Ugandan Musicians: Meet Klear Kut
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First published: May 19, 2006
This youthful, hip, talented five-member Ugandan ensemble of hip-hop artists and performers was created in August 2000. Their beginnings were humble and not very different from many other Ugandan performers; they started performing at karaoke's and clubs around Kampala. The group rapidly achieved a reputation for their original performances and they started performing at even larger events.
Klear Kut is a hip hop group hailing from Kampala, Uganda. The group consists of five members. Da Langman, Navio, J Baller, Tha Mith and Papito the Multi-Lingual. We first formed as a group in August 2000 and starting performing on a regular basis, especially in DV8, a club in KLA. Things took off immediately after that with us guys recording our first hit single "Nothing Wrong With A Little Doe" produced & featuring Steve Jean.
The song had Navio, Langman and J Baller spittin verses and was burning up the radio. And with our banging live performances we soon caught mainstream media attention with articles in national newspapers & television, regional magazines etc... We would also be the only rap group to perform in big shows such as the Club Silk Street Bash.
- writes Da Missing Link aka Langman.
Thereafter the sky was the limit for Klear Kut. The group was also nominated at the Pearl of Africa Music Awards and won the award for Best Hip-hop Group. The group also released another album "K2" which featured the hit single Mon Coeur/ Murder of Crows. The video was heavily played on Ugandan television stations and topped the EATV Top 10 music video charts and became the first Ugandan music video to be featured on MTV.
Klear Kut has performed at a number of live outdoor events including the The Shaggy Boombastic Concert, The Miss Uganda Pageant, Tevin Campbell New Year Concert, Sanyu Carnival in Uganda, The Miss Kenya Pageant and Coca-Cola Race Day in Kenya, Bongo All-Stars in Tanzania, Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar. They have also performed at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) alongside African greats such as Femi Kuti (Nigeria) and Habib Koite (Mali).
The members of Klear Kut are currently located in different countries: Abba Lang is in Malta; Navio is in South Africa; JB is in the USA; Tha Mith is in India and Papito is in Uganda.
Sources used for some of the above:en.wikipedia.org.
JANE: Tell us a bit more about each one of yourselves.
PAPITO: Langman/Missing Link is the crazy one in Klear Kut full of energy, and at times, he can be the clumsiest, yet the smartest, guy I've ever seen. He can always put a smile on your face. Navio is the musical guy in the group; he comes up with some of the best choruses, and he is the type of guy who would succeed in almost anything he puts his mind to. The Mith, there is always room and time for discussion with him especially if you are a girl. And JB, he is a fun person to be around, he is a party animal. Me, I'm a straight forward guy who hates lies and drama.
THE MITH: I am the one who needs to hold back his emotions more in the group. A lot of stuff bothers me and I usually get vocal about it, so the rest of the members help me calm down. I am also oddly, the one who is always talking crazy and cracking jokes.
JB: Well JB is a character that is young, fly and flashy. He is humble and has a swagger that people love and that haters hate.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: I love to read, listen to music and I talk a lot.
NAVIO: Navio is a person who is driven and always ready to push hip-hop forward. I've learned to appreciate all types of rap styles and try to involve them in what we do.
JANE: When did each one of you fall in love with hip-hop?
JB: I fell in love with hip-hop pretty late. Sad to say that it was when Biggie passed away. Then I started doing my research and learning about the game and legends of the past. Then I met back up with Navio and I wanted to start rapping. Don't get me wrong I knew hip-hop; I just fell in love with it later on.
THE MITH: Been in love with music for as long as I can remember. I knew I could never be a good singer so hip-hop was the next best thing, and I fell in love with that in 1992. I was a wannabe Mc Hammer...
PAPITO: I've been a hip-hop fan since I was very young, since the 80's. I basically grew up with hip-hop. But I started rapping in 2001 when I joined Klear Kut.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: My answer is very much like The Mith. I've been in love with music as long as I can remember and I got exposed to hip-hop through MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. I guess since then I knew that I wanted to be a rapper even though I had no clue how to rap. But I knew. Another major turning point was the G Funk Era: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Warren G, Dr. Dre and Domino turned my life around. From then on rapping was without doubt the number one thing in my life. Artists I really like are OutKast, Common, Tupac, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Wu-Tang, Ras Kass, Mos Def, Ludacris and Nas.
NAVIO: Ever since the first time I heard it. It was hard, raw, and expressive and to this day I believe it is one of the most relaxing things a kid can listen too. It lets out feelings that are detrimental to keep inside.
