terra Naomi, the Bataka Squad invited her to collaborate on a track and sing a little Lugaflow. She said yes, however the boys then had to tackle the small issue of not having a studio. In typical ghetto fashion the Bataka Squad built a studio in an abandoned apartment building, and decided to shoot a music video in the same day, which happened to be Silas's last day. He was heading back to Vancouver to raise some final support for his impending trip back to Uganda to arrange a series of ghetto concerts. The day started with Silas and Saba patiently teaching an inspired Terra to sing in Lugaflow, and soon enough the song was in full flow. Collectively they wrote an incredible song called Babuzze Lwaki?, which talks about the conditions of where they are from. Simultaneously they filmed a music video for a classic Bataka song called Babuzze?, which asks a series of questions about why the state of Uganda is the way it is. It was an inspirational day, and seeing the boys collaborate successfully with an amazing American artist again reaffirmed Lugaflows footprint on a global scale.
After a dramatic trip to the airport, and a heartfelt goodbye to Silas, Saba Saba was on his own again. The phone rang again, only this time it was from the narrator of the upcoming film Diamonds in the Rough, Michael Franti, who is the lead singer of Spearhead. Michael's manager called to invite Saba up to the 8th Annual 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival in San Francisco. Michael is currently planning a trip to Uganda in February and wanted to meet Saba while he was still in the states to discuss the social climate in Uganda. The filmmakers and Saba hit the California coast heading north to the festival, sure to find inspiration and some like-minded revolutionaries. Upon landing backstage the boys immediately met Blackalicious front man Gift of Gab. Gift of Gab echoed the words of several artists on this trip (Jurassic 5, Terra Naomi) "Yes I want to come to Africa to perform. Call me up and let's do this." Saba proceeded to stand front row and watch the legendary hip hop group perform the festival, immediately followed by the headliner Michael Franti and Spearhead.
Saba Saba is currently in Los Angeles and has shows scheduled for Arizona and a repeat performance in New York at Syracuse University. If there was any hesitation before this trip if Lugaflow was for real it has been answered defiantly with a couple microphones and two Bataka Squad performers who are not giving up. More importantly Silas and Saba Saba aren't aiming at commercial success in the United States. They are bringing it all back to Uganda. There message is not to follow your dream so you can get out of Uganda, but speak your mind, stand up for Uganda so we can make tomorrow's Uganda a beautiful place for our youth.
Watch Michael Franti's Bomb the World.
He is the narrator of the upcoming film Diamonds in the Rough.
The Hip Hop Bataka Squad members Silas Balabyekkubo aka Mr. Africa and Krazy Native aka Saba Saba are currently the subject of a feature film in production entitled "Diamonds in the Rough". The movie is going to chronicle the day to day lives of these revolutionary artists aimed to prove to the world that rhyming in Luganda aka Lugaflow is the next big thing in hip hop. They are also showing the world that hip hop can bring about positive change through inspiration. These artists aren't just after respect for themselves, but for their country. They are a voice for their people and by bringing Lugaflow to new levels they hope to inspire the youth to follow their dreams.
UGPulse Columnist Jane Musoke-Nteyafas got a chance to interview Krazy Native over the phone while he was staying in Hollywood.
Jane: So Krazy, what have you been up to since the last time we profiled you on UGPulse?
Krazy Native aka Saba Saba in Brooklyn, New York.
Krazy Native: It's been crazy!!! If I had to put the list of all the venues where I have performed, it would be too long. But basically DC, Boston, Arizona, Maine, Hartford, California... All the shows are pretty big and I've been mostly performing for bazungu (whites). I have made a lot of fans here. I mean once, I came to do a show in LA and at the show, three girls came to me told me how they were coming to New York to watch me play. Well only one made it and she could not get to me because I was talking to so many people. These are white girls! I am like how did I get to that level? I went from not being played on Ugandan radios to having non-Ugandan fans in the USA. It's funny. Every state I go to there is always someone who has heard about me. That's funny. What's amazing is the fact that they know me as a Ugandan hip-hop artist. So for that I am grateful. We, the Bataka Squad are breaking borders. The music is spread on independent radios, government radios, underground radios. Everything will be in place and Lugaflow will be as international as Wolof of Senegal.
