"Spirit of Africa" was Ugandan-born Kawesa's breakout album in Africa. The title sums up Kawesa's music, and his personality. Fiercely proud of his traditional Ugandan heritage, and passionate about writing songs around social issues, he truly embodies the musical spirit of his people.
Kawesa was born in Entebbe, just southwest of Uganda's capital city Kampala. At the age of 10, Kawesa (meaning "The Songsmith") joined the sensational African Children's Choir. This proved to be a momentous turn in his musical life. For the following two years he toured abroad with the choir, visiting 48 states in the USA and 6 out of 9 provinces in Canada. On returning to Uganda, Kawesa formed a band called Revival Flames and subsequently received invitations to sing for the King of Toro Kingdom. Local fame began to spread wider when he won East Africa's leading Star Search singing competition in Nairobi. Concerts, albums and film soundtracks have followed. (He was featured as solo vocalist on the Oscar Winning Film "The Last King of Scotland" and most recently he featured on some of the leading tracks in the movie “The First Grader”)
However, Kawesa has always kept his music close to home and the causes he holds dear. He has founded numerous charitable organisations and projects in Africa. Some of these projects include www.cityyange.com and www.imani-foundation.org. In 2003, Kawesa founded a group of artists commonly known as the "Musicians Community" who offer their time and energy to social work especially in the fields of HIV/AIDS, clean water supply, peace, and poverty eradication. Kawesa has also consulted for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in the area of School Feeding and Chronic Hunger as well as for the World Bank in Sanitation-related work.
It's our privilege to support the Imani Foundation through Face to Face. 50% of the proceeds of sales from the song "Manyeta" will be donated to the Imani Foundation which supports the acquisition of intensive care equipment and beds for the Mulago Hospital ICU babies wing in Kampala.
Having started our musical journey close to home at Abbey Road, I thought we should be little more bold on the second. The year previous I had been scoring "The Last King of Scotland" and had visited Uganda to record music for the film with local musicians and singers. When I originally arrived in Kampala for the film I was assigned a guide who I was told was a local music star and would know everyone in Kampala. The moment I met Kawesa I knew we would be friends. When I heard his tremendous voice I knew we needed to have it on our soundtrack. (link to LKOS?)
So it seemed a natural idea for me to go back to Uganda and explore what would happen on a Face to Face session there. Just getting our recording and camera rig to Kampala turned out to be a task in itself though. Airline security mid way in Dubai was not amused (unsurprisingly) when they opened our photographer's kit bag to find a lens cleaner in the shape of a hand grenade - fins and all. (Note to self: always ask photographers if they have any equipment that looks like an offensive weapon). We were all hauled aside and given a thorough going over. In fact, in Kampala itself there had been a recent scare involving hiding weapons in a camera, so when we found ourselves invited to a function on our first night with the Ugandan president we deliberated the merits of our photographer, Rama, bringing his already unlucky kit bag having being told no cameras allowed. Wanting to make the most of the photographic opportunity, of course, he brought it only to find armed guards checking all bags. When it came to it Rama allowed himself to be frisked down by the guard while I casually passed him his camera bag around the metal detector that had been set up at the function. Perhaps not the wisest move, but it worked strangely well and we found ourselves in the function With the president and our camera (see photos below).
However, the real work of setting up the session came the next day. Kampala has no regular recording studios so we had asked Kawesa if he knew a place we could use. "Of course", he said, "leave it to me." We arrived to find he had discovered us a wonderful spot high on a green hilltop looking out over the city. If was beautiful, but very steep. We had begged the use of an old piano from the music school which was delivered to the bottom of the hill, but we hadn't counted on how to get it up to the top. After a lot of pushing and a little bribery we eventually managed to get it rolled up there, only to realise that the promise of some microphone stands that someone kind had offered was not going to materialise. Luckily, our engineer Peter came prepared with gaffer tape which which we ended up binding together large bamboo poles we found outside in the scrub which were perfect for the job! (See pics)
It took the best part of a day to create our own recording space looking down over Kampala. So we didn't get to start recording until night had fallen. That probably explains how "Manyeta" came into being. We were genuinely exhausted, all of us. But as we started rolling the sound of the crickets enveloped the open room in which we were recording and something special happened. Of the many songs we recorded, "Manyeta" had an intense raw emotion that I chose to represent that evening. It was a genuine and moving moment to have travelled that far and feel the spark of excitement as the song grew from nothing.
The next morning we were still tired, but the combination if sunshine and fresh Ugandan jack fruit for breakfast gave us the energy for "Gyangweno". On tape it sonds like we were having a party, and we were!