JANE: How did you guys meet and form the group Klear Kut? How did you come up with the concept of a hip-hop group?
JB: Well I went to school with Missing Link, and Navio so I knew them from way back in the days. I had left the country to go to school in the States. When I came back I met up with Navio and we were starting up our own group. Later on we met up with Missing Link who was also doing his thing, so we decided to make up a group together. Da Link was in school with The Mith and Papito and picked them up and the rest is history (That's why he's called the Missing Link).
PAPITO: When I joined the group Klear Kut was already there. I met Langman and Mith in school in 1999 and in 2001 Langman got me to join Klear Kut, and that's when I met JB and Navio.
JANE: How did you come up with the name Klear Kut?
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: That name is multi-faceted. On the one hand it correlates with the expression clear-cut, because what we do is clear-cut. We do hip-hop the way we love it and not the way people think we should be doing it. On the other hand it refers to the way we started. We were diamonds in the rough with a sharp vision, hence the diamonds have now become Klearly Kut and ready to shine.
NAVIO: It was spur of the moment actually. Like Lang would say, we were a rough diamond which cut away what wasn't needed and became Klear Kut.
JANE: How did you all get your stage names? What are your real names?
PAPITO: Papito is my real name. It was given to me by my grandmother. But being a Muslim I also have a Muslim name which is Habib.
THE MITH: Tom Mayanja. The Mith is basically me mixing the initials of all my names to try and get something that defined my personality...
JB: JB comes from several names that I've had. The official J-Baller came from Navio. J is for my name which is Jonathan and the Baller - is in every way from playing ball, and being a baller. When I was younger all the older guys would call me Jonny Blaze, and another of my names is Blazetradomus - hip-hop's future.
NAVIO: My name is Daniel Kigozi. As for the stage name, I actually came up with the name before the meaning. When I was young and uneducated I believed that I was Naturally Able in Verse Initiated Opuses- (Navio.) When Langman told me it was a ship or a boat in Portuguese, it seemed appropriate as we've all carried the group through some rough seas.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Well I'm ambiguous about my name coz I can't seem to make my mind up what it is. I know it's irritating, sorry about that. But I started out as Da Langman and then became Tha Missing Link. Well I'm actually both but I can't figure out which one should be the main one and which one should be the AKA (also known as). Sometimes I've even been referred to by my government name which is Abba Lang (now you see where the Langman, Languistics comes into play). Basically each of the names has its pros and cons, and each name has its vehement fans. Which name do you prefer Jane?
JANE: I like both of them actually. Very enigmatic.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Thanks!
JANE: Originally you were five members Da Langman/Missing Link, Navio, J Baller, Tha Mith and Papito. Are you still together?
PAPITO: We are still five members, Only JB has been studying in the States so he hasn't been around, but he is still part of Klear Kut. Apart from him everyone else has been around, during the holidays at least and you can see all of us in the next Klear Kut video which is coming out in a week.
JB: There still are 5 members nothing happened. It's just that we're all in school, and with all of us in different countries around the world it's kind of hard to do what we want to do. So when you do see Klear Kut you might see three or two of us at a time, but it's still the same.
NAVIO: Education has always been the most important thing. The spirit of KK can never die, even though one of us leaves the group for a while to get a degree, their place is always there.
JANE: What was your first project as a new group?
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: If I remember correctly it was recording our first song with Steve Jean. It was called Nothing Wrong Wit A Lil' Doe. We were very excited. Navio was real good friends with Steve since back in the day and he hooked the whole thing up. Every journey begins with one step and that was one of our very first steps but it was a giant leap for Klear Kut. Being in a proper studio and recording.
NAVIO: I guess it was working on that first Mind Body and Soul album. However our first chance to shine came from First Love on a couple of inspirational tracks on their first album.
JANE: African hip-hop artists are only becoming popular in their countries recently. What were the challenges you faced when getting into the hip-hop game?
Navio: The fact that it's a type of music that isn't listened to as much as other forms of music. The fact that we were young. The fact that we were balancing education, ball, interviews, shows, family obligations and such all at the same time was a challenge in itself. Sheer determination was the only thing that could prove we had the quality to rival international artists.
JB: Our challenges came from our own home, because hip-hop was still growing. Having to convince the older crowd that we weren't just making noise and yelling on stage, but that these guys have talent and know what they're doing. When we got that across it made it much easier for us and other rappers to go main stream in Uganda.