Any albums in the works?
By the way my album dropped in August but we are dropping it officially here in Cali and New York. I already sold more than 100 copies in New York alone and not to Ugandans. Tuja Babya the Hard Way will come out on November 7th and volume two will be out by July 7th 2007 and Cup of Coffee with Idi Amin Dada will come out the same time. It will be my best work. That's the moment I have been waiting for. I have been working on Cup Of Coffee for three years so it's time to let it out of the way. The Bataka album was done at the beginning of this year, so we're trying to find out when to let it out.
Krazy Native aka Saba Saba in Brooklyn, New York.
You understand that the Cup of Coffee with Idi Amin will be received with mixed feelings, right? Many people do not want to be even reminded of him.
Yes, I know that, but what I am trying to project is the other side of Idi Amin. I mean I lost family members too in that regime, but I am trying to portray him as objectively as I can. I am doing a lot of research on him, and what I am finding is interesting so far. There are so many inaccuracies. I want to show the other side as well. I take you back to the 70s. I'm telling you to get up and smell the coffee coz all you hear is Idi Amin did this and he did that... but the question is that, was he the only one who has been wrong in his regime?
Well some people will say that question is not enough to justify what happened in his regime...
Ok, let's put it this way. They say the dead will let out all the bad things but will keep the good things they did... as in, you will not hear about their good things. So I am bringing it back to the people. I am trying to point out that he may have done all these things but he was there for his people. I am just playing devils advocate and I bring the other side of Idi Amin although I am primarily focusing on Africa on the rise from 1962 till today. I ask hard questions. Are we getting there or are we just puppets to this day? Did he do any thing for Uganda that makes us proud? Did he change how people looked at Uganda? When I look at all these so called revolutionaries that are praised all over the world for example this dude who killed a lot people in Mexico but is among the greatest revolutionaries. Why is Africa the missing page in history? We have done a lot for this world but we are the ones struggling to get up. And shine coz all we had was taken away from us and we were fed with this new thing called "westernized culture" which makes it costly to live. So we forgot about where we are from. We started fighting amongst ourselves instead of creating unity.
So what else would someone who was probably a baby in that regime have to say about that in his music?
Idi Amin was uneducated but still managed to rule the country for 9 years and he was brought up by the British who made him rebel against his own people in Kenya. I am talking about the Mau Mau rebellion. They made him a monster. When he noticed that was being used, he became one of the presidents fighting against imperialists. He started fighting against imperialists who were sucking resources from Africa; using the continent and its people for their own interest, leaving our people hungry and with no skills. So when he declared an economical war, yes the country lost everything coz no one knew how to work in these factories or to properly market the farming products. That was a big mistake, but the reality was that those people who were in charge never taught us how to be managers. We were called by names like "Boy" like we never had names. There is a lot to the story of Cup of Coffee. I make music that speaks to the people. I will take them back. I was not even there but music speaks to me in a way. I want people to get up and smell the coffee. Ask yourself one question: Are you ruled under the Ugandan or colonial system? Why should you put on a suit to go to work? Why not Busuti or Kanzu?
So I am bringing all the 70s and 60s, back to the time when Patrice Lumumba was killed. The same time when Kwame Nkurumah was killed and many more... because they were trying to liberate their people. They get assassinated coz they were all fighting to stop to colonial rule which was detrimentally ruling their countries then. So Obote came in as prime minister. He was well educated by the British and so-called liberated us in a suit. History was made.
Well you certainly don't shy away from controversy...
I ask the questions that a lot of people are afraid to ask. I sing about issues that people tend to want to avoid, but are issues that should be raised.
Your new song Babuzze, is off the hook. You and Babaluku ask some powerful questions like why have they failed to get rid of Kony, why do we suffer yet there is a heaven, why are Ugandan musicians not getting international, why is democracy filled with hypocrisy, why are Africans leaders corrupt? What inspired it?
