In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga (RK) is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he hosts Solome Basuuta (SB) to talk on Pursuing your Passion.
RK: Talk to us. People almost ate me to pieces when I said I was your brother. They said I was “tying myself on people”. That the resemblance is not there, tell us, who is Solome and how did she arrive on the scene? The other thing is we are talking about performing artistes, why Solome? Talk to us, who are you?
SB: Thank you so much Robo, who is not my brother, Ladies and Gentlemen but we go way way back. I am truly humbled by being on this platform. Usually I begin by shouting walalala. I am Solome Basuuta, I’m a singer, a performing artiste, the queen of love, Uganda’s greatest export. I have been around for a while but officially I started my career in 2015. Before that I had been singing for a while backing up for different artistes, singing at different events, being a lead singer for a jazz band. The official solo career started in 2015.
RK: Let’s first go back a little bit, at what point did you realise you could sing?
SB: Officially it was at Gayaza High School. While there, I was really exposed to music and singing. I was in the choir, classically trained. That’s when I figured out that I really loved the arts. I was always singing or acting or doing anything that would keep me on the stage. But it was more like a hobby. That is when it began in 1996
RK: Solome, I want to create context for our listeners for some of the questions I am going to ask. Your parents; they are academics, tell us about them.
SB: My father is a professor of Mathematics at Makerere University, Prof Paul Mugambi. My mother is a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at Makerere as well.
RK: Something I have been struggling to reconcile with, how does a child of such a family set up go out to become a performing artiste, wasn’t that like sacrilege in the family?
SB: It was and it wasn’t kinda.
RK: There are people out there, parents of all those titles whose children want to be a rap artiste or a chef, how do you navigate such a complex family situation?
SB: For me, my parents saw me in musical circles for a long time right from the days at Gayaza. Then St. Francis Chapel and Worship Harvest. I was always in productions and they came for all of them. On the other hand, my dad is a member of Kampala Singers, a singer of sorts. My mum also used to sing. They saw me in that space. The only difference is that they were seeing it as a hobby. I had a full time job at Bank of Uganda at the time. It wasn’t seen as something I could do as a career. My brother Ganzi Mugula is a national swimmer and he was doing both things; he works with Stanbic Bank and is also a national swimmer. The way to go was to do both. But here I was I wanted to do music solo.
RK: Wait, you left a job at Bank of Uganda to go and sing?
SB: Yes. I became a mudongo.
RK: That is an enviable place, everyone wants to be there. How did you have this discussion with yourself?
SB: It started a while before. I started to feel uncomfortable at the job I was in. I was feeling dissatisfied with what I was doing. The bank was good place. The pay cheque was to die for but I was feeling so dissatisfied with what I was doing. I wanted to be before people, touch people. Be on stage. Yet there I was before a website and IT and computer science and I was wondering how does this particularly touch people? I am such an emotional person. I am a creative. That wasn’t working for me. I wanted to be before people.
I sat down and convinced myself that this is something I needed to do. I remember my supervisor begged me not to do it. I talked to many people but I knew if I didn’t do it at that time, I wasn’t going to do it at all. My decision was not going to affect many people. But parents have dreams for their children. I remember my mum cried. It wasn’t a good decision however I made the jump and resigned.
RK: Give us a sample of your music
SB: Yoyoyo, selector mumpulira? (Sings nze ani…)
RK: This is where I ask you, ffe b’ani? How did you go about it? Did you have any plans?
SB: 2015 is when I had my debut concert and it sold out at Golf Course Hotel. Many doors opened after that concert like Blankets & Wine, Qwera Band and others.
RK: How did you get into these spaces?
SB: I knew the CEO of Qwera Junction. I reached out to his manager and I asked to be a curtain raiser. At that point you don’t ask for money. You just need an opportunity. After that, Byaru of Blankets & Wine asked me to perform at his event. That opened up comedy meets music by Pablo. That taught me that one opportunity opens up for another opportunity.
RK: How important is it for one to be seen? How do you even conceptualize that I must offer this for free?
SB: Networks. Networks. Networks. That’s what I have seen in this industry. I think it goes beyond being a creative. We have social media and it can do wonders. Today we have YouTube, tiktok, whatsapp status. You can reach people as far as Canada without having to go there.
Sometimes you are thinking of starting big. Start with your phone. That goes a really long way. It is all about eyeballs.
RK: You got this breakthrough, what happened to your career after that?
SB: All the expectations I had were blown away. 2016 starts, and coming from the corporate side, I had a supervisor, it is not my business. Here it is your business, if you do not show up for yourself, no one will. A friend walked with me. Jenifa Ochwo was starting out as a manager as well and I as an artiste. We were learning a lot of things. And since we were both coming from the same workplace, we shared a lot in common.
I found out that the industry has no structure. I was coming from the background of proper structure. It occurred to me that I had to come up with my own events. You cannot wait for people to always call you. So we reached out to people to help us out. We met Benon Mugumbya who took us through all this training. He introduced the idea of building a brand. It is not just about singing. It is a whole brand.
2016 was a working year. I went to work on voice training. My coach Fred Wallace of First Love Studios took me on that journey. I thought I had arrived but I had to begin again. I had to do 3 hours of rehearsals every day learning about music. That was a mind-set shift. I had to learn to keep growing and not being comfortable.
RK: At what point did you convert this into money? And how did you start to think about money. How did you do it?
SB: It all started when I needed money to run the projects I had. The studio needs money, the video needs money, photo shoots, social media and all these things. When I came to this realisation, it occurred to me that passion was not enough. My album was selling at Aristoc. We had events. I put it online. However, that cash flow does not come in immediately.
