Ann Nassanga alias Afrie, opened the 2016 edition of the LaBa! Art Film Festival earlier this month; her performance was punctuated with energy, wit and such a stage presence.
She plays a piano, thus some of the songs she performed like Fembi and Teli Mulala were rather sobre and only appreciated before the crowd gets excited.
Yet Afrie is surprisingly a new artiste, in fact, her first known public showcase was at the end of 2014 when she curtainraised at the unveiling of the Undercover Brothers debut Extended Play (EP) After Dawn.
Then a Dental student at Makerere University, Afrie was spotted and head hunted for the 2015 Pearl Rhythm Stage Coach, her performance of her yet to be released Askari had left many wowed, while others screaming to lines from the song, “tubba steady ayaa…”
Well the song is about a girl that wants to be as brave as an Askari so that she can stay up and protect the man she loves.
It’s one of the songs that have come to define Afrie and it’s clear she enjoys herself while performing it, from the Pearl Rhythm Stage Coach when she was unveiled in 2015 to LaBa! Art Festival almost twelve months later, the husky voiced singer has continued to show growth and brilliance in the way she chooses her lyric and sound.
Last Monday, at the National Theater, Pearl Rhythm Festival debuted the activations leading to the main show on October 29.
The Pearl Rhythm foundation is a local Ugandan grass roots music and creative community that aims to strengthen an independent music scene in Uganda. With the objective of bringing together like-minded individuals to build, discuss and expose their ideas for a growing grass root music network in Uganda, the Pearl Rhythm Festival was initiated and premiered in December 2012.
The activations are mini-festivals held every last Monday of the month from June to September in the lead-up to the main event. They show off the Stage Coach acts, new and old, and give people an idea of what they can expect at the main festival.
Stage Coach is three month music academy where artists are tutored, trained and eventually given a chance to record music on a professional set. Artists from the stage coach are usually lined up as performers for the festival.
When the programme was launched in 2014, the premiere artistes were Raymond Parwot, Arpeggio Band, Undercover Brothers and Charles Obina, alongside Afrie, last year; we were introduced to Haka Mukiga Lynn Aineomugisha and J Wonder.
The Pearl Rhythm Festival activations will be programming artistes from the previous Stage Coaches and Afrie is the first one in the line.
The showcases were staged last Monday and others are yet to follow on July 25, August 29 and September 26.
Suzan Kerunen, one of the festival organizers says that Stage Coach was started as a fuel pump for the performing arts sector; “We had started a festival that was looking at celebrating a Ugandan sound but we didn’t have many of such artists to programme.”
Since they were afraid of having to recycle the usual artists, the Stage Coach was born, not only to provide Pearl Rhythm festival with performers but also feed other cultural events.
But it was also an opportunity to give talented people the kind of guidance and mentorship they need for the industry.
The performance are more of a way of showing the public what the mentees have been up to and each of the showcases that follow the one tonight will have a different Stage Coach artiste.
And Afrie indeed thrilled, she’s been out of stage coach juggled between music and school thus as an artiste, she has only increased her play list but yet to turn them into records, she hopes to hit the studio soon.
But even when the songs are yet to be recorded, you could tell they are already famous among people that have been following her performances; for instance, you saw them sing along to Fembi, Ugandan Girl and John effortlessly.
“Before Stage Coach, I would barely put on a twenty minute performance,” Afrie says adding, that she has been pushed to dream that she can do that and thus has written more music and learning how to perform live, with a band; “Also I have become more exposed to people who are interested in my kind of sound.”
Some of the artistes to showcase on the later activations include Haka Mukiga, The Undercover Brothers and Lilly Kadima. And the process has achievements to brag about considering the fact that many of the past mentees have gone on not only to rec ord brilliant music but grace bigger stages; for instance, Haka alongside Afrie had their maiden LaBa! Art Festival performances earlier this month, The Undercover Brothers have performed from LaBa to Nyege Nyege Music festivals, while Appegio Band’s vocalist Kenneth Mugabi has since released his debut album.
Pearl Rhythm Festival started back in 2012, aims at showcasing music that pays special attention to a sound that makes us Ugandans.
When it had just started, the show was graced by Kerunen,, Joel Sebunjo and Qwela Band among others, though when they held their second edition in 2013, the team realized that they needed to introduce their own acts if they are to avoid recycling acts each and every year.