1 on 1 with Ugandan Singer/ Songwriter Angella Katatumba
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Listen to Peace
Watch I Live for You
Watch For You Gulu
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First published: August 2, 2006
"I learnt singing and tuning of my voice from Whitney (Houston). I get the low and husky feel from Toni (Braxton), but there is also a lot of Deborah Cox in my sound," she once said. "I'm a power ballad singer. I know the market here is different, but that's who I am. I'm not trying to sound like anyone. I'm Angella Katatumba."
Although she is relatively new to the Ugandan music scene, she has already been referred to as "Uganda's best secret" as well as Uganda's soul sensation. She has taken Uganda by storm with her magical voice. The Kenyan-born, Ugandan R&B ballad songstress is the only daughter of the Honorary Consul of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Uganda, H.E Boney Katatumba and Gertrude Katatumba, who are the proprietors of AFK beauty Clinic at Grand Imperial Hotel as well as Hotel Diplomate in Muyenga, Uganda.
Angella who is the twin of Rugiirwa Allan Katatumba, did part of her secondary education at Katatumba Academy in Uganda and the other part in Vancouver, Canada. She then went to Oxford Brookes University in England, where she attained a degree in Economics, a Law degree and a Masters in human resource management. Upon completing her last degree, Katatumba was blessed to work for famous Hollywood actor and singer Isaac Hayes, as an assistant general manager for his Chicago restaurant called Isaac Hayes. It was here where she met so many international musicians including Alicia Keys, Master P, Little Romeo, Donell Jones, Kelly Price, Little G and R.Kelly. She later moved to Uganda and became Managing Director of Hotel Diplomate in Tank Hill Muyenga, which is owned by the Katatumba Group of companies.
Although she had been singing from the age of six, had taken part in talent contests and won all of them, and had been performing at small gigs in the various countries where she had resided, it was during her Chicago sojourn when Katatumba decided to pursue her passion as a singer. She released her debut single, the sorrowful Standing in The Rain, as well as hits I Live For You, One Minute Man, Peace (with Buchaman) and Sikyeetaga. It was during this period that Katatumba was chosen by The Gulu Walk International organisers, to sing about the 19-year-old Gulu war. She composed and sang the song titled For You Gulu. The song was played in all the 44 cities worldwide which hosted the Gulu Walk. Katatumba also held a fundraiser called The Gulu Awareness Evening at Garden City in Kampala, Uganda. Her Highness, the Nabagereka of Buganda, Lady Sylvia Nagginda graced the fundraising as chief guest, and Katatumba's father presided over the ceremony.
Angella will also be performing at this year's Uganda North American Association(UNAA) convention in a few weeks in New York.
Sources used for some of the above: angellakatatumba.com
Jane: At which point in your life did you start singing?
Angella: I started singing when I was seven years old. I was studying at the Katatumba Academy in Mbarara. I just loved the sound of music and I most especially loved watching Top of the Pops on BBC. When I moved to Canada at the age of 13, my peers urged me to join talent shows. After a lot of persuasion, I joined the shows and to my surprise, I won them all. I always sang to Whitney Houston's instrumental tracks, especially to my favorite, her hit, Greatest Love of All. So after winning the talent shows I started getting the overwhelming feeling that my calling was to be a singer. When I moved to the UK for my University studies, I started singing professionally at a famous club called Ponana's on Oxford Market Street in Oxford City and got paid to do it. The amazing feeling of people actually paying to come and watch me sing was beyond belief. From then on, singing has been my first love and my number one priority.
However it was while you were residing in Chicago that you made a decision to actively pursue your musical talent. What led you to that decision?
When in Chicago, I was working at the famous singer/film star Isaac Hayes' restaurant as the Assistant General Manager. It was at this restaurant where we held live performances from huge stars like, Alicia Keyes, Kelly Price, Donnel Jones, Little G and so many others. While they performed, I watched them in awe and studied everything they did, from the way they sang, to they way they won the crowd over with their performances. I must say I learnt a lot by just being there and watching them. This of course gave me the confidence to go out and start on my own at last, which is what I came to do in Uganda.
You are one of the artists who have been working on Gulu Aid Initiative. What have been your challenges and successes in this regard?
My challenges working for Gulu have mostly been working with suffering, orphaned children. That alone is an emotional coaster ride. Seeing them scared and bruised, with no shoes or clothes is sometimes too much to take in, considering I am a naturally emotional person. A lot of times I break down and my parents have to keep encouraging me to be strong and remind me that I have to be strong especially for the children. Secondly, it is hard trying to get a project started on your own and the financial constraints have been a huge blow to me. But I am very determined when I have started something, I must finish it. So I have to keep on fundraising and asking for help of any kind from everyone.
On the other hand, the successes have been amazing. So many people are delighted to be able to support the people in the north and have contributed a lot. People just need a reliable, trustworthy and determined person and they will gladly jump on board with what they can give.
So far bigger and bigger companies keep getting on board to help out financially and with goods in kind:
...and so many others.
The successes are great and it is wonderful to see Ugandans joining hands to help fellow Ugandans who are suffering. The solidarity being displayed at the moment makes me so proud of Uganda and to be a Ugandan.
I enjoyed the collaborative song Peace which you did with Butchaman. How did you two meet to make it?
