There is fascinating music concert in prospect in Nairobi next week combining two exceptional talents from Uganda, whose styles are both grounded in traditional music from Northern Uganda but produced in fresh contemporary styles.
Suzan Kerunen and Faizal Ddamba Mostrixx will perform at the Showcase Wednesday next week at a concert that combines the best of traditional music from Uganda along with cutting edge electronic music.
Kerunen, better known as the Queen of Alur, will be performing in Nairobi along with Faizal Ddamba Mostrixx, an artist that combines dance, choreography, social work and electronic music production.
Kerunen was born in Kenya, as a child of Ugandan exiles who lived in Nairobi and has earned a reputation for drawing on the cultural influences of the Alur, a community in North Western Uganda found on the border with the DRC.
Mostrixx is a regular feature on the Ugandan festival and club scene who has headlined top festivals in his country like the Bayimba and Nyege Nyege. He is a professional dancer who embraces contemporary dance styles like breakdancing and body-popping, along with traditional African moves.
His music taps into traditional Ugandan rhythms and uses electronic sounds to give the sound a radically new approach. Mostrixx says the objective of his music is to fuse Ugandan traditional instruments and organic rhythms with electronic production.
His EP “Ghosts” released this year is an eclectic fusion of samples from across Uganda with a whirlwind of beats and synthesizer sounds. This October he released a 3-song EP “Kuhamahama” which samples the sounds of Maracha district, Northern Uganda, as part of a project that aims to expand the reach of his model of dance across Uganda.
Kerunen has previously performed at music events in Kenya like ONGEA, Thursday Night Live, and was one of the performers at ACCES Showcase organized by Music In Africa Foundation in Nairobi
“I love the Kenyan audiences because they are very energetic and some of the people can connect with the language because of its similarity to Dholuo,” says Kerunen.
She has been in the music business for just over a decade having started out along with her sisters in a hip-hop group called the Soul of Africa. “I was doing all that nice stuff, jumping all around the stage and rapping until I stumbled on the music of Richard Bona (Cameroonian guitarist and singer) and things have never been the same,” she recalls.
She was encouraged by her husband who is currently her producer to exploit her the heritage of folk rhythms from the Alur, which he felt was still untapped. “So we agreed to try out something and this gave birth to the recording “Nimefika” in 2006 which earned me two Kora Music Award nominations and I have not looked back since,” she says.
The album, which remains her best-selling album to date, opened up many opportunities.
She was nominated as Uganda’s Cultural Tourism Ambassador in 2010 and she has used that opportunity to connect her music with the heritage of her country. “My responsibility is to fly the cultural flag of Uganda as much as possible and you can see that in my performance and the songs that I compose are a perseveration of the music from Uganda,” she says.
For instance, she wrote the song “Ogor Nam” based on the birds in Uganda to celebrate the diverse bird species found in Uganda and to promotes the annual bird watching festival that takes place in Uganda every November
Her concerts are never complete without a performance of “Pimar” which she explains is a song that is dear to her because she wrote it when she was having her first child in 2013. The song which is the title track of her album means “all for love” in Alur and is also the name of her daughter.
Kerunen has released four albums so far.
and has programmed herself to release a new album every two years. “I want to be in a proper space of inspiration and not to rush my albums so I record 7 – 10 songs per album and then use the intervening period between recordings to promote the songs through concerts and airplay.”
Ugandan artists have a very supportive of their own music and their artists. “Our musicians have made tons of money out of their talent. I am self-employed purely through my music even though I am not considered a mainstream artist,” she says.
She is seeking collaborations across East Africa and says the experience of working with Kenyan musician Michelle Ongaro has reinforced the belief that the region’s musicians should forge close bonds.
Suzan Kerunen and Faizal Mostrixx will perform together at the next edition of the Showcase Wednesday at the Alliance Francaise, Nairobi on 13 November from 7pm.