I have had to find people to invest in the brand of Solome Basuuta. They have invested in video shoots and this has helped to keep visible. But right now, the most important income stream is streaming online. When you buy our music on those platforms, you support us financially.
RK: What you are telling us is that in this time when you cannot perform, the audiences can support you by streaming and downloading your music?
SB: Yes. There are different platforms where you download music and that translates into cash.
RK: Can we do a month campaign to help artistes too have their music downloaded.
SB: This is so much welcome. The other thing that helps are grants. Civic Source is one of the platforms.
RK: You have spoken so passionately about the brand, people keep throwing that word around, what do you actually mean by the term?
SB: For me, it is about who you are and what you want people to perceive you as. For me I’m an entertainer, a queen of love. Everything I put out there has a sense of love, a sense of empathy. Everything I do has to fit in that the brand. I had to sit down with a branding strategist Phillip Buyondo who took me through all the details. Everything is intentional in branding. That is how you attract the endorsements form different companies.
RK: What is it that tested you the most? The challenges.
SB: Many. The biggest is the music. In the Ugandan industry we have different spaces, we have alternative music like jazz, soul, world music. On the other side we have kadongo kamu and band music, then there is the hiphop and the afro beat. My music was different. The ears are used to the kidandali because that is who we are. When someone comes with something different, it takes some time. My music was good but it sounded so western. We are now changing it.
I now know and understand it better. You cannot be in a market, and you are not relatable to that make. For me it has been a 6 year journey learning that one line. I had to go back to being comfortable and proud of who I am. I had to deal with my Luganda. I had a lot of Lug-lish. I had to have sessions with Naava Grey. I had to get Luganda writers. I had to get my voice with a familiar sound. The bread which is your voice will never change and it’s beautiful. But you have to change the packaging for the different market. People have to accept you.
RK: I always knew Navio existed but never cared about him until he did Njogereza.
SB: We can’t run away from the truth. As the artiste, you have to remind yourself that you are still the bread. You have to be known.
RK: Basically what you are saying is that you can’t come with your own notion and impose it on people.
SB: Not really. Come with what you want. For example look at Maurice Kirya and Kenneth Mugabi, their music was different but infused with Luganda for the market.
RK: If you are making any product make sure it is relatable with the people you are selling it to.
SB: Yes. That is what people like Belinda Namutebi of Ondaba do.
Comrade Otoa: A lot of times people go to jobs they don’t enjoy, hang around bosses they don’t like, how easy or hard was it for you to make the decision. Also how have you been able to be in the gig economy? Many people do not understand it. And who inspires you?
SB: It was hard, as you heard, I was going against what my family stood for. At the same time, I was leaving a well-paying job. But I have only one life to live, find that one thing you want to do and do it. I did it at 32, for others it took a while.
Sit down and ask yourself what it is that I want to do with my life.
On gig economy: I also did not understand it when I was starting. There are different stakeholders. We have deejays, radio presenters, music promoters. That system is there, you have to know them. For the gig economy that is how you get your music out there. When we invite you for the concert and you are going to pay UGX 50,000 at Serena. The show can raise UGX 50M but not all that money comes to Solome. That money goes to management, promoters, the band and all. My take home may be like 5m.
Who inspires me: It is the people who have gone before me. I am paving way for those coming behind us. Eddie Kenzo, the late Radio, the Blue 3, those are the people that paved the way. They played their part.
They were in Uganda, my market and made it big. We are supposed to make it bigger. We are not doing it for ourselves. We are doing it for those coming after us.
Patience Nshemerirwe: How long did it take you to accept to take on the passion when the people around you were not supporting you, did you first convince them or?
SB: The conversation did not start in 2015. It began in 2013. I was advised at that time and I was not ready. But then when I came in 2015, I had already decided. It was no longer whether I should try or not. I decided to go. I had that push because I am an adult and I had to make a personal decision. My family has been the biggest support.
Chris Kakyo: What did you take from the bank say in terms of experience or skills into your new career?
SB: One of them was the general communication skills. Sounds simple but it is very important. In the music industry. Things are very fluid. There is a vagueness to doing things. In the corporate world, you learn to look out for details. Some people did not get it they became very offended but that is the background I had.
Secondly I work with a team. When working with a team, you don’t just have to make decisions. That is how it is supposed to be. You save yourself many problems. The team sees a bigger picture.
Sander Lyle Walusimbi: How do you intend to rebrand yourself when you hit the fifth floor?
SB: One thing I have defined through my life coach is who you are. I am an entertainer in the arts. I will be still here and I will still be that.
Charles Nsamba: 6 or so years ago when you were starting out, you had heard of names like Ragga Dee, why didn’t you come up with a stage name?
SB: For me, I am so down to earth. Also given my family, I didn’t see myself in that regard. My full name is Solome Basuuta Ndikatuuga Beatrice. I realised I could only have two names. I chose Solome Basuuta, it is easier.
Mary Luswata: 1) you spoke about 2017 as your hardest year, when you were singing the new sound, there was a sound already selling, did you ever feel like trying out kidandali
2) Do you do any other thing apart from singing?
SB: I have been speaking about my transition into the afrobeat space. I am transitioning into another space the afrobeat space. The new music will have the afrobeat. My latest song sukuma is in that line. I am experimenting with that.
2) My team is working out a new income stream that is not in line with music.
RK: If you went back to Gayaza today, what would you tell a struggling Solome, what would you tell her?
SB: I would tell her, first, it is going to be okay. Secondly, start to dream now. Get away from what family thinks about and dream what you want to be. You have everything within you to be great.
Signs out singing Sukuma