Uganda Musician Amaru
My art is so personal… kind of like a diary. Sharing it gives me closure in a sense, and allows me move on to the next chapter.
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First published: June 30, 2014
Fast rising Soul artist, Amaru, whose name means “I love” (in Alur) and “I have loved” (in Luo) is a Ugandan Born and raised Singer and Songwriter currently based in New York City. She was born in Arua, West Nile and later moved to Kampala where she lived most of her childhood before moving to Nairobi and finally to New York City. Music is her best friend and they've been together for a long time. She first discovered Music while she was an infant, raised in a Musical family where Music was introduced to her as a passionate way of speaking with God. Because of this, she has always turned to Music during traumatic and difficult experiences in her life. This is how she developed her song-writing ability.
Colin: You discovered music as an infant. How did it happen that you were able to maintain it to become a niche whilst moving with family from place to place later on?
Amaru: Music is very powerful. Once you encounter it in a profound way, it never leaves you. It makes its mark much like a long-lasting ink stain that no bleach or detergents can completely remove. Once I encountered it the way that I did, there was no turning back. It stayed with me. I fought it, but it never left. My love for and relationship with music exceeds just appreciating it. I create it- and in both ways, experience a kind of fulfillment I can never find in anything else. I love that music in its fullest state transcends just physical senses and reaches even the soul, and am fascinated by how we don't just hear music but can literally feel it! This for me makes the ability and privilege to create it a responsibility I'm constantly grateful for!
Who helped you during the times you struggled to find your feet in the industry?
The main figures were my family and friends! I can't stress enough how grateful and truly blessed I am to have had their support. Before anyone else had heard my music, my close friends and immediate family were my very first fans and thankfully have continued to be. They're also my greatest critics and help keep me grounded. I can't even imagine going on this journey without them. I've also been blessed with an incredible management team who keep me shielded from many things and provide great guidance and counsel for me; as well as people within the industry who right away believed in my music and took it upon themselves to support and promote me. I'll always be grateful for my very first fans. There are a ton of people who loved my music right when I debuted and have stayed lots since. There are fans that keep messaging me and following up with every other release and just showing me so much love and support as my fan base has kept growing. In spite of all the new fans that keep joining the Amaru family, I'll never forget and stop treasuring in a special way, the ones I had at the beginning who have remained loyal ever since. I absolutely appreciate and treasure my fans and consider them a part of my family.
Amaru with Stay
She debuted her Music career late December 2012 in Uganda when she released her debut single 'Stay,' whose music video, along with that of her third single 'Dance My Pain Away,' earned her 6 nominations, and later 2 wins in the Club Music Video Awards in September 2013.
Amaru with Dance My Pain Away
Knowing you had the talent in you, you continuously shied away from audiences and settled for song-writing initially… How were you able to disconnect from a coy Amaru to the self-expressed one your audience resonates with today?
I really believe that it was Acting school that cracked me out of my shell! I can't express enough what my two-year conservatory training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts did for me. It taught me to believe in my gifts and to trust that I had something unique to offer that needed to be shared. Before the Academy, I felt that there were enough and even more talented musicians in the world and there was no need to add to it. I told myself that many could do it better and I should leave it to them. But the academy taught me that it wasn't entirely an either/or situation. As an actor, seeing how the same character, played by two different actors would almost seem like an entirely different character made me realize how much we bring to art as individuals, based on our unique and different life experiences. I learnt the value of our differences and how relevant and powerful we could be as individuals when we truly applied ourselves to the art we created. It was amazing to realize that NO ONE could ever play a role the way YOU did it, and that when you were true to yourself and the character you were playing, there was no limit to how much you could impact your audience. And this had nothing to do with one actor being better or worse than another (that was all very relative)- When the casting was right, and you put in all the work and were true, no one could do it like you; they could only do it different. And that's because we're different-Our life's experiences and a bunch of other variable factors inform who we become and that's what sets each of us apart!
