1 on 1 with Ugandan Singer/ Songwriter Tshila
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First published: August 4, 2006
"I'm not a feminist, I'm a realist."
Since she was last interviewed by UGPULSE in March 2006, the beautiful and prolifically up-and-coming talented poet, singer, guitarist, and painter, Sarah Tshila, who only goes by her last name, has been extremely busy. Her hard work has produced a few phenomenal songs in Lugisu, Luganda, Swahili, English and French. These songs have been praised by the Alliance Française and she has been compared by the Zanzibar Press to Tracy Chapman, but our own Ugandan musician is unique in her own way. It is hard to pin Tshila's style down to a specific genre because it is a clever, eclectic mix of Afrocentric traditional Ugandan music, hip-hop, soulful ballads, neosoul, jazz, poetry infusion and R&B including songs like Scientific Love, Naabone, Urumi Moyoni, Ca Suffit, One Day, Help Me and Buli Shensi Nhola. Her songs cover topics such as female emancipation, sexism, domestic abuse, eliminating the colonial mentality in Africa, heartbreak and true love. She is a deep soul sister. Tshila, who has a degree in Software Engineering, also designed and launched her website www.tshila.com.
Recently, Tshila, represented Uganda at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) which took place from the 14th to 23rd July 2006. The spectacular Film Festival has already gained the reputation as "East Africa's premier cultural event. The festival, which is also known as the Ziff Festival of the Dhow Countries, screened about 100 films. The festival's chief guest was Melvin Van Peebles - the legendary filmmaker who is often referred to as the "Godfather of Independent and African-American Cinema". The Zanzibar International Film Festival attracts a lot of people from all over the world to East Africa.
At the ZIFF festival, Tshila, who was one of the highlights in the Music and Performing Arts Programmes performed alone on stage, as well as with Kinobe and the Soul Beat of Africa, also from Uganda. Tshila also did a documentary film together with Alliance Française called Wild Sounds which was screened at the festival. Tshila's first album Sipping from the Nile which, portrays a wide array of styles and sounds as well as those original to Uganda, is set to be tentatively launched this October, and will run for 3 or 4 consecutive weeks at the National Theatre. She is also associated with the Bavubuka Foundation (www.bavubuka.com) and is a member of the Bataka Squad.
In her own words, she says, "From my being here at this festival (at the ZIFF Festival), I'd like to achieve the fact that Ugandan music has been exposed in a different light from the stereotypes that it has right now. We have a few Ugandan artists who are putting a stamp on Ugandan music and saying this is how it sounds when in actual fact, there's different styles, there's different sounds, there's different tribes; we have over 30 tribes and all of them with different expressions so I am trying to mix this up and bring it out to the international scene, so people can see a different light of Ugandan music from what's been exposed."
Tshila just has just travelled to Senegal on Sunday 30th July, 2006 to do some collaboration work with a Senegalese group, but she took time out of her busy schedule to let UGPulse readers know what she is up to. Tshila is definitely taking Ugandan music to another level and I also discovered a creative fashion sense in her; Tshila elaborates more on that and more. She is truly a multifaceted, multilingual artist. For lovers of music, whether it is Ugandan or just music in general, keep your eyes and ears on Tshila. She is a breath of fresh air.
Jane: So Tshila, what have you been up to since your last interview with UGPulse?
Tshila: Since my last interview, I've been busy, busy, busy, especially with recording. I tell you, it's been a hustle getting my songs recorded in Uganda and it still is because of lack of proper resources. At the moment my album is only half done, and I am seriously in the market for a good studio and producer.
How did you get invited to the ZIFF?
I was invited to play at ZIFF by Alliance Française Uganda. Alliance got to know me through projects I was doing with Kinobe, and invited me to come along with him and his band, Soul Beat Africa to represent Uganda in Zanzibar.
How many days were you there and where did you stay?
We were supposed to be there for a week, but were only there for 2 nights, due to the fact that we had to travel by road. So we spent most of the days, about 5 of them travelling. We were very exhausted when we got there and back. We had two shows as - Kinobe, Tshila, and Soul Beat Africa.
Kinobe & Soul Beat Africa ft Tshila.
What was your impression of the ZIFF?
The festival is a wonderful opportunity for Ugandan musicians like me, who are trying to think outside the box. My main aim of being there was to expose and share my people's music with them. When we were leaving, one of the people there informed me that they were not keen on Ugandan music and didn't expect much, but were pleasantly surprised by our performances.
What about of Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is a beautiful town and I plan on going back. I am currently submitting my material to the next Zanzibar festival in February called Sauti Za Busara. It is more focused on music than ZIFF which stands for Zanzibar International Film Festival. More information is available at www.ziff.or.tz.
Did you have a chance to watch any of the ZIFF movies? Which one did you like the best?
As a matter of fact, a documentary in which I starred was submitted as one of the films for the festival. It had played in Kampala on closing day of the Amakula festival to a surprisingly wonderful reception. It is called Wild Sounds, and was produced in association with Alliance Française. I didn't get to see anything else, because of the little time we spent in Zanzibar. However, Wild Sounds is a must-watch for any Diaspora Ugandans wanting to find out what the music industry in Uganda is going to be like in the near future. Explosive!!
How many and which songs did you perform for that event?
