Kirya’s African journey
Travel diary, part two
From Libreville to Bobo Dioulasso, via Douala, Accra and Cotonou and other places, the Ugandan singer Maurice Kirya has been continuing the African tour he started one month ago. The winner of the 2010 RFI Découvertes award has been giving RFI Musique his impressions of the trip.
It’s hot here in Burkina, even though we’re starting to get used to the soaring temperatures, but I do like this country. It seems vaster that the other countries we’ve seen, which all seemed much denser. It’s the impression I got in Ouagadoudou and it was the same in Bobo Dioulasso, where everything is so calm and relaxing and not much goes on.
I really enjoyed the show we did last night, even though the audience wasn’t very big. People had come to listen to the music, you could see that on their faces and in the way they reacted. It was more like a group of friends sitting down for a sing song than a concert.
For me, 60% of spectators get what they came for: a good show. For the other 40%, I try to take them beyond the music and involve my country and my culture and talk a bit about my life, and make a few jokes, because I love doing that even if I’m not very funny. It’s a way of giving the audience more than music.
I’m not just there to play. Part of a musician’s job is to know how to communicate with the public. When you go to different countries, the challenge is manage to work out in 15-20 minutes how to get through to them. I put myself in the shoes of the audience and I wonder what I would like to see and hear.
Of course, on a tour like this one, with a lot of travelling around, it depends on how tired we are and how excited. At times, we’re really exhausted but that doesn’t stop you giving your all when you play live. In some countries, you feel more rested and on good form and then you just explode on stage!
In Libreville, there was a really theatrical feel. In the place we performed I felt like I was in an opera house, not a place made for a band. It had an influence on me and I behaved like an actor in the way I spoke and held myself and used my voice. I told myself I was a classical singer.
In Cameroon, after leaving Gabon, first we went to Douala, where we were greeted by Abraham, a very smiley, funny gentleman. On the way back to town, we noticed a couple of things: first the local music playing on the radio was really good, and then it was much more colourful than Libreville. A bit like Kampala, so I felt quite at home.
I think it was in Douala that we had the most contact with the press. In fact, at the end of the press conference, the journalists asked me to play a bit and I thought, why not? So I did an acoustic session and the next day they were all there with their friends. The place was full, with the audience practically in my face, it was almost like a jam session, with musicians meeting up and playing a gig.
I feel good when I’ve got people really close by. In Garoua, where we also played, people wanted to dance and move, which means when you play you try to give them what they want, so you have to notch up the tempo. We had taken on a flight to Chad, to N’Djamena, then to another country and at last back to Cameroon.
As a result, when we got there, we just wanted to play and do the interviews. We were tired, like in Yaoundé, the capital, where I didn’t have much time to explore the town like I did back in Douala. Our hotel was just beside the French cultural centre and that was great! There was decent internet access, nice décor, good food and a swimming pool.
After that we went to Nigeria. I have to tell you about that: I met the young and talented musician Nneka there, and spent three hours with her. She came to listen to us. I’m used to seeing her on TV and in magazines, but when I arrived I thought that I’d like to meet her and there was someone there who was able to introduce us.
The next stop was Benin. That was one of my favourite concerts so far. The atmosphere was totally different. It took place outside and you could see palm trees everywhere. Something poetic struck a chord in me. During one song, I decided to recite a poem. Afterwards, the musicians asked me why I hadn’t done that before and I told them that I simply lacked the inspiration. And Cotonou inspired me. From now on, there will always be a poem in that song! I have to say that it was a song that didn’t work very well with audiences before and we’d even thought that we might drop it.
For me, the slickest performance was in Ghana. There was quite a lot of promotion before we arrived and they’d prepared a proper schedule for me. I met a local artist, One Love, and went into a studio with him to record a song together, and all the conditions were right to make it into a special evening. The fact that we were in an Anglophone country also helped make the concert more interactive.
Maurice Kirya (with Bertrand Lavaine)
Translation by: Anne-Marie Harper