This realization gave me confidence in myself as an individual and musician, and empowered me with the security to share my music and pursue a career as a Musician. I realized that there was room for me: That, coupled with the fact that I was in what some consider the greatest city in the world! It was a dream I never thought would come to pass, and living it made me realize that I couldn't shy away from my dreams and desires. Being in this multicultural city surrounded by so many dreamers and people who've come from all over the world and are fighting passionately to reach their dreams, motivated me to go after mine too. I figured I really had nothing to lose! haha so I went to studio and recorded "Stay," worked hard, saved up and shot a music video for it, and the journey began. It was probably the scariest, and yet one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life! And a year and a half later, here I am!! :) All it took was that step of faith towards the thing I was most afraid of, and now looking back, I would do it over and over again. Starting my career was truly the best decision I ever made!
Where do you feel most heard? Home or in the US?
My music has no boundaries. I write for every being that has a soul and can relate to my messages. I won't put it in any boxes.
You describe your music as Soul-Truth. Who are you trying to reach out to when you compose your pieces? You passionately get lost inside yourself as most of the videos can attest.
I'm a wildly passionate person, in case you haven't noticed yet. I'm one of those people that seeks and often sees more colors than probably exist; and I tend to feel very deeply... Hahaha... So this tends to translate into my art among other things. Passion is a huge part of who I am and since I'm my own songwriter, I have such a relationship and connection with my music that I tend to get lost in it when I really just let myself be in the moment. In my defense, I do believe that passion is what really distinguishes the living from the dead so I actively seek to stay passionate! ;)
I call my music "Soul-Truth" because that’s what I aspire to create! I hope my audience can feel that when they hear my music. It's the standard I've set for myself- Music from a place of Truth, that's right from the Soul! This label also allows me an infinite umbrella which doesn't limit my sound; it doesn't lock me into any genres or boxes, while reminding me of what path I've chosen. I feel that the minute my music ceases to be truthful and from a real place, not only will I cease to find the fulfillment I derive from creating it, but that will also be the end of any real power it could possibly have. I strongly believe that Truth = Power + Freedom: It resounds, and cuts, and frees and changes us. Like the saying goes, "the truth sets us free." I want my music to profoundly alter all who encounter it, and ultimately bring them the freedom I seek.
I want to change the world and Music is the tool I've been given to use. In the words of the Irish singer & songwriter Bono, "Music can change the world because it can change people;" so what better way for me to try than through 'Soul-Truth!' :)
Amaru with Make it Better
The music revolution has had artists venture out of their comfort zone to hit other genres, forge collabos not only to appease the market but to strengthen and ease their working framework in general. It has rubbed on you slightly, going by the practiced Luganda & Swahili in Make It Better. How do you address this on your part?
Haha… Well there's a couple of reasons for that. Aside from my love of language, I really mean it when I say that I write for everyone, and I want my music to break all boundaries and reach as many as possible. I'd hate for language to be a massive barrier, and for this reason, I'm yet to write in even more languages! ;)
Another, and probably greater reason… one that I'm only fully becoming aware of and coming to embrace… is that I am a product of different cultures and subcultures. Inside of me there is an Alur girl, and a Lugbara girl, a Congolese, a Kenyan and even bits of an English and American girl too, among other things; I am simple, sophisticated, down-to-earth, insecure, confident, a village-girl, a city girl, middle-class, privileged, unprivileged, name it! I’m a bit of all those things and more, and that's reflective in the clothes I wear, places I go, the way I speak, the company I hold, and inevitably my music as well! I absorb my surroundings quite easily and all these things and people and places have fed into who I am. The different places, cultures and people I've encountered have stained the canvas of my being and forged their way into who I am: I'm really just saying that singing in a different language isn't really me making an effort to be anything, Inside of me are a lot of things half of which haven't even been released yet. Singing in different languages and even genres (as you'll soon encounter more of) is just me passing the mic on to all the different people I am- the different parts of me. It lets them have a voice, and in turn allows me speak to all the different cultures and people that have influenced me. I guess for me it really is killing quite a number of birds with one stone.
One of my favorite quotes ever, and words I can strongly relate to, are those of the phenomenal English Playwright and Poet, Sarah Kane when she says, "I am an emotional plagiarist, stealing other people's pain, subsuming it into my own until I can't remember whose it is anymore."
How has international exposure had an impact on your art?
I don't know if I’d still be here if I hadn't come to New York. I can't underestimate what my life would've become however. Because who really knows? Perhaps I would've done more or maybe less. I honestly can't say.
I do know however that it would be different considering how all the details have played into who I’ve become and where I am in my career right now. Because my time at the Academy, as well as certain relationships in my life at the time really played a huge part in pushing me to launch my career when I did, I do feel that perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I hadn’t moved to New York City.
