Ugandan Musicians: Meet Sarah Ndagire
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First published: October 2, 2006
"To educate the world about the culture and folklore of Uganda, Africa and African people, through written journals, recordings, stage performances."
One of Sarah Ndagire's objectives.
There is a growing crop of Ugandan musicians who are involved in the musical arena and are equally active in the drama scene. Sarah Ndagire is one of them. She plays contemporary Ugandan contemporary/pop, world fusion, zouk, as well as traditional folk music and dance. Ndagire, who has for a long time been a famous voice on several radio stations in Uganda, has also been described by her peers as one of Uganda's female exceptional folk and modern performers.
Sarah Ndagire & Pedson Kasume.
Face Music: Traditional music of the Bantu women and folktales of the Baganda women from Uganda
Don't be fooled by the sweet, innocent face. For someone who says that she did not even know that she could sing, Ndagire has made great strides musically. Ndagire, in the tradition of very many ancient Africans, is an amalgam of several talents; she is a composer, singer, dancer, storyteller, educator and a cultural lover. She was a member of one of Uganda's most famous bands, Afrigo Band. In fact many people may remember her as the bubbly Afrigo Band dancer who frequently provided back-up vocals to Joanita Kawalya. Ndagire has performed with many theatre masters in and out of Uganda such as Catherine Tickel from Netherlands, Sarah Rubidge from UK, the Franciscan Choir at Christ the King Church, Uganda and the Big Five Band.
Ndagire has as special space in her heart for youth. She is also a peer educator and counsellor and she has worked with youth organizations such as Youth Alive, and SYFA to sensitize the youth about Aids and help them to make responsible choices. She is also incorporating children's theatre and teaching young people how to sing. Ndagire, has a passion for traditional folklore works like story telling and children lullabies. With the aim of promoting African culture to all parts of the world, she tells traditional stories and legends.
She is also one of those few people who speak several local languages including Luganda and Runyankore which are part of her heritage. Her new album will be hitting the airwaves soon. With songs like Katitira, Peter and Olikoma Eyo, she will be sure to entertain her fan base. Look out for the newly released album.
Jane: Who is Sarah Ndagire? What is your heritage?
Sarah: I am born to a Muganda father, Mr Kibuuka Zechariah (RIP) and a Munyankore Mother, Edith Bonabana. I am the third of the five children. I went to Kampala Primary School, Sir Tito Winyi Secondary School and Vision Institute of Public Relations and Management. Throughout my school, I was involved in drama. I didn't know I could sing until I joined Sharing Youth Band as a dancer and shortly after did a cover for a song called Jabulani by PJ Powers which according to friends, I did very well. Since then, I have never looked back. I have written so many songs and learnt and fused many traditional songs.
Where were you born?
Born and raised in Kampala.
Tell us a little about your childhood and how you were raised.
I grew up with two brothers and two sisters. We were raised by a single mother and we lived in different places depending on her financial situation but we all went to school no matter what. I didn't have a lot of things but did not complain much for I always knew that my mother loved us and would always try her best. We always went to church every Sunday and prayer was very important in our family. Actually I always prayed whenever I was in need and I still do. I would pray that God gives my mum money so I could get a new dress, go for a school trip, eat chocolates and those kinds of things. Generally, I was a patient kid and what other kids had that my mother would afford didn't bother me. I knew that the key to everything was school.
Sarah, you are one of Uganda's outstanding female performers as well as a member of The Afrigo band. How did it all start for you?
I was approached by Mr. Moses Matovu, the music director of the band, to join as a vocalist and also he asked me to get him two dancers and so I got Jacinta and Sandra who are still with the band to-date. Because I am dancer, I also joined them in dancing as well. I was privileged to have my song Dunia Mchaganyiko featuring on the Afrigo Band CD Genda Osome.
How did being a member of the Afrigo Band, one of Uganda's longest standing bands influence you as a musician?
One of the things I learnt is that it is better to rehearse and if possible perform a song before you get into the studio to record it and ensure perfection when presenting your work on stage.
What made you choose to go solo?
After working with Afrigo Band one can only go solo because the standard they set cannot be found in the already existing bands e.g. serious rehearsal, perfection in presentation, good sound, and good musicians.
Do you still keep in touch with Joanita Kawalya?
