Qwela Junction could be Uganda’s epitome to exhibiting as far as musical instruments are concerned.
Last year, they did it with the saxophone, and lead guitars, they would later venture into male and female vocalists with divas and crooners editions. Last Sunday at Serena hotel’s Victoria hall, Qwela Junction was back, paying tribute to the bass guitar.
For its conversational form, a bass guitar usually complements the louder instruments on the set like drums, lead guitar, saxophone and piano – even when the bass plays a vital role of setting the rhythmic and harmonic foundations in music, it is easy for its players to go unnoticed because people may hardly notice the bed their sound creates.
It is this component of the instrument that made Qwela Junction: Bosses of Bass such a daring yet so far the most experimental edition that Qwanza Music and House of DJs, the organizers, have ever put together.
With respectable names in the industry such as Ernest Otim, Martin Mutabingwa and Josh Mutebi, they had some of the seasoned session bass players any band could ask for; they are good and different in styles.
Otim, for instance, is a mixture of an indigenous player with a little mix of funk; Mutabingwa gets it right with the groove, while Mutebi’s sound is a simple urban chill.
With the three challenging one another on different songs, they managed to show a presence of the bass without fully upstaging Fidel Mambo on the lead guitar; he kept his sound at least as loud as theirs and at some points, he was more audible.
With an audience yet to appreciate bass, they chose to kick their performances off with songs that a bass guitar has given signatures, such as Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Billie Jean, I Want You Back and Philly Lutaaya’s Empisazo.
The opener was enough to introduce us to the bassists – since very few of these guitarists have ventured into producing own bodies of works; much of what was played were songs they have been part of, including Ndakwikundira, where Qwela’s Joe Kahiri features with The Mith, Lillian Mbabazi and Ruyonga, or Mama Tokaaba and Pecho, among other songs.
But it was when Tshaka Mayanja was invited on stage that the mood of the show entirely changed; of course unlike the younger bassists he referred to as
“YouTube bassists”, he only depended on his guitar to do amazing things. This was contrary to the younger players that had guitar pedals, especially for effects.
He took music lovers to the days of his Dark Chocolate album with singer Angela Kalule. With backing from Myko Ouma, Michael Kitanda and Pragmo, they reminisced some songs from the album, like Happy Birthday.
The show ended with Sammy Kasule joining Mutabingwa, Otim and Mutebi for Ozze Munnange that got the house on its feet.
Not a regular performer on today’s circuit, Kasule has grace with his style on bass; most of the time during his performance, he took the lead while the other players watched and learned.