Thanks for your appreciation. I came up with the concept of the song and I wrote the lyrics. While I was recording it, I wanted the chorus to sound like a choir of people yelling and demanding for peace. I thought that Butchaman would be a great fit because, for one thing, he has an incredibly powerful voice. Secondly, I believe when an artist is on stage, he/she has to make the crowd believe what he/she is singing and get involved. Looking at Butchaman, he is disabled as a result of polio, which when you think about it comes as a result of instability in a country. So watching him on stage and in the video yelling for peace gives the song so much more meaning. So I went ahead and wrote the bridge for him to sing and I approached him. He loved the song and agreed instantly to do it with me.
What inspired your song Sikyeetaga with Bebe Cool?
This was when I released my first songs in Uganda were instant hits in English and they appealed to one type of crowd in Uganda, which was great. But I truly wanted to win over the ordinary Ugandan and to gain their confidence, so I decided to do a song in Luganda. I wrote Sikyetaaga in English and I had it translated.
I just wanted to write about reality in life. I love to sing about what is really going on in life and in relationships. I had actually sung the song alone and on my way to release it when Washington, the producer, asked Bebe Cool to listen to it. Bebe loved the song and my voice. He insisted that we make it a duet collaboration. I am glad he did because it did so well and the song was a massive hit that did exactly what I had set out for it to do, which was to win over the ordinary Ugandan... and thank God it did.
Do you feel a certain pressure to perform in Luganda?
Most definitely... I do. Sikyetaaga was by far the hardest song I have ever recorded. I can hardly speak the language, let alone sing it and on a very fast track at that. But I am learning the language and promise to do more songs in other languages in Uganda, but at the moment, I am concentrating on the international market with English songs.
Incidentally, like Missy Elliott, you have a song called One Minute Man. What are you referring to with that?
One Minute Man was a comical song that was meant to be controversial to Missy's. I must say it was Bebe Cool's idea. I personally, was referring to a man who you see rarely and who has no time for you, but he is the man I am in love with. Basically, the usual falling in love with the bad boy story.
Standing in The Rain was produced by former Limit X member, Isaac Ruccibigango. Under what circumstances did you two get together?
I met Isaac when I was looking for a studio to record my first song in. I instantly liked the FISHNET studio, it was clean, the atmosphere was great and the producer Isaac, definitely knew what he was talking about. We hit it off so well and our working relationship was great. He was encouraging and very gifted.
Since you moved back to Uganda, you've been in the spotlight for your performances and charity events. How surreal is it being a local Ugandan celebrity? Has it changed things for you?
I honestly do not consider myself a celebrity in the real sense of its meaning because, I have seen celebrities abroad and have worked around and with them in Chicago. They are a class apart. So I cannot compare myself to them. Yes, when it comes to my voice, I can very easily stand with them. But when it comes to the way the westerners benefit from music in their industry is far different than the way we in Africa benefit. In fact we are so behind in Africa that artists make almost no money at all. We have a long way to go before we can reach the standards of our fellow celebrities in the west when it comes to lifestyle.
The main change for me in Uganda has been the fame aspect. For Ugandan standards, I might be a Ugandan celebrity but the industry leaves a lot more to be desired in the money aspect.
R&B music is still struggling and is not yet a marketable genre in Uganda. Does that frustrate you?
Very much so. The frustration is in trying to groom a whole nation into a more marketable and internationally accepted style of music. At the moment Uganda is so caught up in Ugandan music, which is great, but it does not help on the international scene. So you find some radio stations won't play my music or have biases that I am not singing in Luganda and so on. But I believe it is just a matter of time for them to accept that there are some Ugandan artists on an international level and to start promoting and supporting them in their capacities.
You polished your managerial skills by running singer Isaac Hayes' restaurants in Chicago as one of three managers. How did you get that gig?
I was recruited from the internet where my resume was posted. The recruiters liked my educational background and my experience, so they called me and made me an offer I could not refuse.
Then you are currently Managing Director of Hotel Diplomate in Tank Hill Muyenga. How different is that from the American gig?
It is much better because here I am my own boss, whereas opposed to working for already set standards in the States, I am actually bringing my experience and ideas from abroad to the hotel. Which makes it much more fun and exciting.
How do you balance that with music? Are you able to have a social life?
Once one is organized, it makes things much easier to handle. I have a program that I follow.
Regarding socializing, I must say the industry and work that I am doing take up a lot of my time and make it a little hard for me to socialize regularly.
What is your driving force to success?
I believe in myself and I strongly believe that if I put 100% hard work in all that I do, with God's guidance and blessings, there is no way that I can fail.
Your father is Mr. Boney Katatumba the Honorary Consul of Pakistan, also a successful Ugandan business man. Did he have any expectations for your career?
My father identified my talent at a very early age. He is a sole believer that one should always follow their talents and do the best that they can in their ability. He has just written a book called Success is around the Corner where, like he has done with me and my brothers, he encourages the youth to identify what they are good at and follow it whole heartedly.
My parents Boney and Gertrude Katatumba are extremely supportive of my musical career and have been my driving force.
You've lived in Uganda, Canada, the USA and the UK. Which one do you like best?
No doubt East, West, Home is best! Definitely Uganda!
You always come up when they mention eligible Ugandan bachelorettes. Are you still single?
Yes I am still single and waiting for the right person. I do not believe in rushing love.
What's next for you?
As my father says, the sky is the limit. I intend to continue heavily pursuing my music both on the local and international scene. I intend to wholeheartedly continue to raise awareness for the plight in the north of Uganda and to raise as much funds and anything in kind, especially to improve on the education, health and welfare of the people suffering in the north of Uganda. Finally, I intend to overhaul the Hotel Diplomate and to try my best to take it to greater standards. In all this, I ask the Lord our God to guide me.
For more information on Angella Katatumba, please go to www.angellakatatumba.com
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First published: August 2, 2006
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.