His visuals are certainly unique and his sound follows suit. Mwami, the 22-year-old artist from Kampala, Uganda shows great and promising talent while his musical influences, are a marriage between Sampha’s experimental sonics with the harsh and maximalist grit of FlyLo’s Captain Murphy, resulting in what sounds like a more ineffable Channel Tres.
Tell us a bit about growing up.
I was born and raised in Kampala Uganda. Both my parents worked and the nature of their work required a lot of travel so they spent extended periods of time away from home. This often left my siblings and me on the farm under the supervision of our grandparents and sometimes at home with “that cool auntie”. This made for an early and (un)healthy exposure to cartoons, MTV, comic books, Def Comedy Jam and video games with plenty of space to explore nature and our own imaginations. It would be a stretch to say that it was a particularly musical household but a variety of music, both local and global was played at home. My dad would often bring back rap CDs for my older brother when returning from trips. It music he wasn’t allowed to let us listen to but would do so anyway. One of my aunts eventually gifted us with a piano that my mother had us take lessons on. It was not something I mastered but it was a pivotal moment in my relationship with music. Shortly after, we were all sent to different boarding schools, during which the piano lessons continued but more importantly, I ended up discovering a wider spectrum of music through the internet. My friends and I would spend hours downloading whole discographies from all sorts of genres that we would trade with each other. It was also through this that we discovered blogs and publications that opened the door to more obscure sounds.
When did you make the decision to pursue music?
It was never really a decision as much as it was a curiosity I never thought to question or stop investigating. The only other thing I recall being determined on doing was product design but that was quickly nipped in the bud once I learned that it would require further education in maths and physics, subjects that were far from my strong suit. Growing up I did acting in school plays and I participated in a variety of creative activities both extracurricular and otherwise. In my own time, I made music with friends and just always had an inclination, one I couldn’t really explain at the time. The creative process was something I wanted to always be around, whether it was through production, A&R or management. I just always wanted to either be a part of it or facilitate it somehow. I figured the closer I could be, the more useful my intuition would become, for myself or others.
‘While it might not seem exciting to a class of people who’ve become far too comfortable assessing a scene based on a polished, final product, I’d say that there’s a lot of potential in what’s happening right now.’
Your sound is an experimental mixture of electronic, gqom bass, tell us about the journey you went through to discover this sound.
It was through that early exposure to a variety of musical stylings that I came to appreciate sounds that might not fit a typical mould. This was before streaming and the infinite playlists it came with so this multi-directional influence happened in a bubble of sorts. Early on I was just making more palatable hip hop with some electronic elements but, after growing unsatisfied with the results, a few trusted friends and collaborators encouraged me to make music that reflected what I was actually listening to. I was further pushed into the more exciting territory after meeting some remarkable producers while at uni. Their unique influences, coupled with mine seemed to provide an interesting balance that’s been fun to watch grow. It’s for that reason that the journey in discovering this sound is something I can’t take sole credit for.
How would you describe the music scene in Uganda, more so the electronic music scene?
It’s hard to accurately do that, because I, unfortunately, spend more time away from home but, it’s a movement I’m proud to watch unravel, even from a distance. While it might not seem exciting to a class of people who’ve become far too comfortable assessing a scene based on a polished, final product, I’d say that there’s a lot of potential in what’s happening right now. You’re beginning to see a creative community build upon what is already happening by offering alternative genres and spaces. The electronic scene, in particular, is beginning to attract international attention with producers and DJ’s traveling from the world over for the now coveted Nyege Nyege festival. At the same time, you’re starting to see local talent tour beyond the region. This is still rare and not yet something that everyone can do but the start of this shows promise. Beyond that, rap and of course traditionally-inspired dance hall and local pop music are all beginning to up the production value but the industry as a whole is still a while away from being able to offer artists of any genre profitable sustainability.
Is there a reason you chose to name your EP protean?
Googling synonyms and definitions is a key part of my writing process lol. I’m constantly trying to find ways of expressing extremely acute experiences in an unexpected or more encompassing way. In my daily conversation, I often spend (too much) time stumbling through sentences, searching for the words to express a feeling or an idea as viscerally as it feels to me. I was redrafting the artwork after a previous title no longer felt right when I stumbled upon the word protean. It seemed to encapsulate almost all aspects of not just the EP but the process and experiential aspects that made the EP possible, to begin with. Even the synonyms for the word felt apt in describing the production, the style, the nature of the writing and all that had happened in between starting and finishing this body of work.
Tell us about the rektless music video, was this your first time shooting a music video and how was it?
Great times. Spacegray (co-director) and I didn’t really have a budget or a fully fleshed concept in mind. We had a couple of shots we felt we could work with but nothing beyond that. This wasn’t my first time shooting a music video but it was the first time co-directing and working in a very fluid way and I quite enjoyed it. The lack of pressure and expectations was immensely freeing. Plus I have a tendency to be extremely particular about certain details and the lack of control often brought about by too many cooks in my kitchen freaks me out. Spacegray and I trust each other. A lot of the b roll came from footage shot by friends at basement raves at uni. From there spacegray really made it what it was with the editing that spoke to the nature of the song in a way I couldn’t have planned.
Where do you find inspiration the most?
Through movies and conversations with people from different walks of life. In cinema, each frame of the film doesn’t always possess a readily discernible meaning and the work is mostly understood as a whole but, in music, there’s this unsaid expectation for each line or verse to be immediately understood reducing the whole to nothing more than a set of ideas that a keen listener can grasp with one listen leaving them little room to make it their own. The way film evokes mood and tone through colour, pace and singular one-off moments was something I felt my music could do. In conversations, sometimes the tiniest details will jump out at me when talking to someone and I’ll feel the need to investigate why and contextualise it within a string of ideas I’m working on, while retaining the unique aspects that person communicated, whether it’s a particular slang, or a new idea, or a funny, quotable concept I couldn’t have made myself.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Growing up my older brother put us on to a lot of New York rap. Dipset, G-Unit, early 2000’s stuff and some grime music as well. At school, I developed an interest in jazz, indie and alternative rock. My mum would play us 80’s and 90’s synth disco and kwaito, like Boom Shaka, Brenda Fassie and some Hugh Masekela but I didn’t appreciate her taste until I was much older. My interest in electronic music was almost accidental and not really in direct lineage with the music I grew up listening to.
Any other Ugandan creatives we should look out for?
Definitely. Josh forehead, Lagum, ceee, Mr. Mankwa and the 4homies are all young artists carving out their own lanes and defying regional expectations with unique, authentic styles and approaches to their sound. Electronic artists specifically, no one is doing it like slikback. Pretty much everything coming off the Nyege Nyege label is worth looking into.
Where do you see your sound going or where would you like it to go?
At the moment I’m slowing the tempos down a little and exploring some harsher sonics, stripping back some layers and working with more sparse instrumentals. It’s hard to accurately describe because it’s far from finished and definitely still experimental.