Isaiah Katumwa on Nurturing Talent and Jazz Music

For Isaiah Katumwa, it has always been about talent. Identifying it and grooming it. To him, it has always been about putting in the time to produce your very best. That is how he has managed to consistently hold his annual show for the last eleven years.

Music, like food, appeals to taste. You cannot consume music whose taste you do not approve of. Good food takes time to prepare. You do not wake up having prepared it. The process leads to the output and that dictates the taste. For one to consume music, the music must appeal to one’s taste. Before it is consumed, jazz is first music. The taste of jazz depends on how you produce it before it can be consumed.

To Isaiah, music is a business he is so passionate about that he cannot afford to take it for granted. That is what makes his music different. It is a business. A business without a system, without structures can only go so far. A business that is not hungry for growth can only live for so long.

In his pursuit, he wants to be not just a saxophonist but a remarkable one. Isaiah hit the road running, hungry to learn what those who were better than him were doing. He wanted to see the world.  He wanted to know what other jazz musicians were doing. He was not impressed with the sound of his music. He thought he would achieve more. In 2003, he had produced three albums that were laying asleep on market stalls yet, to him, he had put in a lot. The market was not returning the favour.

He had chosen to pursue jazz and he was willing to go the end of the road. In the same year, he boarded the plane for the UK to gain expertise on sound engineering. He was itching to know how those other jazz musicians like himself would produce a sound so smooth that all ears would bow. There was something more they were doing that he wasn’t.

Three years later, he had acquired the necessary skills. He had released two other albums on the market. Things were about to change. His 2006 album SINZA was released and it found its way to BBC, various media houses equally picked interest. The time was ripe for him to come back home.

In 2007, he held his first concert as a jazz musician at the Kampala Serena Hotel and the trend has never changed. Every year, on the international Jazz day, he holds a concert at the same place.

“I’m an international artiste. That’s my ultimate objective. I invest more into the exposure, knowledge, and patience. Once you have identified the objective, then you can do commercial. I have to be me. I am Ugandan and I take pride in showing off my country. As a musician, there is need to pass on the button and there is a need to carry it forward,” says the soft spoken musician.

“Until you have consumers, your product is irrelevant. I launched to expose jazz to the Ugandan market and convert more to love jazz. Growth comes with influence, if you cannot influence the market to buy your product, then you need to go back to the drawing board.”

Sanyu and Power FM took on the idea of promoting jazz music on radio which increased the appreciation of the genre. Between 2011-2016, Katumwa run a TV show “Jazz with Isaiah” which created a wider listener/viewership.

Today, Katumwa shares the stage with acclaimed jazz musicians on the different stages, the world over. Musicians create the content and the demand for their products. There is need to have a system to support organised musicians.

Copyright should be embraced by the musicians because it helps the musicians. However, the industry in Uganda is now in a much disorganized state.

People feel there’s money in music and everyone wants a share of it. It’s not necessarily about music today, people front connections and how facilitated one is. That needs to change for the betterment of the music industry.

The beginning was a hard one for Isaiah. He had to learn perfecting his art on broken saxophones until he met Chris who gave him his first ever well-conditioned saxophone. “Sometimes you never realize how good or bad you are.” Before that he had been around. Isaiah traces his skill acquisition,  a journey he has walked as back as 1995. As a saxophonist, he has been around. He has worked with a number of bands, entertainment groups and ensembles in the music industry in Uganda. He has been somewhere in the back. But the cause to explore, to learn and acquire results has seen him knock on various doors and many of them have opened. He has challenged himself to travel to see a world different from the one he has grown accustomed to. There are things he has seen and learnt that he wants to share with fellow musicians back home. The journey he has walked has taught him a thing about patience and quality work. “Each musician needs to identify their ultimate objective. Once they have then they can go commercial. Without that, there is so far, one can go as a musician.”

This year, Isaiah Katumwa will be in concert again on 30 April 2019 at the Kampala Serena Hotel. But before that, he is joining hands with fellow jazz musicians Darren Rahn and Angelique Kidjo to run workshops with student and musicians at Makerere University on the 24 April and on 26 April at the Africa Institute of Music, Lubowa. They believe that through these music workshops more musicians will be helped to refocus their musical journeys.

The tickets for the show are available for sale at the Kampala Serena Hotel.

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