Ugandan Musicians: Meet TShaka Mayanja a.k.a. Winston
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More from REGGAEOLOGY - Chapter 1: Bass After Dark
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First published: September 19, 2006
"I love The Blues, Jazz and Soul for the raw sensuality and passion they provide. Reggae, my foundation, is borne out of the above forces."
He is one of the reasons that reggae music swept Uganda with such fervour in his role as one of Uganda's earliest reggae voices who passionately introduced the Jamaican-born reggae genre in Uganda. Credited as one of Uganda's reggae father figures, TShaka Mayanja a.k.a. Winston, especially started making a mark on the Ugandan music scene when he relentlessly promoted reggae music as a promoter. Under his promotion company Yohannes Ham Inxs, he brought in all the popular Jamaican musicians including: Chaka Demus and Pliers, Spanner Burner, Aswad, Buju Banton, Third World, Shaba Ranks, Papa San, Cedella Booker Marley, Red Rat, Brian & Tony Gold, Rayvon, Twiggi and South Africa's Lucky Dube.
The talented, prolific, Ugandan born guitar-plucking reggae singer, songwriter, producer and promoter did not stop at just promoting other musicians. Mayanja has over three hundred songs already written and arranged under his belt.
In 2004, Mayanja released his album Dark Chocolate under Black Roots Unlimited, a group started by him.
In 2006 he released his new CD, Reggaegology: Bass After Dark, which contains 13 tracks. The album is a rich infusion of blues, jazz, soul, lover's rock, funk, Afro-Cuban and roots reggae music. The album is said by critics, to highlight the tremendous talent of the sensual, sultry and smooth voice of K'Angie Mtume a.k.a Angela Kalule. With sensual songs like Let's Make A Baby (Don't Say No Tonight), After 12 - The Midnight Theme, Will You Marry Me? (Omubeezi Wo), and Damn! I Miss You (Komawo Bambi), it's a great album for lovers, as well as lovers of music. It's the kick-off-your-shoes, sip-a-glass-of-wine-while-soaking-in-the-bath calibre of sensual, relaxing music one would listen to as one is unwinding from a stressful day at work.
The dreadlocked Mayanja is a musician's musician. He plays several instruments including bass guitar, piano, drums and percussions. Interestingly, he comes from a prominent family in Uganda. His father Joash Mayanja Nkangi was the Minister of Finance & Economic Planning and Uganda's Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister for a long time.
Mayanya has been profiled on numerous radio and TV interviews in Africa, including interviews on Channel O (Africa's version of MTV on the biggest cable TV network in Africa MNET), and also a live interview on Irie FM during the Sting Reggae festival Jamaica in 1996, with GT Taylor (top radio DJ in Jamaica) and Copeland Forbes, who is a legendary Jamaican MC and road manager. The New Vision, Monitor, Uganda Observer and Music Uganda have also done profiles on him. Mayanja mentioned in his communication with me that one of his dreams is to go to Cuba purposely to work with Cuban musicians.
Jane: So what inspired the change from Winston Mayanja to TShaka Mayanja?
TShaka: The Great Zulu King TShaka Zulu. What a leader!
Indeed. Where are you based?
Uganda at the moment. Being a Gemini, I get restless so easily, so I may change location anytime.
When did you first start singing?
Has being Joash Mayanja Nkangi's son affected you in any way? Has it opened any doors for you musically or do you prefer to have your own shine?
It hasn't opened musical doors obviously, but it has opened other doors sometimes. As the Bible says, having an honest father is a good heritage far better than wealth.
As the son of a highly profiled politician, do you have any political aspirations?
Now let's get to your music. Talking about the Dark Chocolate album, the name seems to have a dual meaning. What's the story behind it?
Dark chocolate is 'bittersweet', just like love. How can something be so sweet and bitter at the same time? We fall head over heels in love, fall out the next day, make up again etc.
Indeed. Amaaso Go, is described as unpretentious duet between two lovers who just cannot wait to learn more about each other. Is this from personal experience?
Yes and no. I find it very hard to express myself by speech. I prefer writing or just looking at something or someone. The one thing that cannot tell lies is our eyes. When you doubt someone, just ask them to look you straight in the eyes!
What inspired the Ancient Natives Spirits song from the Realities of Darkness album?
We have discarded the strength and knowledge of our ancestors. As a people, we have been fooled into believing that all this is evil. On the other hand, why is it ok for Jews/Christians to call out the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob? We should learn more about our ancestors or else we shall never mature Spiritually as a people.
What about Congo Is Burning?
Wow! How can such a beautiful, rich nation be so 'poor'? The answer is in there somewhere. Wealth! This has been a curse for this great nation as their peoples have suffered from plunder for years and years.
