Celebrated saxophonist and jazz maestro, Isaiah Katumwa, will be headlining at The Kigali Jazz Junction on October 28 at Kigali Serena Hotel. The Ugandan saxophonist spoke to Society Magazine’s Donata Kiiza about his rise to fame, and his forthcoming performance in Kigali.
When did this journey start?
My musical career began way back when I was six years old in my primary school. At some point, my parents could not afford my school fees but I was lucky to meet a man called Washington Mugerwa who offered to take me to school and raise me.
I went for interviews which I passed and was enrolled in school. However, he felt I needed something to do so as to earn an income. He introduced me to several music instruments during my free time including a piano, trumpet and later, the sax, which I picked more interest in.
As a journey of practice and trial, I played as a young saxophonist with many bands from which I grew stronger in skills, and fan base.
Why that particular instrument?
I love a challenge and tasking myself to do different things. The first time I saw a sax, I did not know anything about it or how to use it to produce sound from it. But later, I saw a white little boy, 6 years old, on television playing it, and I asked myself if the little white boy can do it, why can’t I? So I asked my guardian to buy me a saxophone because I wanted to try out the complicated instrument. As I kept on practicing, its tonal closeness to the human voice drew my attention and I fell in love with it.
What is your most memorable performance?
There are many memorable performances I have had, though three come to mind: I performed with the legendary Miriam Makeba before she died, also, with Hugh Masekera; the South African trumpeter, composer and singer.
Another memorable performance was at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that took place in Kampala, Uganda in 2007 where I performed for thousands of people.
What’s your take on the music industry in East Africa?
I can say the level of growth is really tremendous though as musicians, we must stay true to our African roots and not allow western style to consume us. Otherwise, there is a good market to explore over here.
Do you do music full time?
Not really. I do have several projects in regards to my jazz music in my country and other countries across Africa.
I founded the Talanta Mentorship Programme which has been running for two years now; young people in my country get to live together and learn how to play music instruments under my mentorship.
I have the Jazz with Isaiah TV show which airs on Urban TV in Uganda. I host both fresh and renowned talents who share their music journey and experiences.
I also host Isaiah Katumwa Radio Show on 106.1 Jazz FM from Monday to Friday. It is a request show where jazz lovers call in and request for songs by their favourite jazz musicians.
What do you do in your free time?
Besides being in the studio, on radio or television, I do schools, institutions and university tours with the aim to inspire young people through my story and also, I sing for them.
I also mentor young talent in most genres of music including rap.
I love working out, playing badminton and also spending time with my sons at home.
If you were not a musician, what would you be?
I f I were not a musician, I would be a pilot. But if I was to choose any other profession besides being a musician, I would be an engineer.
What other genre of music are you interested in?
I honestly love all genres of music ranging from R&B to ballads and traditional songs because when you look at it, all music has got its own artistry which is attractive.
You were here for Diner en Blanc this year, what are some of the things you love about Rwanda?
I just love Rwandans. I don’t know whether it is because we share a lot in common but also, the city; its clean, calm and the people are so welcoming, lovely and beautiful.
What should fans expect at your forthcoming performance here in Kigali?
Before a show, I prepare myself to give it my very best. So as always, my Rwandan fans should expect only the best from me. And I truly look forward to performing.
Advice to aspiring jazz artists/saxophonists?
They should be confident in their artistry, hardworking and be as original as possible so as to avoid risks of competition, especially the bad competition.
I also usually advise young talent to be humble always. It doesn’t matter how much fame you have created for yourself, stay humble and focused.