THE MITH: Our main issue was letting people realise that this is what we do, and this is who we are. In Uganda if you are interested in an urban lifestyle then you are taken as a 'wannabe.' so no one was taking us seriously coz they thought we were 'wannabes'...that along with the fact that when we started we were young, so promoters were not really willing to "waste" time on us..
JANE: Do you think that there is such a thing as African hip-hop per se? Or is it all just hip-hop?
THE MITH: I personally think it's hip-hop, wherever you are simply because hip-hop to me is more about representing self and environment...
NAVIO: Technically, there's a difference but I believe that an African can do just hip-hop and a rapper who isn't African can still support Africa the way that African hip-hoppers do... tricky huh?
JB: Its all hip-hop there's just different branches to the culture. It's like this. You got Jamaican food, but with that you got curry chicken, curry goat, rice and peas, and all that good stuff. Point is all of that is still Jamaican food.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Maybe the guys in the group might not agree with me but I tend to differentiate between African hip-hop and hip-hop from Africa. I feel like I'm trying to do hip-hop from Africa whereas critics of Klear Kut seem to dismiss our validity on the basis that it's not African enough. It's all good to have African hip-hop but the tragedy is when people seem to think that music from Africa can only be one way. For me this shows that a lot of us are still trapped in a colonial mentality. I mean why can't we at least try to beat globalisation at its own game. To play chess effectively one has to use all pieces accordingly and all pieces bring their own skills to the board. It's like telling me because we're from Africa the only cuisine we can bother to cook or eat has to be African. Rice cultivation started in China but we all enjoy it.
JANE: Interesting point you brought across Langman/Missing Link. I am sure it's food for thought for your critics. Papito, you are the multilingual in the group. Where did you learn the languages?
PAPITO: My dad has businesses all around the region, so I grew up moving from one country to another, picking up languages. And also I come from a multi-racial family so languages just fly around in my family.
JANE: Navio you met Tony Blair earlier on this year. It must have been a surreal moment. What did you talk about with him?
NAVIO: I asked him about whether or not there was a policy on putting sanctions on the individuals who commit crimes of governance. A lot of the sanctioning methods that the West uses, target trade and economies which in the end leaves the common man starving. They count on a corrupt leader's guilt to make him change his ways where in many instances 'he' feels none.
I also asked him about the importance of intellectual property. He was in a group once and he said that if you cut away a country's creative profits you lose for the culture and economy and sever a source of income for many.
JANE: Klear Kut was nominated for the Kora Awards 2002 and the Pearl of Africa Music Awards where you won the award for "Best Hip-hop Group". What were those experiences like?
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Well what I liked about it was that it was tangible evidence that we had indeed made an impact. When we started no one took us seriously and there where a few haters who were certain we'd get nowhere fast. Some where not necessarily haters but didn't think a rap group could get any sort of credit in Uganda.
JB: Unfortunately I wasn't there to receive the award due to my being abroad in school, but I was definitely thrilled cause the Kora awards is something big in Africa and to be nominated for two awards was great. Next step would be to win them of course.
PAPITO: The Kora Awards was a great experience, a dream come true, and the PAM Award was too... until Obsessions, which is nowhere near a hip-hop group, won the hip-hop awards the year after, since then the hip-hop award PAM gave us means nothing to me.
JANE: Klear Kut's CV includes performing with and at the Shaggy Boombastic Concert, Miss Uganda, Tevin Campbell New Year Concert, Sanyu Carnival in Uganda, Miss Kenya Competition, Bongo All-Stars in Tanzania, Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar. Which was your favorite experience?
THE MITH: Our first album launch is my best experience thus far...
JB: My personal favorite had to be the Miss Kenya Competition, cause we went there not being known by anyone there. They replaced us for Bebe Cool who was very big there and they were all expecting him. Now these five unheard of guys come and perform at an event like this. When they heard us and the bass from the beat dropped from "I Remember" that place went crazy. Then when we came back out again to do "All I Want To Know" everyone was out of there seats, and they didn't have a clue who we were.
PAPITO: You forgot the HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) concert in Zimbabwe which was sold out. There were 6,000 people and the tour to Ghana and Burkina Faso, also with two sold out concerts in Burkina Faso. Those were my favorites.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: My favorites in were Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Miss Uganda 2003. A funny thing that happened in Zimbabwe is that my ticket was misplaced so I couldn't fly out as planned. I ended up staying an extra couple of nights which was fantastic. I chilled with some really cool people. Burkina Faso also provided a cool detour for me because i had just moved to Malta and to get to Burkina Faso I transited in Paris and met some old friends in Paris as well as made a couple new ones. Miss Ugandan 2003 was nice coz we just ripped it and later on during the show I talked to people of all ages and races who really appreciated the performance. It was exactly what I think we try to do: create something that is both uncompromising to ourselves yet reaching many people. Very few groups actually achieve this.