Would you rate yourself as a conscious musician?
Where did you learn to play the Bass guitar?
I taught myself while I was in England. I have always written songs based on bass lines. I've actually written over three hundred songs this way, without knowing how to play the bass. So I thought to myself, hey, I should just pick up this lovely groove machine and play. I pulled out all The Bob Marley & the Wailers albums and played along with my mentor- the great Aston 'Familyman' Barrett. I also played Sly & Robbie albums, Aswad etc I am now a Bassist!
Aston Francis Barrett.
Bukko Brite (Afrigo guitarist), Fred Walusimbi (First Love), the great UK bassist Steve Lawson and members of the Low Down Bass Forum (Music Player website) have all given me valuable tips.
Any memories of performances you want to share?
My very first performance with Out Break (Tim Kabali & co) in 1989, my very first concert in 1991, my playing the drums with Third World at the 1997 Uganda concert, singing with Aswad (1995), Chaka Demus & Pliers (2000), playing bass with Hugh Masekela's band during sound check (2006), sharing the stage with world renown bassist Dominique di Piazza etc...
There is a lot of criticisms about Ugandan music that is not in local languages, not being Ugandan enough. I know that you have songs in Luganda, but do you feel a certain pressure to perform in Luganda?
Oh no, I don't. You can only do your best. Luganda is not an easy language. That's why I feel Fred Kigozi (RIP), Philly Lutaaya (RIP) and many of the classic Kadongo Kamu artists are geniuses. Music is universal language, Reggae more so. My message must get as far as possible. Unfortunately, the 'masters' language (English) rules so I gotta use it. I wish I pursued my love for French years ago. It's another language I love.
Which artists would you love to perform with?
Mainly Jazz musicians funny enough. However, I'll give you a few: Richard Bona, Sly & Robbie, The Wailers, Alicia Keys, Prince, Ollie Woodson and Dennis Williams (Tempations), Teddy Pendergrass, Toots Hibbert, George Duke and many others.
You have taken artists such as; Third World, Shaggy, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Aswad, Rayvon, Spanner Banner, Papa San, Brian & Tony Gold, Twiggy to various countries in Africa. How do you link up with them?
When I'd just finished A Levels, I wrote to Reggae legend Freddie McGregor (how naïve) asking him to come over and perform! He did receive that handwritten letter he told me years later. Anyway, my mentor Tony Moody (who I got to know through Uganda cricketer and friend Yona Wapakhabulo) introduced me to Eaton 'Jah' Blake who owns Sparkside Studios in London. We struck a great friendship and it was through this that we contacted our first project artists Chaka Demus & Pliers, Spanner Banner in 1996. Thereon, I made many visits to Jamaica, UK and USA. The artists loved my mission and believe me, many of them did so many favors for me that they would never do for others. I was only 24 yrs! Charles Lubega, my other mentor, has also been always there for me and we've worked together for years. I still work with him.
Would you say that your efforts to bring international reggae artists to Uganda has brought more awareness and appreciation for the music genre in the country?
Oh yes. Reggae is everywhere now. Even mainstream stations in Uganda are now playing Ganja planter! I started Reggae music in 1988 when nobody would touch it in Uganda. It wasn't 'fashionable'. I stuck with it through thick and thin as an artist, producer and promoter. As I speak, Reggae is the most popular genre in Uganda. Right from the church to traditional music, everybody is on the Reggae Train. I have served Reggae music since 1987 when I wrote my first songs.
Are your dreadlocks a statement or a style?
Statement my dear. A Rasta mission. Although it's not all about 'locks pon head'. Righteousness and African struggles play a big part in my mission.
Do you think that musicians are responsible for the content of their music?
Yes of course. We must be responsible.
Are you a fan of collaborations?
I am. We all learn from each other I believe.
Would you consider yourself a role model?
For what I have done for reggae music and music, I should be, however, I am VERY reluctant to have such a responsibility.
What is your driving force to success?
JAH the Almighty Creator and my love, if not zeal, for music.
Where can people find you for live performances?
I am on a sabbatical of sorts although I do gigs once in a while. In 2007, I hope to perform a bit more.
Are you single?
I am not married, but I have been in a relationship for 13 years. What do you call that by the way?
Depends where you are. In Canada where I live, it's called common law marriage. Others would just call it a serious relationship.
What is a beautiful woman in your experience?
A spiritual, wise, hardworking and independent woman. That's beauty!
Any words of advice?
The love of JAH is the beginning of all 'overstanding' into all the secrets of this universe and beyond. The Spirit within us is very strong. Keep it clean, so many doors will open for I and I.
For more information on Winston TShaka, please go to www.blackrootsunlimited.com
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First published: September 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.