A visiting friend I tagged along to last month’s The Maurice Kirya Experience believes the acoustic guitar-playing crooner is Uganda’s answer to John legend. It is a flattering comparison in as much as it may look like comparing apples and oranges. While Legend is on his third album and counting, Maurice looks like he is struggling to remain relevant in Uganda’s hostile music industry that rewards synthetic artistes over organic ones like Maurice. That status quo had mostly reduced Maurice to a talented musician who accessorized by carrying his sheathed guitar on his back and only resting it when he was schmoozing with fans at Nandos. But just before we could write the Beera Naabo star off he got a brainwave and started The Maurice Kirya Experience, adding yet another entertainment phenomenon onto Kampala’s not-so high culture scene. Here fans were able to interact with the star on a monthly basis. Being voted the ninth best artiste at last year’s Sauti za Busara [world music] Festival must gave given Maurice a much needed confidence boost to take the plunge and offer Kampala music lovers alternative entertainment.
His concert-like event has been fairly well received in the couple of months it has been on at Rouge, the venues not-so-friendly waitresses notwithstanding. Heaven knows why they prefer to serve white over Blacks even when the latter get to the bar counter first. The drawback though has been that there is less of Maurice and more of the guest acts Maurice handpicks to perform at the do. For those itching for new talent there was a bountiful on offer. Idols east Africa runner-up Nicolette Kiige was able to show off her finesse at the violin, Enock Kislev showed that risking with Christian rock was worth it while Sarah Ndagire took revellers on an enchanting journey into Runyakitara folklore by hauling him traditional drummers into what is essentially a [pretentious] high end hangout. Afrigo Band breakaway Rachel Magoola found TMKE an appropriate event to introduce the headlining single Ndisaaw’omwoyo, an acoustic guitar-driven slow tempo track about an aching heart. That was after she was received with roaring applause when she sang her timeless classic Obangaina.
What has worked for Maurice in keeping the musicality of the show on the up and up is the bankability of the First Love band comprising among others keyboardist Nick Mayanja and guitarist Fred Wallace. Committed instrumentalists that arrive on time and look sober are a rarity on the Ugandan band scene. Varying the entertainment to incorporate spoken word sessions has diversified the mostly musical main course. There are budding poets in ex-Obsessions showgirl Cleopatra Koheirwe and Moses Sabiti, a kid brother to guitar whiz, Rita Sabiti. But those that have been at the night primarily to get a taste of that Maurice Kirya voice, the one that told off a girl in the stern lyrics “if I were a dress in your closet, I’m afraid I would not be your size” often leave feeling short changed that all their star does is introduce guest acts and jam a little with the band singing covers of everyone else from Alicia Keys’ No One to Kool and the Gang’s Get Down On It. And that lends credence to the belief among industry watchers that Maurice’s career is only but a blip on the Ugandan music whatever great talent he may boast about having in his voice and his guitar string-picking fingers. It is not that they expect him to upgrade his fuel-efficient maroon VW Beetle for an Escalade fuel-guzzler like his vain and less talented counterparts. He sure stands out from that pack. But even as he would wish for a more structured industry that would ensure he does not micro-manage his career by running about to scout for sound personnel and sponsors, he cannot afford to rest on his Beera Naabo and Bina Damu laurels. It is new material, and hit songs at that, that define an artiste.