JANE: You released an album called album "K2" which featured the hit single Mon Coeur/ Murder of Crows. How did you come up with the title. I know "mon coeur" means "my heart" in French but what does the title symbolize?
PAPITO: The track came together when we were all at the studio working on the album, and we just started talking about the times each one of us got his heart broken, then we were like let's do a track about it, and the rest made history. The video would become the first Ugandan video to play on MTV Base.
NAVIO: The thought of loss and the sullen and sombre sort of connotations that we attach to crows and their relations to the death of something. It was a metaphorical way of looking at lost love.
JANE: What inspired the song, All I Wanna Know which you guys did with Juliana Kanyomozi?
Read Juliana Comes of Age.
JB: "All I Want To Know" (the original) was supposed to be our first single of the album Mind, Body, and Soul. It did well so we decided to do a remix and put it out there. Julianna's voice was exquisite and we just flowed on it. It made history by making us the first Ugandan-based act to be nominated for the KORAs.
NAVIO: Being young and sort of becoming local celebs did have its perks. However, it also caused friction at times with jealous ladies. The first version was reassuring ladies of our innocent intentions the remix with Julianna was showing lyrical skills to say the truth!
JANE: Klear Kut has been featured in the production of both audio and video commercials for companies such as Coca-cola, MTN, PSI Protector, BB Soda, Allied Bank, Celtel, Guinness, and Pepsi. How do you get these endorsements?
PAPITO: I have Peter Sematimba and Navio to thank for that. And also, Klear Kut... We're hustlers.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Yes we have really enjoyed making jingles and were good experiences. They also boosted our studio techniques. One has to, for example, articulate perfectly and deliver the lines well etc... It also exposes one to the 'frontlines' of advertising as one grasps the processes that go into the production.
JANE: I heard that you are Lyrical G are rivals. I hope Ugandan hip-hop musicians are not going to get involved in the hip-hop beef that's going on in the USA. What are your comments about this?
PAPITO: We are a team not rivals. LG is and has always been a great friend, he also featured on K2 on the song "Da Cypha".
THE MITH: There is no beef between Klear Kut and Lyrical G. The thing with us and Lyrical is, each time our name is mentioned, his name follows and vice-versa. So with that people want to know if we have beef with him or him with us. We have known Lyrical from day one and we have been cool with him, we have worked with him because we respect what he does, and he respects what we have done, and do. If we had a beef with him, or if he had beef with us I don't think we would have worked together.
JB: Lol...I would say friendly rivals. He doesn't know it but, one of the Mc's I look up to in UG is Lyrical G so no there definitely ain't no beef on that. I don't think Ugandan hip-hop will start the beefs like what's going on in the States. Hip-hop is still growing in Uganda and we need to build a strong foundation. As much as hip-hop has grown in Uganda, it's still small compared to the other countries like Nigeria, and Kenya so for us to start beefing with one another is crazy, unless it comes down to where you have to respond to something.
NAVIO: We came up together. We love what we do so much that we have no competitors just colleagues on the same mission. Anyone who wants to take a shot is welcome but I just went through 32 MC's at a recent battle so I wouldn't mind adding on a few more!
JANE: On that note, another hip-hop artist Kenle had this to say about you guys- If I took Klear Kut to the states then they'll have competition which they might fail to beat. Any comments?
PAPITO: People said Klear Kut was a waste of time when we started, and we have made history in Uganda, East Africa and Africa more than once. They said we would never make it out of Uganda, and we have toured Africa, putting Uganda on the map everywhere we've been. No matter what people have said and done we have always had the last laugh. Where people failed, we succeeded. And where Kenle failed? Klear Kut will succeed!
NAVIO: I don't understand how we can be compared first of all and second of all it doesn't matter how crappy I think someone is, all I'll try to do is encourage them! Ken can say what he wants - I just wish he had told me to my face instead of to the world! I would have never jeopardized his fan base in the same way, but hey, I guess now I can be honest! We'll see what happens.
