Iryn Namubiru: Wants to be Known for her Humanitarian Efforts
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First published: July 30, 2007
Iryn Namubiru with Njakunoba
This songbird gained popularity and acclaim when she joined forces with songstress Juliana Kanyomozi in the late 90s as I-Jay which turned into a fast-rising Ugandan R&B girls group in the early 2000's. The dynamic duo recorded an album and enjoyed reasonable success before breaking up in a way that has sprouted numerous rumours of rivalry. However France-based (Ugandan-born) artiste, Iryn Namubiru (formerly known as Irene Namubiru) refuses to fuel the rumours and prefers not to comment on the media's fetish for the so-called rivalry.
Both Kanyomozi and Namubiru went to Namasagali College in Uganda. This college is known for nurturing artistic talents. Namasagali College produced local stars and celebs such as Jimmy Katumba, Seanice Kacungira (Radio Sanyu's former brand manager), Alex Ndaula (Presenter, Capital Radio), Dennis Matanda, Goldies man DJ Bangi, Timothy Kalyegira (Social commentator, Daily Monitor and KFM), Capital FM's Ronnie Ssempangi, Ronnie Mulindwa of Obsessions among others.
While in Namasagali, Namubiru was active in both acting and singing. After high school, she joined a band that performed mostly at corporate functions. Along the way, she recorded some songs but the only one she released was Never Learn to Say Goodbye, which happened to be the first song that she ever wrote. Namubiru was also hired to do commercials for various companies including Nile Breweries. After the Afro-soul group I-Jay disintegrated, Namubiru got married to a French man, Frank Morel, with whom they bore a son, Eko and then settled in France, thereby balancing both her family and a busy music career.
Known for her erotic dances and a voice that moves crowds to cry, Iryn has worked with renowned western artists such as Ronan Keating, Les Nubians and Bjork. She is now part of a French-African musical duo called Nujeli. Namubiru teamed up with Julien Groult, another French man, to creat the group Nujeli. She subsequently transformed her style of music to a blend of Afro-soul; a genre of music that is immensely popular in North America and Europe but has not quite caught on in Uganda. That style is evident in the album that saw her belt out songs such as Eko, Ensi, Baami Baffe and Nsangi.
The song Eko was obviously inspired by her son. Namubiru uses Eko as a representation of all Ugandan children. Through the song, she cleverly addresses the topic of violence and abuse which are still committed against many children in Africa. In Baami Baffe, she addresses the relatable subject of domestic violence and husbands who neglect their wives and/or cheat on them. Like a typical Ugandan, Namubiru also embarks upon the heavy and sensitive matter of HIV/AIDS through her music. Simbalala and Lwaki Onzannyirako, both featuring Bebe Cool, also enjoyed critical acclaim and moderately good airplay in Uganda for a while before her most popular song, Nkuweeki was released. Her song Nkuweeki won the best R&B single category in 2006 at the Pearl Of Africa Music (PAM) Awards. Other tracks include Njagala Ne Twenyeenya, Njakunoba, Zinsaanze and Sembera. The album is a rich combination of R&B, blues, soul, jazz and reggae. I had a chance to catch up with Iryn when she last visited the USA, and was impressed at how professional, organized and focused she is.
Jane: How is motherhood treating you?
Iryn: Very well, I am happy to be a mother and would like to have three more kids.
How is Eko, your son?
Eko is doing fine too.
... and married life?
Frank is fine we have been together for nine years now and being married to him with our son makes my life complete. He is the best father in the world.
How are you able to balance that with your very busy career?
It is not easy especially now that I have to travel a lot. It needs a lot of sacrifice, understanding and organisation.
How did you and your husband meet?
He found me singing in Kampala, I was on stage singing "I Will Always Love You" and since then, this is still us.
You have lived in France long enough. What about your French speaking skills right now?
I have only been lived in France for 7 years now, and I am perfectly trilingual. I still have some traces of the Ugandan accent though, which I will always have.
Which schools did you go to in UG?
I went to many, Emen Kindergerten Makindye, Molly & Paul Makindye, Makonzi Boarding Primary School, Muslim Girls' P7, Mityana Senior Secondary School, Bugema Adventist Senior Secondary School, Namasagali College, Airways Tourism & Hotel Institute and Stendhal University of Grenoble in France.