I was in a taxi on my way back home and there was a guy around the taxi park who sells coats for 5000 Ugandan shillings but he would always lower the price to an affordable amount. For example he would ask, "Do you have 4gz (four thousand shillings)?" in Luganda. That sounded funny, coz he kept saying Mbabuzzeeeeeeeeeeeeeee oba mbaleke (should I ask them or leave them alone) in a funny tone so I found that amusing. I got a pen and started writing about all the ills of society within Africa. When Babaluku came back to Uganda from Canada, we hit the studio. It was too emotional for both of us whereby we went too far as far as our political views. But we had to edit it out so that by the time we finished it was not too political but still with some political elements. So we are trying to ask questions. We need answers. Some questions are straight to the point but we are leaving it to the listeners to answer. So that makes the song different.
Babaluku had a lot to say on that. We just finished the video in LA with Babaluku. Basically it was a joint project more than a Bataka thing. It's on both the Bataka and Tuja babya the Hardway albums. I cannot say much but listen to the song. See if it inspires you to get out there and vote when you are still asking the same questions you asked in the past 20 years. So we are the people's army. We will say it out there if it needs to be head coz everyone is so scared to say it. We are like telling you to take off your radio and head out to the garden, get your hoe and dig more potatoes for you and your family, coz at the end of the day that's what it is. We don't wait for someone to make a move. We take that step. So do the same. Think outside the box for a minute.
Explain what you mean.
You will notice that we have been under the system for the past 100 years. Ok they taught me that John Speke discovered Lake Victoria but where were my people the indigenous people then. The lake was not even called Lake Victoria at that time! We are learning all these things about the white man but we are losing our own culture. Look at the kids of today in Uganda or Africa. The system is got us messed up in and out. So we Africans grow up thinking we are not any better yet we have a lot to offer. I'm just trying to set a point here so don't get me wrong on this one. So there is a lot to learn. We will spread the word and history through the music. So basically, I was frustrated by a lot of things, including how the music business in Uganda ignores hip-hop and refuses to play our music. I was also frustrated by the political and economical state of affairs in Uganda. How can a big portion of our national money come from kyeyo for example? It does not make sense? We wanted to remind people of issues that are going on.
What's interesting about you, is you do hip hop in Luganda. But you are not a Muganda...
No... I am not. Most people think I am but I am actually from the East. But I know my Luganda. I grew up in Kampala and lived in Kampala all my life. That's how I can remember all of it. The only way we could relate was through Luganda coz that's all we spoke. I am from the East coast of Uganda. Just expect an album in Lugwere soon. How beautiful it is making history in another language. The rest of the members are all Baganda so I am the one who is not. Yeah its funny but I love Luga flow. Luganda is one of the hardest languages with which to get lyrics together but we made the blue print... so be it. Hate me or love me that's what it is. Let the games begin.
You got indie artist Terra Naomi to sing with you in Luganda. Was that hard?
Terra Naomi briefly talks about the Bataka Squad before a clip.
More on Terra's blog.
No, we wrote down the words and helped her with the pronunciation but she picked up very fast. It did not take very long. I was a bit tied up, so I could not deal with it. Babaluku dealt with that most of the time for her to get her lines. She is a quick learner. She was ready to record after about three hours. She has got an amazing voice. She is the next big thing... just ready to blow up. So it was great working with her. She is amazing. She put a lot of energy to the song yet she is not familiar with Luganda but she was ready to go with the flow. We had a lot of fun. We were making all these jokes. It was fun. Look out for the remix with her. It's off the chain.
How do you know the writers of our introduction to this interview, Maude Martin and Mathew Forrest? They seem to have a lot of inside information on you..
Well, Maude knows me so well coz she watched me for two years in Uganda so she knows what we have been trying to do all along. She said she would write a story about the Bataka Squad. So basically she is doing a book about my travels and life. She lives in Canada. But she was in Uganda for a few months and so she saw the whole thing coming to life and she asked me in Uganda to do a story about me and my struggles.
