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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Two Conversions of Kunle Awosiyan

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

The story of Kunle Awosiyan is close to the fairly tale of the "ugly duckling" except that he found his true identity in journalism whereas the former found it by looking at his reflection in the water.

Armed with a Higher National Diploma in Applied Chemistry, Kunle, who is Nigerian, left the Polytechnic Ibadan in 1994 with the ambition of becoming Africa's best laboratory technologist and piling his house with gold—for that is what it would take to add practical value to his first name, which means, "a house of wealth."

The then 24-year-old landed his dream job immediately, but in two years, discovered he had made the wrong decision. The sociable Kunle found lab life difficult.

"I wanted to blame my autocratic boss who always stood on our necks but I decided I was in a wrong career altogether," he says in a heavy West African accent. "I wanted a job that would give me joy and freedom as a human being."

God knows exactly what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8). Kunle, who in 1989 had abandoned his Muslim faith to follow Jesus Christ, knows this well. For when he was on the verge of resigning from his laboratory job, Punch, Nigeria's most widely read newspaper, with a daily circulation of over 500,000 copies, advertised for a science writer.

Kunle got the job, and so began his metamorphosis from chemist to journalist. Without rudimentary training in media, he burned the midnight oil, studying award-winning articles. Soon, he was rolling with the punches so much that the colleagues that had dismissed him for his lack of formal training in journalism swallowed their skepticism and gave him respect as a Punch swan. For Kunle, "journalism is freedom."

Six years later he crossed over to the Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private publication that touts itself as "Nigeria's most informative newspaper."

"I joined it because it was established by a respected political sage, Chief Obefemi Awolowo, who is seen as the saviour of the south western people," Kunle says.

At the Tribune Kunle won the prestigious Bourvita Education Reporter of the Year award. Kunle's winning entry was about homeless boys trying to earn some money from handcrafts so they can return to school.

"Winning an award I never planned to win remains the highest moment of my journalism career this far," he says brightly. "That's the greatest happiness I've ever had!"

Published by on Thursday, January 19, 2012 

Dennis D. Muhumuza is a writer for the Daily Monitor in Kampala, Uganda, and a 2012 WJI African Workshop participant.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Holding Uganda’s banner for Christian rap

With a mic in hand, in baggy jeans and cowboy boots, wearing black-rimmed glasses, he swaggered onto the stage and launched into an intense rap session like all his life depended on it. It was at a men's convention organised by Makerere Full Gospel Church. The older men that first looked on nonchalantly soon rose and bopped to the rhythms, moving their heads like thrilled lizards!  

Straight Eloquent writes eloquent lyrics for Jesus. God has given him a message of love, hope and salvation
Straight Eloquent was the rapper, and the track with which he rocked the convention is his 2010 debut, Better Day, about the tough times he has had to endure and how God saw him through it all. 

"I was once expelled from school for disobedience, and have had to battle several addictions but God has always had my back," says the lanky rapper. "This inspired the message of the song –that no matter what life hurls at you, you have to remain strong and keep hoping for the best because the days always get better."

Better Day's uplifting message, infectious chorus and overall lyrical flow all combined to earn the artiste credibility among gospel and secular hip-hop lovers. The hit is the craze on Christian radio stations and has defied the odds to top the Hot 100 FM Hot 6 countdown which runs 6-7pm weekdays.

Eloquent was born Martin Mubangizi, in 1988, the first-born of eight children. As a boy, he had a brush with death after swallowing a 50-shilling coin. He also sees with one eye, the other having been poked blind with a stick by his mother while trying to get him from under the bed where he had hidden to avoid punishment. And at school, he was often a target of teasing: "People called me names like 'cross-eyed' and 'crocodile' because I've large teeth."

In a quest for acceptance and the restlessness that comes with growing up without a father-figure, Eloquent often jumped the school fence to go drinking and dancing in night clubs.

He also sought refuge in American rap music: "Eminem was the guy I looked up to because he too was single-handedly raised by his mother under difficult circumstances, and I was inspired by his me-against-them attitude." Soon, Eloquent adopted Emenem's swagger, and started writing his own rhymes as well. 

In 2005, he was invited to Abundant Church in Entebbe by a friend. So was he moved by the preacher's message that he got got saved.

"It was relieving but because I didn't have any spiritual friends, I continued struggling with low self-esteem and jumping over the fence to access drugs," he says. "But I also kept telling myself my walk would be straight  now that I was saved, and started writing eloquent rhymes for Jesus. That's how I became 'Straight Eloquent'. 

After getting saved, Eloquent attended a gospel rap show, and in excitement started rapping. An underground gospel rapper and producer was mesmerised by the boy's stage magnetism, rapid-fire flow, beguiling wordplay and emotional voice, he asked him to join him. The duo became Holy Rhapsody and recorded six tracks together, including popular songs like Busted and Rap the Devil Dead.