JB: Well I'm in the US right now and for sure there's a lot of competition down here 'cause this is where hip-hop started, but failing I highly doubt it. I've let people listen to what we've done in Uganda and all of them are loving it and asking if we're trying to bring our music to the states, and artists are trying to come to Uganda trying to do stuff with us. I'll say more challenging, but definitely not a fail Kenle.
JANE: Some people argue that Uganda's hip-hop scene is permeated with hip-hop wannabes. What are your comments? Are Ugandan hip-hop artists getting the respect which is due?
THE MITH: I personally don't think the artists are getting their due respect. A lot of doors have been opened because of hip-hop. The likes of Krazy Native have gone to South Africa, representing Uganda at international events with icons of the music industry. Navio sat down with Blair. A lot has been opened but the public and the media are quick to dismiss the positive for their own misconceptions about the artists...
NAVIO: There are many, but one mans crap is another's supper. It's all art in the end! There are many not getting the respect they deserve because the type of art I believe is worth listening to is being classed with amateurs.
JB: I say you have your joke rappers everywhere, but Uganda also has talent. Hip-hop is still growing in Uganda so off gates every rapper you hear out of Uganda isn't going to be the best thing you've heard. So I say give them a lil time Ugandan hip-hop artists will get the respect that we deserve.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Well I'd say that rappers don't get their respect due because they're not really heard. I guess Luganda rap would go a long way to rectify that but also The Bataka Underground's have been rapping in Luganda for some year's now and Uganda still hasn't embraced them fully. I really hope they do coz that would be a good day for the music scene in Uganda. But even a lot of people don't really listen to what MC's are truly trying to say and that's a worldwide thing. Most of the best rappers rarely have good record sales. Before I mentioned some of my favourite rappers and a lot of them haven't really sold much and someone like Kenle might even go as far as to say that they are failures. I don't judge a rapper by his income, but don't get me wrong, I do revere great rappers who have managed to sell some records without comprising their creativity and integrity like OutKast.
JANE: Do you guys like collaborations?
JB: I love collaborations, cause it opens the doors to try other things, and shows how good you can work with other artists.
PAPITO: We've always done collabos, I don't mind them.
NAVIO: It's in my blood, trying new things is part of what hip-hop is about.
JANE: What do you think of the state of mainstream hip-hop today?
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Well the thing about mainstream hip-hop today that I don't like is that it lacks depth and doesn't do much for hip-hop's reputation. But me personally I'm too distracted by the good hip-hop that I've mined and surrounded myself with.
NAVIO: It is not as real as it once felt but it's just as effective. I really believe that unlike what Kenle said we can make a difference. English or otherwise, I really used to think it was about what was being said more than the language it was said in but hey!!!
JB: It's definitely changing. It seems that in order to do sell and promote your music you got to have beef with some one. But it's what the audience loves so they go for it. I don't think you need beef to sell records, and that's how it's looking.
Klear Kut: Tha Mith, Papito and Langman.
JANE: Which other East African musicians are you feeling right now?
PAPITO: Navio, Bataka Underground, Professor J
JB: Lyrical G, and Chameleon
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Well I've been out of the scene for a year now so I'm not really hearing any East African music but I agree with the rest of the crew. I think GNL, Krukid, Urban Life, Sylvester & Abramz and Young Nick & MSB are also notables in Ugandan hip-hop. I like Morris Kirya he is unique in UG and Julianna has a great voice. I also like Kaweesa. These guys are not East African but I like them - K-OS and Little Brother.
JANE: Ok, now for some fun questions. So who is single and who is not?
PAPITO: I am single.
THE MITH:I am not single.
JB: Sorry I'm not.
NAVIO: I am actually involved right now.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: Not single....
JANE: Do you have lots of groupies? Who do the ladies like the most?
THE MITH: The ladies love Papito the most coz of that multilingual stuff, so he has the most groupies, hehehe.
JB: Yes we do get a lot of groupies. Who gets the most groupies, I don't know...lol.
NAVIO: JB has a lot - he'll kill me for that but yea, I am the darker one in the group in terms of personality and not the most social either.
LANGMAN/MISSING LINK: I don't know about groupies but I do have many friends!
JANE: What's next for Klear Kut?
NAVIO: The world! We've all got solo projects coming out as well as a Klear Kut collabo!
PAPITO: Navio's solo album Half the Legend, Papito's solo album Curriculum Vitae, Mith's solo album The Week of September, a compilation of Klear Kut tracks and Klear Kut's 3rd Album. All these featuring next level videos and all under Klear Kut Entertainment.
Klear Kut: Navio
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First published: May 19, 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.