And then there is the fact that the city’s so full of insanely talented people! The bars are set so high that I’m forced to aim higher and work harder each day. Whenever I feel like I’ve arrived, I realize how far from that I am. This city pushes me to be better and that's a huge influence that I'm very grateful for. I like the feeling that I'm striving towards maximizing my potential, and I owe a lot of my passion and courage to all of the mind-blowing artists who fill the streets of this city; who inspire and stir me to keep going after my dreams and doing the things that I love the most! -This city literally bleeds inspiration!
Upcoming projects? Going by rumor… ? Collaborations?
Oh yeah!! So many upcoming projects! There probably aren't enough funds in the world for all the projects I have cooking right now! Haha I can't even sleep at night thinking about them all. It's like being 11 months pregnant! I'm so ready to give birth to all these babies and share all their pictures with everyone because I'm definitely sure they're gonna be gorgeous! haha...
Seriously though, I've just come out of a very creative season of writing a lot and recording, and now I'm working on video concepts and working to fund some of the projects, and all I can think of is finishing them and being able to share them! There's really no better feeling than finishing art and sharing it. Granted, it's almost never truly finished, but since my art is so personal... kind of like a diary. Sharing it gives me closure in a sense, and allows me move on to the next chapter.
I feel myself growing and evolving each day. This is definitely evident in a lot of the new projects I'm currently wrapping up, and those I'm finishing writing so I really can't wait to share them all. My music is very reflective of seasons in my life and things going on in my mind; and since a lot of my fans follow that journey, I'm really looking forward to sharing some new lessons I've been learning with them, and also where I'm at currently in this journey!
I can't reveal too much but I'll tell you a bit about my next single. It is a collaboration with a Ugandan artist I have a lot of love and respect for! I'm honored to say that it's none other than Ruyonga and I'm truly pleased with what we did with the song, and super super excited to share it with you!! We're in the process of working on the video right now and once we finish that, we'll be ready to release the song! It's a very precious song to me so it's gonna be really special to share it!
And as for the rest of the projects coming up, in spite of all my excitement, I will keep my lips sealed for now... Do stay tuned to my social media however and you'll definitely know when their time comes!
Advice for young artists in Africa trying to seek base overseas
The ultimate goal should never be to create a base overseas!- that's such a waste of ambition, I think. My advice would be to aim higher than that. Create music with a universal stage in mind. Imagine aliens exist; create something the creatures of other planets would marvel at. Create something bigger than your boundaries and your world! Dream the unthinkable and create that. I believe this is the only way to stretch beyond our borders and reach platforms outside of the ones we know. The goal shouldn't be to be heard in America, or Europe or wherever else specifically. The goal should be to be heard all over the globe and even universe, for generations to come. To create music beyond our time, and that which will last long after we're gone. Our music is our legacy and we must remember that as we create! Our songs and videos are our children, and our footprints and cave paintings. It's our mark and contribution to our time so we must make it count and create something meaningful and that which we're proud of. And this in terms of everything especially the quality! That said; don't compete with anyone. Strive to create that which has never been! Don't strive to recreate that which already exists. Stretch yourself and improve our world with your sound. Oh there's so much I could say, but the overall message is think outside this box. Let's aim larger than ourselves: let's change the world!! I believe that God wants to do so much and reveal himself and His creativity through us his creation and we must not limit, restrict or stand in the way of that by trying to remain in the past and beneath bars lower than what we are called to create!
Two or three things one does not know about Amaru! Remotely…
Up until a year ago, I always carried a carton of Mirinda Fruity and a HUGE Nido tin every time I flew back to New York from Uganda. Those were my connection to home. Nido reminded me of my Ugandan boarding school days and Fruity has been my favorite soda since I was a child! I'd save the Fruities for really rough days since I usually had only 12 of them! haha… And the Nido lasted a bit longer since it was a bigger tin, and I only really used it occasionally for my breakfast cereal and chai lattes.
Secondly, witnessing, or even watching videos of people tripping and falling cracks me up in a way nothing else does! I even laugh at myself when I slip! My brother claims its the evil side of me! haha... I just get such a kick out of slips and falls, as long as no one gets hurt. So if you ever wanna brighten my day…
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First published: June 30, 2014