Yes I do see her at the jam sessions and in musician's meetings. We also talk on phone sometimes.
What about the other members of the band?
I am in touch with nearly all of them. There are 2 videos I have done with the dancers, Jacinta and Sandra and others have featured in my songs on my up-coming debut album.
What market do you think Afrigo band caters to? Do you for example think their music appeals to the youth who are now so used to hip hop?
Afrigo at the moment caters to nearly all ages, considering the audience that attends their shows but of course you may not find the teens that mostly enjoy R&B and hip hop.
Now that we have brought that up, do you feel that young people appreciate traditional and folk music?
No. The ones that appreciate it are mainly those that are active as in traditional performing groups but otherwise most of them are more into hip hop and R&B.
What do your parents think of the fact that you are following your dream?
My family is okay with it and actually they attend some of my shows. They actually tell people about my songs which are playing on radio.
Your resume says that you are gifted with the ability to speak several folk languages in Uganda. Which ones are those?
I speak Luganda, Runyoro, Runyankole, Rutooro and can understand a bit of Lusoga and Lugisu. I can also very easily learn and sing nearly all folk languages.
It also says you are a composer, dancer, storyteller, actor and a lover of culture. Which types of dances do you excel in?
I do nearly all traditional dances of Uganda including bakisimba, muwogola, mbaga, larakarak, dingi dingi, ekitaguriro, mwaga, Runyege, Ntogoro, and creative dances.
Do you actually writes stories or you tell them through your music?
For now I mostly express myself orally. I haven't yet been able to write any stories but I hope to in future but I tell traditional stories (legends) as well as my own experiences.
You mention that you are an actor. Which plays/films have you been in?
I have been acting throughout primary and secondary school in different plays, the musical Godspell with the group Virtuosos and recently in the film The Last King of Scotland, which has Forest Whitaker and Kerry Washington acting in it.
Is that right? I'll be looking for you on the big screen then...
The Last King of Scotland is getting good reviews....
Yes, it was well done and it was also the biggest large-budget film done in Uganda in the last few decades.
You mean since Mississippi Masala?
Sarah let's move to your educative side. You are also a peer educator and counsellor under which you have worked with youth organizations such as Youth Alive and SYFA which sensitize youth about Aids and help them to make responsible choices. Please tell us more about that.
There are so many underlying factors surrounding the spread of HIV/Aids and these are embedded in the choices we make for example how you spend your free time, where you get your extra money, and your beliefs with regards to sexuality.
The choices one makes as a young person determine his or her future. It is therefore very important to critically look at the available choices to the young and vulnerable people and commit oneself to the positive ones that can give you a long life.
Is it difficult for you to come up for the lyrics of your songs?
Not really but harder these days because every time I open my books and see too much unused material, I just close them and do other things. It can be overwhelming!
Which is your favourite song?
It is a gospel song called Rugged Cross. It is so beautiful, so true, so encouraging especially when I feel like giving up, so good...
What's your general message to the world as a musician?
Love, unity, family care, happiness and that Ugandan music is good.
If people want to come and listen to you live, where would they do they find you?
No particular place at the moment.
When can we expect your CD?
Before the end of September.(We interviewed Sarah earlier in September 2006).
Who are your role models?
My mum who was able to raise and educate five of us on her own. Determination, patience and love can take you to greater heights, that is what I learnt from her.
Is there a particular musician who you would like to perform with?
Chiwaniso from Zimbabwe, Angelique Kidjo, Eric Wainaina from Kenya and Kinobe Herbert, Micheal Ouma and Tshila from Uganda.
Tshila in the studio.
Any special words for Jimmy Katumba?
I am privileged to have known and worked with Jimmy Katumba. He was a very special star. He loved joking with all kinds of people. He talked to anybody who approached him equally. He would unselfishly give advice with regards to music and it did not matter which musician sought it. It is so hard to find the exact words to describe him but let me just put it this way, he was a special gift to the world. RIP.
What is your driving force to success?
Patience and thirst for a good product so I get closer to the right people.
What is next for you? What kind of legacy do you see yourself leaving behind?
I hope to do a show sometime to come in which I hope to show what I have been able to do so far and a bit of what I hope to do.
For more on Sarah Ndagire, please go to www.ndagire.4t.com
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First published: October 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.