Uncle Austin’s many faces

Uncle Austin (Tosh Austin Luwano) is one among few artistes that can afford to freely admit to a low and disappointing crowd turn out to his own concert. And not just any other concert, but a highly billed, follow-up album launch.

Uncle Austin (Tosh Austin Luwano) is one among few artistes that can afford to freely admit to a low and disappointing crowd turn out to his own concert. And not just any other concert, but a highly billed, follow-up album launch.

At the close of August, the singer-cum radio presenter headed to the Expo Grounds in Gikondo to launch his second album, Uteye Ubusambo. Uteye Ubusambo is the follow up to his debut album, Nzakwizirikaho Ibihe Byose, which he had launched back in July 2012.

By local standards, and for an artiste that was doing it for the very first time, the Nzakwizirikaho launch was a huge success. Austin himself reckons that he pulled in a 5.000 strong crowd, which I do not readily accept, until he states his estimates for the second launch last month.

“The launch went well, although it wasn’t the biggest. I got about 1,000 people this time, although for the first concert I had about 5,000 fans.”

But why did things possibly turn out this way? Let us see …

In hindsight, it is obvious that the first album launch had everything going for Uncle Austin, which was hardly the case this time round. Firstly, the first launch was held at the Petite Stade Remera parking, and on that day, there was a football match between traditional local rivals Rayon Sports, a team that Uncle Austin supports, and APR FC. It was obvious that, after the match, a huge chunk of that football crowd would melt into Austin’s gig right outside the stadium. And they did.

Similarly, the singer launched his first album after most of the songs had received heavy rotation on local airwaves. Basically, his fans were so familiar with the songs that they came to the launch just to see the person behind the voice.

In all, the first album had 17 songs, six of which were receiving ample airplay. Songs like Urancanga, Nyibutsa, Nzisumbukuruza, and the title track, Uteye Ubusambo were already crowd favourites by the time of the launch.

However, the second album launch was a different setting altogether. The title track, Uteye ubusambo seemed to be the only real crowd puller that all his fans were familiar with. Here Austin points out that it was a question of changed tactics: “In the second album, I wanted to launch something that people didn’t know, unlike the first.”

But a “launch”, or “album launch” for that matter denotes the fact of unveiling something new, for you can’t launch something that is already in circulation. So a real album launch is actually supposed to be like Austin’s Uteye Ubusambo last month.

What then went wrong? 

What went wrong this time may have little to do with the singer himself after all. Rather, it’s got to do with the average music fan’s understanding and appreciation of what a launch actually is. People generally take an album launch as an occasion when they dress well and go to see their favorite singer on stage, in person, performing songs they already know too well. In fact, if they can sing along to the song being launched word-for-word, the better.

The concept of a launch as an event when an artiste unveils brand new works to fans is still a preserve of the more developed music markets. Even then, the artiste in question must be a solid brand, so much so that the fans are willing to take literally “anything” from them. Uncle Austin is still on his way to that stage.

Not all was lost

Even with the thin crowds witnessed at last month’s launch, especially in view of the first, Uncle Austin still affords some rare optimism: “I had a beautiful, energetic performance, and my motto has always been that if I perform well, even if there are only two people in the crowd, I’m happy for that. Also, I fulfilled my pledge of flying in a big foreign artiste to headline the show.”

That foreign artiste, of course, was the self-acclaimed “Big Size” of Ugandan music, Bebe Cool, about whom Austin now says: “He (Bebe) loves my music. We are currently working on two collabos together. The first one is a remix of Urancanga, from my second album because he liked it so much.”

Away from collabos with Cool, Austin is also working on a few solo projects. “I have a song, Umugisha w’undi, popularly known by my fans as Salomo, which I released on the day of the launch. I’m pushing new songs from the second album and making videos for them. I will be releasing the videos one at a time.”

His laments the fact that “artistes tend to fade away after launching albums because they tend to relax,” adding that, “as an artiste you never stop working”.

Man of many faces

Austin is not just an artiste, but doubles as a radio presenter on KFM, where he co-hosts The Rush Hour on weekdays between 4:00-8:00pm. Before his musical break, he was one of the better-known event MCs on the Kigali concert and events scene. His exploits on the mic as a Master of Ceremonies include: MC-ing at the MTN-sponsored Shaggy Concert in 2008, Brick and Lace (2009), Nigerian rapper D’Banj, and the annual Bralirwa Beer Fests.

“I used to MC a lot in the past, but now I only do so for big money. I love MC-ing, but I also know that it affects the artistic side of a musician.”

So in effect, we have Uncle Austin, the artiste; Austin, the radio presenter, (or ladies’ uncle); and Austin, the private person.

Uncle Austin the artiste, and Austin the presenter are easier to recognize though.

As an artiste, Uncle Austin’s persona is of that crazy guy who only thinks of weird topics to sing about. He is the Lover boy, that guy that is madly in love with the ladies and is always coining new slang terms with which to serenade them.

Did we just say slang? He is a self-acclaimed slang master in his own right, if some of the coinages in his songs are anything to go by. This guy has a song with a hook that goes something like; “Ndagukunda Nzapfa Ejo”, which literally translates to “I love you but I will be dead tomorrow”!

There is Nzakwizirikaho, where he is telling this girl he will literally tie himself on her for her love, and this one kind of picked on as street jargon for love.

Not forgetting Uteye Ubusambo, the title track to the album which he launched recently. Loosely translated, “Uteye ubusambo” means “You make me greedy”.

While on radio, he eases into his comical side. He now becomes the guy with the uncanny ability to say sensible and silly things in the same breath. The radio Austin is some kind of Casanova, lover of women, as indeed seen from his tagline, “the ladies’ uncle”. 

The third face of Austin’s is perhaps what few of his fans ever knew. The private Austin, by his own admission, is a “home guy who just loves hanging home with friends and cooking and listening to music and watching soccer. I have many friends and I plan our activities based on their interests.

How much does he love soccer? So much, apparently, that he supports a whole league of foreign teams on top of his local favorite, Rayon Sports: Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan, Monaco …


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