The second day was outside in Forodhani gardens, with a much bigger crowd and was fun too. However, due to night prayers, we had to cut the show short and I ended up doing only The Night is Mine (not yet recorded), and Buli Shensi Nhola.
How did the crowd react to your music?
I have never performed in front of such a vibrant crowd. And I don't think that kind of crowd exists in Uganda. But then again, I have had very few performances here to judge by. In my experience, however, Ugandan crowds tend to be a bit passive, and even though they appreciate what you are doing, they barely participate.
Did you perform any poetry as well?
I did my song/poem 'Scientific Love'. This song came about as a result of me not wanting to bore audiences with my recitals and yet wanted to engage them in my poetry. So I created a mix of both with this song. It is a poem that you feel good listening to cause it has a few bursts of melody. They loved it!!
Was there a big UG representation there?
There was a good number of Ugandan artists due to the fact that Alliance Française was able to bring a big number. We were about 13 in total. There was me, Kinobe, the 6 instrumentalists in Soul Beat Africa, and 5 hip-hop acts. The rappers included Emma Katya, Pato, Lyrical G, Abrams and Sylvester.
Which interesting musicians did you get to meet there?
I was excited about some musicians, but only got to watch them perform. Time was not on our side. Two days was not enough to network and socialize as much as I had hoped to.
What are the similarities and differences between UG and Zanzibar?
Similarities- Uganda and Zanzibar are both peaceful and laid back places. I love that about Africa! Differences- Ugandans don't speak Swahili. All I can say to that is we are missing out on a beautiful language!
By the way, who designs your costumes? They are just so insanely creative. I mean I even want to wear them!
You won't believe it but I do it myself. I come up with the concept and purchase the materials, and have my tailor friend transform them into real life pieces. It's a great process! I definitely have to venture into fashion soon!!
Very soon indeed! Please tell me how you met the members of your band?
The creation of my band has been one the most absorbing experiences I have been through as a musician. I say experience in that, I can now make sound judgement based on what I have been through. I started out really aflame; enthusiastically wanting to be ethnic in my sound! I was on a mission! I travelled the country looking for traditional instrumentalists and brought them to my home in Kampala to practise with me. I had 8 talented boys that I had picked up from Soroti, Masindi, Mbale, and Kampala. I now have 3 left.
How did you meet Kinobe?
Kinobe found out about me and my fanatical, over-enthusiastic projects from friends and was interested in meeting me. He took great pity and helped me a lot with my some of my projects.
Buli Shensi Nhola is one of my favourite music clips and it's mostly sang in Lugisu. What does the song mean for those who may not understand Lugisu?
Buli Shensi Nhola literally translates to 'Everything I do'- (is not good enough for you...) The song should be a women's anthem cause it's about feminine empowerment. It has this line: "Egotistic, Chauvinistic, Animalistic, Masochistic, Doministic - I'm not a feminist, I'm realistic!!" That says it all!
It's a very powerful song, not only musically but also lyrically. So is it you who plays the guitar to that song?
Yes, I always play the guitar as an accompaniment to my songs.
What about Naabone? What is it about?
Naabone literally means, I have seen, but figuratively means... "I See!" It's like: "I see!! So you're not all that fancy after all!! Outside - You're beautiful! Inside- you're crap!!"
Okay, not that blunt, but it's a song written about that moment of revelation when you see people for who they truly are! It's about a village school mate who likes to show off, but I am not buying into the hype surrounding her….because I see beneath her exterior.
Now the song Scientific Love... What a concept! What exactly is scientific love? What inspired it?
The poem - Scientific Love - which itself was born out of the desire to impress a loved one with sleek poetic talk. The things we do for love!!
How do you come up with the beats? Is it a collaboration between you and the band or do you already know what you want it to sound like beforehand?
Tshila in the studio.
It's crazy, but I write the beats when I write the songs. When I finally sit down with the band, the song has been through 5 remixes in my head. We basically just figure out the arrangements together. At first, I used to think I was strange because I didn't know how other musicians did it. Where I wasn't sure of the guitar chords, I would tell Myko what the tune was and he would help me figure it out.
What about the words of your songs?
I come up with the words through emotion. If I don't feel the song, I can't go past the first line. I will post the words to my songs on my website when I release the CD.
Is your CD Sipping from the Nile completed yet?
I have half of the songs I originally wanted to have. I need some blessings to churn out the rest of the songs by the album release date, which is set for October. I want to record the more ethnic songs, but don't have the resources to finish doing that at the moment. Do I sense a fundraiser on the way?
Hopefully. How would you describe your musical style?
Do they call it fused? Okay, so I guess I will go with fusion! Haha!!
(Laughs) Let's go with uniquely eclectic. How is the musical scene in Uganda?
It's developing under the sheets. Bataka Squad, we taking over!! Our slogan is "the revolution will not be televised!" Uganda has so many revolutionary musicians, but they end up leaving country. They need to stay here because together we can make it happen!! And we will!! Am already on board the moving train and nothing will stop me!
What can we expect from Sarah Tshila in the near future?
Expect a launch of my album in October which is planned to run 3 weeks consecutively at the national theatre with different themes each night - Expect lots of theatrics!!
For more on Sarah Tshila, please go to www.tshila.com
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First published: August 4, 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.