Ugandan Musicians: Meet Sarah Tshila
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First published: March 24, 2006
She is a poet, musician and painter with a degree in Computer Science- Software Engineering. She lived in several countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and the United States. She did her college education in the United States, which she started when she was 16 years old. She graduated with a degree in Software Engineering in May 2005, and moved back to Uganda in August, the same year.
Sarah Tshila has only performed on the Ugandan musical scene. So far she has started out by collaborating with several other musicians. She has recorded music with Bataka Squad on their new album, due to be released sometime later this year and she plans on releasing a few other songs. She is currently working on a project with Kinobe and Romeo Akiiki and has previously done vocals and opened for Jaqee, the Ugandan singer based in Sweden.
Tshila is not only vocally inclined but musically inclined. She plays several instruments. She has been playing keyboard for 4 years, and guitar for about 6 months now. She has always loved music and poetry and kept making her own compositions which she recited mostly to herself. An active promoter of literacy, she is working on a book club project. She hopes she will provide a source of immense information for her fellow Ugandans and wants her music to appeal to both Ugandans and world music lovers.
So far she is focusing more on live performing and is working on recording her live performances as opposed to studio records until she is ready to go global. It was interesting to interview this beautiful neo soul/hip hop artist who refers to herself as a geek.
Jane: Tell us more about yourself...
Sarah Tshila & Stephanie Dawson at Valdosta State University, GA, USA.
Tshila: I was born in Kampala, Uganda. My mother is Ugandan, and my father Congolese. I grew up in several places including the United States where I spent the last 5 years of my life. I am a poet, musician and painter. I also have a degree in Computer Science which makes me somewhat of a geek.
When did you get involved with hip hop?
I got inspired to get into music as opposed to having a full time secure job as a computer scientist after I graduated last year from Valdosta State University in South Georgia. I came back to Uganda in August 2005, and decided to pursue my musical career. During the process, I run into the Bataka Squad, who were impressed with my spoken word, and inspired me to start rapping.
What are you bringing to the Ugandan hip hop scene as a female?
Music is supposed to elevate people and inspire them, and I want to be the person that does that for Africa. I don't see myself doing this as a female but as an artist. I have so much to say and want to be heard and music is my channel to the masses. I could be doing it as an artist, but music is what I have chosen as my medium of communication.
You are the Bataka Squad's new female recruit. They call you Uganda's best lady of hip hop. How did that come about?
I met Babaluku and Krazy Native at a jam session at the national theatre. Krazy came up to me and asked me if I was a soul sista cause of the way I was dressed and I said yeah and I was like by the way, I am getting into music, do you wanna hear, it? And the rest was history.
Why did you choose to be involved with the Bataka Squad as in opposed to any other group?
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Bataka Squad inspired me so much from the first time we met. Babaluku was like you got something man, but you don't know it yet. I just had to learn to express myself to the public and I have since been a banner for the African Revolution. They showed me that I had it in me all this time, but was afraid to come out with it. I feared that I would blow this country to pieces and Uganda aint ready for that. But when we vibed and hooked up as a group it was pure magic!
How do your parents feel about this? Are they supportive?
My mom is really supportive. It took her a while to understand what I was doing, but she told me one time, that she saw it coming, despite the fact that she tried to help me walk a straight path toward job security. She feels like her duty as my only parent has been fulfilled and I can do what I want with myself now. She really makes me know what it means to be loved. After being out of the country for so long and always independent, I had lost that feeling. But my mom, always does stuff for me to help me musically and she is like, all in all, you are still my baby and I love you.
You have been described by some music critics as a sister with soul. Would you agree with this description..?
I would describe myself more as an African Queen. I want to be placed in the same category as Miriam Makeba at the end of the line, to be seen as someone that helped in the struggle for Africa through her words and ideas in her own way and genre.
What do you think of the state of hip hop today?
Honestly, I don't know what to think! I am so new to this game that I can't even start quoting nobody. I can tell you where I want to take it though! I want to map African hip-hop so African emcees can have musical clarity and be unified in one theme and voice, as opposed to all the bling bling stuff! I don't even pay it no mind.
Critics are quick to slate musicians in specific categories, but I am going to let you describe yourself. How would you describe your musical style?
I would not place it in any category. The only thing I would say is it is African in every way!! I wouldn't even call it African hip-hop cause I wanna be among the pioneers of something new. A mixture of Luganda Hip-hop, Ugandan traditional music, spoken word, Lugisu blues, French soul, Swahili rythms etc.
Wow! That is quite a lot. I am looking forward to your CD.
(Smiles) I am working on it.
Who are your musical influences?
The greatest influence on me to this point has been Lauryn Hill. I pray that through the struggle, I get to meet her one day. I think I may just retire after that.
I love Lauryn Hill too, so I agree with you. Are you involved in any other creative ventures?
Yes. I do lots of poetry, so I want to start up a poetry night a few months down the road in Kampala. I also love art and African crafts and want to express myself as an artist.
How often do you go back to Uganda?
This has been my second trip to Uganda, and I may be here to stay. I love the fact that it is a very frustrating place to live as well as a joyful place. I get mixed feelings all the time. But I believe that that makes life more of a joy, than always being assured of what tomorrow is like.
How has living in Atlanta affected you as a musician? Are you still in touch with Ugandan issues?
I was mostly studying in Georgia. I tried to venture into the music industry in Atlanta through connections I had with producers and friends, but never quite got in. I didn't really fight for it, because I had to finish my degree in Computer science, otherwise, my mother would literally send a firing squad to come get me.
Well you did not disappoint her. What do you think of the women empowerment movement in Uganda?
I see my self as a future fore person for the struggle of feminine emancipation in Uganda. I already have a couple of songs and rhymes written about it, and believe women possess equally as many strengths and weaknesses as men and should be treated equally. Period.
If people want to come and listen to you live, where would they do they find you?
I have been in the process of finessing my work for the past month and will continue to do so next month. We formed a group of traditional instrumentalists that I will be performing live with soon, but not commercially. I have not confirmed the venue details yet.
You are also into poetry. Do you have a poem you want to share?
If I could shrink to nothingness
And relieve myself of all this stress
Then I would exist as a simple breeze
And walk on this earth with so much ease
I would roam the sands of the desert storms
And let my voice be heard in thunderstorms
I would whisper sweet words in the lover's ear
And make weak hearts take courage against all fear
I would bring a cold chill in the middle of winter
To let mankind know that life is bitter
My energy would neither be removed nor destroyed
But rather transformed into something remote
An intangible insatiable desire to be
That has controlled and consumed every aspect of me.
That is a sad poem. What inspired it?
I wrote a while back when I was feeling kinda low.
Finally, if you could sit at a dinner table with five great people dead or alive, who would they be?
Oprah Winfrey, Lauryn Hill, Jesus (the man), Miriam Makeba and Malcolm X.
Well Tshila thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with everything.
Thanks. It was my pleasure.
Also read 1 on 1 with Tshila when we catch up with Tshila a few months later in July.
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First published: March 24, 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.