It is a tall order being a Ugandan instrumentalist. The frustration is that mainstream artistes that auto tune during recording sessions think they can do without instrumentalists; many of them believe a laptop can deliver any flavour of instrument.
Many talented instrumentalists thus end up between a rock and hard place as they try to market their craft. They find themselves singing just to match their crooning counterparts.
In fact, apart from saxophonists, only a few instrumentalists such as Pragmo Nsaiga (pianist and producer), Myko Ouma (guitarist), Roy Kasika (drummer) and a whole bunch of folklore cats including Joel Sebunjo, Lawrence Okello and Hakim Kiwanuka, among others, have been recognized as artistes without necessarily singing.
The likes of Okello and Sebunjo have still found themselves singing to ‘validate’ the instruments. This could explain why Ernest Otim’s 80 per cent instrumental album makes sense. It is vindicating instrumentalists, making a statement on an album whose lyricism is as minimal as possible.
Aptly titled Book of Groovation, it is Otim’s debut album. Jumbled, scrabbled and furiously dismembered, is how you can easily summarize the arrangement of the entire album.
Otim produced and mastered it himself and, as a result, this album has songs mostly placed on the album as a collection rather than as a thematic album; not that it affects the beautiful outcome. Otim’s album is quite a breathtaking journey of his favourite instrument, the bass guitar.
Usually marginalised on set, Otim tries his best to give the instrument prominence; in fact, in most of the songs, he chooses to use its warm and loud sound as the lead. That way, we get to appreciate its detail and rich contribution.
His opening song, Aminangojo Noi, seems to inhabit both the present and future as he borrows part of the folklore and lets it influence the strange sound he was creating; but it is the second song that he brings the jamming jazz home with Funky 4 Ya.
The song sounds like those signature Sanyu FM and Radio One top-of-the-hour jazz sessions – smooth and ticklish in many ways. He gets a number of moments with his bass sitting on top of auto-tuned vocals previously made famous by Daft Punk.
Kampala City is just as amazing and a favourite for many. It is groovy and tickles one’s joints, especially the surprise kitaguriro session he fixes in at the end. It is not a common thing for artistes to fuse music genres from very different parts of the country together and with the same tempo, but Otim does it effortlessly on this song.
This album is a mixture of jazz, funk, Afro fusion and traces of the blues. He produced and mastered all the songs. Book of Groovation is a big deal among instrumentalists already, but for the sake of the listeners, he needed more lyrics on it.
He says that his reason for minimal vocals on the album was to see the “bass standing out.”
Otim, Solomon Kalungi and Herbert Sensamba offered their vocals on the album while Michael Sebulime did much of the guitar work alongside Enock Lugumba. Otim is a session and stage bassist, music director and producer that has worked with artistes of different genres.
In the past he has worked with Lillian Mbabazi, Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi, Angela Katatumba and Sandy Soul, among others.