Elemotho smoulders with acoustic set

Elemotho performs with his five-piece band in Kampala

Elemotho performs with his four-piece band in Kampala

For his second Kampala outing, Elemotho had a stripped down offering of a predominantly acoustic set. It was far from the hyper-do he delivered at Bayimba 2009. Not that the Jazzville concert was an entirely sedate affair. It is just that a repertoire devoid of a drummer and keyboardist; integral instruments in Elemotho’s work, would mostly appeal to culture vultures who have had an introduction by say MTV’s Unplugged sessions or TV5 Monde’s acoustic sessions.

So for the bulk of Kampala’s wannabe crowd itching for an entertainment freebie, the concert turned out to be a mostly listening party experience at which skinny-jean wearing glamour boys engaged in mindless banter. Perhaps they were discussing strategies on how to hook up mzungu cougars; “white visa” they call it in local parlance. Equally obnoxious were trophy wenches walking on the arm of some White male pensioners. Aberrations whose lack of a fine musical palate showed when they walked out of the venue after Elemotho announced he was playing his last song.

Meanwhile, the purists were in musical bliss. This was the posse that rose up on impulse and raced to the stage to dance along to the enchanting sounds of the musical crown prince of the Kalahari. The Saturday June 1, 2013 concert was part of a continent-wide tour, one of the perks of Elemotho’s winning the RFI/ France 24 Discoveries Award for 2012 alongside a €10,000 cash prize. If you recall, our own Maurice Kirya became the first Anglophone act to win the same accolade in 2010.

The attendant tour offers the award-winning artiste the best introduction to new audiences, our pretentious white collar Kampala corporates included. Even with the intermittent sound glitches- Elemotho often had to intercut some performances with “give me more of this monitor, microphone” appeals to the soundman- the band gave 101%, never mind that they had jetted in the night before and had a pre-dawn flight to catch the following day. The Kampala gig was the 25th stop in a four-month marathon tour.

There was Elemotho’s dual talent of voice and guitar-fingering to take away from the experience. His impromptu yodelling during song interludes was just divine. Back-up vocalist Ermelinda Thataone enchanted with her array of shakers including a thin cylindrical wooden instrument she’d tilt to create a rattling sound. Bassist Erwin Amakhoe Gaweseb won his own shoulder pips of the night plucking those thick wiry strings if anything to prove that he is of fine musical extraction. He is from Congo Brazzaville, probably from the same pedigree of Congo River music maestros. The man on the congas ably made up for the lack of a drummer; the latter was not missed that much by the way. And flautist Polina Loubmina my-oh-my! What divinity to interpreting Elemotho’s music in a whole new way by way of that brass music instrument.

The lyrics though strange offered had sprinklings of English enough for us to sing about the “politics of the belly”, a spoof on the minority “haves” who deprive the majority “have-nots” of the national cake. This was one 90-minute set of Kalahari-flavoured jazz blues, Afro pop/reggae fusion and exotic African rhythms. Honestly, it should have benefitted from less pretentious revellers and strict admission to music purists!

Kampala1ne managed to grab Elemotho backstage while he had his dinner to offer more insights into his distinct brand of award-winning music.

What has this tour taught you about Africa?

We have been on the road for three months and we are catching a 4am flight to Lesotho tomorrow (Sunday). We have 30 concerts in total and for me this is more exciting than the prize money that comes with winning the RFI/ France 24 Discoveries Award. We live on an amazing continent, so much to see despite the numerous travel restrictions. Of course there’s the distribution deal with the UK-based Arc Music Productions to be grateful for. My three albums will be availed to a global audience in a hassle-free way.

Don’t you feel a “Discovery” award is a little condescending? It sort of paints the picture that you were “unknown” up until you were “discovered”… 

I choose to see it differently in terms of the doors it opens for you as an artiste. The award gave us access on Canal Plus, which is a tough TV outlet to penetrate. Then there is travelling to Africa in a promo tour to the point of freaking out but it is “all good”. I got more than what I wanted.

Elemotho hangs out with Ugandan songster backstage

Elemotho hangs out with Ugandan songster Suzan Anique backstage

Your set was minimalistic compared to your previous concert here in June 2009 at the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts. Did you ever worry that it would affect how audiences responded to a mostly acoustic delivery?  

True, the set this time was minimalistic and I do miss the full band once in a while. But this touring set has made me come to enjoy the spaces in the music especially the flute, which has this thing about calming down the sound. Because when you have everything going full throttle, you tend to lose the lyrics. And this touring set represents the philosophy around the latest album Ke Nako (It’s Time); its feeling and I should say it is working amazingly.

Do you ever feel compelled to be your country’s de facto country ambassador?

There are times I’m made to feel like I am the musician of the century back home. But I have big love for my country and do not mind carrying the flag for my country. I need to emphasise that I am not just a “traditional” musician. I am also a musician of the iPad generation that is out to conquer Europe, Asia, Australia and the rest of the World. 

25 countries, 30 cities, single night stays… How have you adapted to living out of a suitcase?

I was in boarding school from a very early age and that got me ready for a life of being away from home. It had me preparing fully for this sort of thing like the multi-country tour we have been on. It is part of every musician’s journey.

Text: MOSES SERUGO

Pix: PATIENCE ATUHAIRWE

 

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