Let's talk about your music career. When did you start singing? At what point in your life did you decide that it was what you wanted to do?
I started singing the moment I could pronounce a word. What I remember is, I have always been singing; I knew I would always sing, I am giving it all the time I have but I have never said to myself that "This is it. I want to do this". I have a talent in Fine Art, I used to be one of the best in my class but I kind of did not develop that talent enough. I thought I would be doing Fine Art, acting or becoming a lawyer but I guess I took a different path and it has worked out well so far. My very first concert was in September 1995 with Ragga Dee and Messe. I had written a song which played on radio stations and I think it is then that I knew I could sing and earn money out of it.
What's your formula for creating music? Do you listen to the music first and create the lyrics, or do you create the lyrics first or is it a bit of both?
Many times I get the melody in my mind even without the lyrics, so I travel with a recorder. I record the lyrics right away and the music is done depending on that, or at times I listen to the music and write. It is easier for me to write and create a melody so who ever arranges takes it from there. The thing is we always modify the two; music and lyrics.
Is it difficult for you to come up with the lyrics?
It all depends, at times it can take me a year to write a song especially if I am asked to, or it can take me a day, or 30 minutes. It depends on personal experiences, mood etc. Some people are just so talented, and they have the words and lyrics at any given time.
Iryn Namubiru with Nkuweki
Fans have been known to burst into tears during your concerts. What inspired Nkuweeki?
Silver Kyagulanyi wrote this song, but this was really my story, my life. When I say, "I do not love you for the money, I abandoned whoever talked ill of you" etc it is because I am with a white man. People will say anything about a white man and they will say anything about me since our society is still so hard on inter-racial marriages and relationships. They are very judgemental.
What about Njagala mbe nawe?
Iryn Namubiru with Njagala mbe nawe
I wrote this one. Still, I wanted to send a message. I find that as a society, we are still very conservative. There is a great need for tolerance. If for example, I have a Lugbara husband, how can it be a problem if we love each other? There is still a lot of rejection in our society. There are still issues like racism, tribalism and discrimination.
Your collaboration with Bebe Cool - Simbalala was also very popular. It seems that Ugandans love your music. How did that collaboration come about?
It was actually simple. Bebe is talented and he has this energy and talent. When he found me doing it and started singing to it, we were just complementing each other; he was the perfect person for that song.
How is your charity organisation for children going?
My foundation is called Together for the Children's Foundation. I take care of some needy children and I actually have 12 children now. That is what I can afford from my own pockets. Seven of them are in Makindye, two in Nansana, 3 in Kibuye; and sadly one passed away last year in July.
What projects are you up to, right now?
Right now I am working on my new album which will be launched on the 27th of July, 2007 at Africana Hotel, Kampala.
I read that you did background tunes for one of my favourite groups Les Nubians when they were nominated for the 2004 Grammy Awards in the Best urban alternative R&B category, along with Erykah Badu, Outkast, Music Soulchild and Khelis. Any plans to work with them again?
Any plans to work with them again? I actually worked on 5 songs. Right now they have another project that is more into poetry. We are in touch. So you just never know.
How do you find Uganda's reception of your neo-soul style of music?
There are very few who understand the kind of music I do that is not typically Ugandan. So what they think is that "Oyo oba akola biki?, Byagana!" But if Uganda is ever going to be on the world map musically, it is not going to be thanks to Kidandali(contemporary Ugandan music).
I hear you on that. There needs to be some form of diversification. What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to almost everything; I need to widen my horizons.
Which books are you reading right now?
"Things my girlfriend and I have argued about" By Mil Millington.
What is next for you? What kind of legacy do you see yourself leaving behind?
I have written a song about the elderly called Abakadde. There is so much we do not see about them. They need help, they have opinions, they need good living conditions and so on. Being old does not mean they lost their brains; some still need to go to school but are discriminated against or ridiculed and abandoned.
But as far as a legacies go, I want to leave one of IRYN the outgoing and generous person. I want to be known for my humanitarian efforts.
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First published: July 30, 2007
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.