In 2007, the other member went solo, leaving Eloquent shattered: "It felt like a vote of no confidence in my ability. I quit rapping and concentrated on my books."

A year later, Hot 100FM organised an all-school hip-hop contest. Eloquent then in S.5 at Crane High School, won the berth to represent his school.

"The battle was fierce, man, they would play you a beat and you would rap on it freestyle," he recalls. "I was up against tight kids from cutting-edge schools like Budo and Kisubi but God favoured me because they rapped about girls, guns and drugs in vulgarity but I chose to be different; my lyrics had a message."

Eloquent won the competition, and with it a recording contract at Baava Studios. He went on to record hits like Lord Jesus, Through It All and Talk This That which are all enjoying radio airplay. The Ride or Die video in which he features Levite Clan is enjoying massive television rotation on LTV, Top Television and on NBS and NTV's Sunday gospel shows. His latest performance was at the 2011 Bayimba International Festival of the Arts.

"God has given me a message of love, hope and salvation." he concludes. "My mission is to share this message with the world through hip-hop."

--Saturday Monitor,  January 14, 2012  

Monday, January 9, 2012

A promising year for Ugandan literature

The power of books in refreshing people’s thinking and transforming society is well known. Uganda’s literary atmosphere is charged, and as 2012 gets its groove on, budding writers and book lovers have more to look forward to.

Expect more writings; this month is already vibrant with literary training by British Council Uganda in collaboration with the African Writers Trust (AWT). This is a follow-up to the September-October 2011 workshops. According to AWT Director, Goretti Kyomuhendo, the participants will be linked to mentors in the UK, to further develop their writing.

And with Doreen Baingana now in the driving seat as Femrite’s latest chairperson, the quality of the organisation’s releases could improve. Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe, won the 2006 Commonwealth literary prize for Africa, and she has over 10 years experience as an editor. She has vowed to complete, this year, the first full-length novel about a female rebel leader, on top of a travelogue which the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Writers commissioned her to write on Somaliland.

Beatrice Lamwaka, who last year made the Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist, is now a full-time writer and wants to complete her first novel this year, while Glaydah Namukasa, now with an American literary agent, hopes to release her third novel, Crossing the Bramble Field, by December.

Uganda’s most prolific writer, Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo will also release his 14th novel, Escape from Shadows. Kalimugogo who is contemporaries with John Ruganda, Prof Timothy Wangusa, Rose Mbowa, and Laban Erapu is a satirist famous for the domestic comedy, Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974) which was on the literature syllabus back in the day. He has won two writing awards from the National Book Trust of Uganda for his novels, A Visitor Without a Mission (2003) and Bury Me in a Simple Grave (2009). Mid this year, the retired diplomat has a publicised launch of all his literary works.

And to those who knew its potency in the 60s when it had contributors like Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek and Ali Mazrui among other writers and intellectuals, Transition magazine is back! It celebrated its 50th anniversary on December 20, 2011 at Makerere University, and its 106th issue was on sale. Nobert Mao was so stirred he promised to launch a book club; “ oasis where those who value ideas will go.” So Mao’s book club and its high-powered debates is something to look forward to this year.

Literature lovers will also witness the rebirth of Dhana (formerly Pen Point), a literary magazine at Makerere University in the 60s and 70s that played a significant role in English expression. Prof. David Cook, the Head English turned Literature Department (1967-77) and who co-edited with David Rubadiri the anthology– Poems from East Africa (1971) left in his will about Shs180m to promote the work he started there – promotion of creative writing. It’s part of this money that’s facilitating the reactivation of Dhana, which is expected to run twice every year with creative and critical writings.

The magazine will be launched in July at Makerere University while commemorating the 1962 Writers Conference that took place there. The organising committee is in the process of getting Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka to preside over the event that will attract distinguished people from all over Africa and the world. Importantly, the return of Dhana is expected to resurrect the long-missed celebration of critical thought that defined the 60s and 70s.

Late last year, Angella Kyagaba of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) promised authors the green light. With 48 community libraries and many schools, the study of Ugandan literature will translate to more book sales and gold for the authors.

Even more, the arrival of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), in 2010, to manage copyright; facilitate legal copying of copyright protected works on behalf of authors, help combat piracy and generally collect and distribute fees to rights holders should encourage those considering a career in writing.
Since September 2009, non-fiction writers and lovers of motivational and self-help books, have found a sense of belonging –the inspiration to read and write more –at the monthly Authors’ Forum. The organiser, Robert Bake, who is also the author of Tapping God’s Blessings, is releasing his first novel, Tears from my Mother, later this year. He says many works by members of the Authors’ Forum are in the works and will be published before the end of 2012 as well.

The grand poetry recital by the Lantern Meet of Poets, and the BN Poetry Awards cannot be forgotten. I’m tempted to prophesy that 2012 will go down as the golden year for Ugandan writers and all lovers of literature!

--Saturday Monitor, January 7, 2012