BY BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI
“THE music I play is hip-hop that is Christian inspired and hinges on the message of salvation and the perspectives that come with it,” says Edwin Ruyonga, Uganda’s leading hip-hop music and spoken word artist.
“I went in for gospel rap because I'm born again, Christ saved me and my music is an extension of who I am and my beliefs,” the 31-year-old rapper adds.
Ruyonga told New African that he thinks he is passing on his gospel message to the world: “I believe I am. I just try to come at it from the perspective of being me and being as honest as possible in my music and praying God does the rest, being an available and willing vessel basically.”
And to prove his point Ruyonga opened his live concert dubbed ‘Glory Experience’ at Imperial Royale Hotel on August 6, 2015 by reciting John Chap. 4 verses 6 to 24 in the Bible.
According to him, the message in John Chap. 4 verses 6 to 24 is that God is calling for his children to relate with him from a deep and true place. It's not about religion or social standing (The Jews and Samarians did not mix, and there were a lot of preconceived and pre-designated notions about the ‘only’ places one could worship God).
“The message is that the time is coming; it is actually here where you can worship God at anytime from anywhere as long as your heart, mind and spirit has set itself to focus on him,” he argues.
At the ‘Glory Experience’ concert Ruyonga accompanied by four instrumentalists and three vocalists played his songs: Pesa, Freedom, Inside My Heart, New Africa, Glory Fire, Muhuliire, RRUU, Time Check and Crossfire, among others.
Joe Kahirimbanyi joined him on stage for Mwana Wange and Annet Nandujja on Empisa. Among the musicians that made special appearances to show support to Ruyonga were Sitenda, Solome Basuuta and Sam Kimera.
He held the second concert dubbed ‘Fire Army’ at Makerere University main ground on August 8.
According to Ruyonga, rap music that was initially looked at as the “ghetto stuff” in the USA is an avenue for the disadvantaged. “Rap was not as much about being ‘ghetto music’ as it has been an opportunity for the disenfranchised to get their voice heard. And the disenfranchised or feeling disenfranchised is a universal problem. As long as anyone feels unheard or unconsidered, platforms like hip-hop will always be necessary,” he says.
Ruyonga observes that although African rap artists aped American rap artists right from the dressing to the lyrical content at the time the genre was taking root in Africa, they are now localizing hip-hop.
“That’s where those African rap artists learnt rap from, so it ‘must’ take time to evolve. Fela Kuti's sound is originally James Brown's American sound, Lingala, Congolese music which reggae itself is adapting from, all have foreign influences. Hip-hop in Africa is not going through a new thing. If people stopped to notice and not criticize, many African hip hoppers and rappers are indigenizing the African rap culture, but everything is a process. And there will always be criticisms, for everything,” he argues.
As to the importance of the spoken word in his music Ruyonga, says: “Its importance is that it is the root of rap; it's where rap came from. Spoken word, griots, oral history, the old story-tellers, it’s all related.”
On the state of live music in Uganda today he observes that: “Live music will always be important, everything has its moments and sometimes things get overdone, but nothing will ever replace the live interpretation of music, electronic or otherwise, because it is created on the spot and cannot be duplicated.”
Ruyonga notes that gospel music is not competing favourably with other genres in Uganda because it’s in its initial stages. “We are still putting in the groundwork, we have the Michael Smiths, the Mali Musics and the Lecraes, but this is all just the beginning. We will just have to wait and see.”
Ruyonga was one of the pioneering hip-hop acts in Uganda, with his first group winning a nationwide music competition in 2000.
He was picked by Rawkus Records as one of the top 50 artists on the internet in 2007. Rawkus Records was responsible for jumpstarting the careers of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common and Eminem.
Ruyonga, a gifted artist has gained respect in the hip-hop community worldwide for his compelling, hard hitting socially conscious, fresh and creative lyrics.
His powerful live shows consist of anywhere from a single backing Dee Jay to a full live band with equally engaging supporting acts.
According to Shirlene Alusa-Brown, “His (Ruyonga) rapping style is great, and he manages to mix energetic beats into his poetic rapping flow, to keep you on your feet and ready to make a difference in the world.”
Ruyonga, who is also an emcee and graphic artist and previously known as Krukid, was a member of the hip-hop trio A.R.M. (African Rebel Movement/Artists Representing the Motherland) that also included M.anifest (Ghana) and Budo. He was on DSTV's list in 2013 of African MC’s.
He lived in the United States from 2002 to 2012, sharing stages with many respected artists, including K’Naan, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Wu Tang Clan, Lupe Fiasco and many others. He won the Chicago Urban League Mic Check Contest’s Best Emcee Award and the C-U Local Music Award’s Best Hip Hop/R&B act multiple times.
He has so far released five albums: Rising in the Sun (2005); AFRiCAN (2007); S.O.S. (2011); Victory Music (2013); and Glory Fire (2015).
Ruyonga has collaborated with many renowned artists including Brother Ali and Slug from Rhymesayers; M.anifest; Magg 44; Enygma; Benezeri; Big Tril; Maurice Kirya; Don MC; Somi; and Tumi of Tumi and The Volume.
He is married to Sheila and they blessed with one daughter.