What about Matthew Forrest?
He is my producer as well as a writer. He is one of the most focused people I have come across. He is the one producing the the documentary movie "Diamonds in the Rough".
Tell us more about the movie...
Well not too long ago, I was here with Babaluku in LA in Hollywood filming "Diamonds in the Rough" but he is gone, and I am now here alone. Basically it features people in the Uganda hip hop scene like Abrams and Sylvester, Rah P and of course the Bataka Squad. We're profiling Ugandan hip hop revolutionaries and their journeys. We'll be finishing the movie, then we all head back home. So I am trying to see that it happens coz I have another set and I'm done in November. I miss UG seriously but the travel has been good for now.
Met any famous people in Hollywood...?
Well I was recently at an art exhibition of some gorilla artist by the names of Banksy. It was at his latest visual artists collection launch party and Brad Pitt was there as well as Angelina Jolie. I also met Talib Kweli and the Roots. I met Jurassic 5 and talked to them regarding coming to Uganda. I also talked to Blackalicious as well as to M1 of Dead Prez. He said he would love to come and perform in Uganda. I met the director of Wildstyle, one of the first hip-hop movie ever. We talked about taking hip-hop back to Africa. I also talked to Evidence of Dilated Peoples.
Dilated Peoples: (left to right) Babu, Rakaa and Evidence.
With Talib Kweli, there was a big moment when we were watching him perform all the best songs I used to like. On that show I was with Babaluku so that was a great moment for us, seeing these artists do their thing. The same for Jurassic 5. I was with Babaluku. We was so happy to see both shows together. Here we in the states all watching our best artists do what they do best.
Anything else you want us to know...
Yes. Check out the sites www.hiphopuganda.com and www.batakasquad.com Regarding the hip-hop foundation for the past four years, I have been the one organizing everything from the summits to everything related to it. I started that from the "hip hop nites" days so when I left everything paused for a minute coz their is no one to do it. So I want to put up the site to have a start while I'm here. So I am looking for someone to design the site for me.
Yes. I had to get at some people who are disrespecting what we doing. We are a moving picture. As I speak Babaluku is doing a lot right now. He is currently in Uganda taking it back to the people. Look at Papa Wemba.
Any shout outs?
Luga Flow has come a long way and is now flourishing with up and coming artists like Mon MC of The New Hope Sqaud, GNL, Abramz and Slyvester, MSB n' Young Nick, Gipili and Labongo, Black Rain and Easy Tecs. The New Hope Squad reached out with their message of hope in songs about HIV, saying it's never too late to fight Aids. Their songs have received a lot of attention in the States. Rah-P's focus on women's issues has made her a real stand-out. Extra Mile has given a lot to the game and has made hip-hop very colorful. Xenson has blessed Luga with his graffiti art, design and fashion. Foxx gets his credit as the only one bringing knowledge to the people. MMC is a legend to me. He has produced a lot of songs from hip-hop and R&B Soul to African contemporary, but he has not gotten any credit for his work. If it was not for him I think Tuja babya would not have been what it is. He is on my new album coming out early next year. His group Chain Thought Reaction, which includes Buba, the late P-Tech (RIP) and Shanice, run their own studio Vocal Justice.
Alliance Française has been the main vehicle for the hip-hop movement in Uganda. In Sweden and the UK I'm happy for what Milestone is doing for the movement. Young Vibez veterans like Nappy Black, Ibraw, Kwesto, Iron African, and many more have all made hip hop what it is in Uganda. This is hip hop in motion, everyone bringing it in their own way, with the unified purpose to go out there and make a difference, make changes and make the world a better place, instead of biting on others about selling out. Right now hip-hop in the States has been exploited and the only place with true hip-hop is Europe and Africa. We are building on a bigger platform that is on an international level. So let's stop the hating and instead support each other to better our identity and build respect.
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First published: October 20, 2006
Mathew Forrest is a Music and Video Producer
(Interview) Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada.
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.