Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rachel Kiwanuka-Africa's Next Rockstar!

Who says you can’t have the best of both worlds and still have fun at the same time? That’s certainly what this Ugandan singer is doing. Born Rachel Kiwanuka, some 21 years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rachel K (as she is known by her fans), was discovered by her musician mother, Halima Namakula. After spending much of her formative years in the States, she heeded her mum’s advice of using the Uganda music scene as a launching pad to her music career by moving back home.

         Her bi-continental upbringing gave her the opportunity to absorb a wide range of music that influenced her musical style. Perhaps partly due to her musical heritage or by sheer bravado, this spontaneous and outgoing lady has always been at ease performing or singing in front of audiences. Since she was a child, Rachel has loved entertaining people! She says it is the highest of highs for her when a performance clicks just right - the air seems to thicken as everyone is sucked into the emotion of the moment, which often lasts long after that moment ends. In the spring of 2005, Rachel auditioned for American Idol when the tour stopped in San Francisco. Although she was did not make the cut for the show, she told me that the experience gave her a deeper gratitude of her God-given talents, a new appreciation for her family and the drive to pursue her interests.

In waning days of 2010, I caught up with Ms. K for an all-access interview in which she discussed in depth how she developed a fondness for T.V and how that led her into hosting a television show. She further told us how she is trying to pass on her acquired knowledge to the up-and-coming stars. The interview is more than just music, it’s about who Rachel K. really is and we are very appreciative to be able to bring it to you.

Could you begin by telling us a bit about yourself?

My given names are Rachel Kiwanuka. I was born on the 1st of November. I am the last child out of four children and the only girl. I am very laid back, down to earth, easy to get along and very friendly.

When and how did you start making music? How did your family shape your singing career?

I started singing at the early age; I was about 8 years old. My mother was very excited about my talent and my strong vocals when she heard me singing “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston. Since then all I can remember was singing in talent shows, going to professional music teachers for vocal training and participating in a performing arts school. As I got older, it became a profession in the year 2006 when I first recorded my first single 'Everytime'. My mother and my 3 brothers have been very supportive. Hemdee Kiwanuka my eldest brother, he has believed in my talent and has always given me the best support a big bro could give. As he has been my business manager, on the other side my Mom has been my personal manager.

Most of us know that your mother, Halima Namakula of the Ekimbewo fame is one of your main influences. Did you ever think that you will be able to follow in your mother's footsteps with respect to your popularity in the music world and do you recall one piece of advice she offered?
My mom has been my main influence and always been my biggest supporter; I guess she is more like my backbone, always holding me up no matter what. Her love and belief in me has gotten me this far and without her I would be lost. Following in her footsteps is one of my goals, becoming a legend like her is one of my dreams. The best advice she offered me is to believe in my decisions, bad or good and to also learn from them. She is the best mother any daughter could ask for; she is labeled the Mother of all the Ugandan artists just because she is an example of a good Mother.

Who have been some of your other musical influences over the years?

The list is long but when I was growing up I listened to the likes of Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton. At the age of 15 I became a fan of Rock Music. I am also a big fan of Alicia keys, Beyonce and Hayley Williams from the Rock band Paramore.

Do you mind describing to us your musical style?

I am fusion. This is a mixture of different styles. Pretty much I have done every style there is!! But I am categorized as a Rockstar and my main passion and real love is Rock.

How did you get to work with Keri Hilson and Akon on the Pepsi “Oh Africa” project? Do you mind sharing with us some of the experiences working with these stars?

Pepsi U.S.A and Pepsi Uganda were looking for a young music artist who was not signed, or launched an album yet, and someone who gives back to the community and a role model to the youth. After the nominations I got a call from someone in South Africa that I was chosen to represent Uganda with Akon, Keri Hilson, and 15 other youth from around the world! It was the call of a lifetime. Both Akon and Keri were soooo cool. I got to have a one on one with Keri, she also listened to some of my music, and gave me a few pointers. Being big celebs, it was surprising they were down to earth and easy to talk too.

You were recently nominated as a Pepsi Ambassador. What has this experience been like so far and when does this end?

It was just ok. Pepsi Uganda supported my music career and I couldn’t ask for more. It just ended.

Earlier this year you were nominated and won in 2 categories, Video of the Year (Rock song, Feel Me!) and Best Collaboration with Bobi Wine (Is it Me) at Diva Music Awards held at the La Bonita Theatre in Kampala. What do these wins mean for your career?

Yes I won two awards, one for the video of the year and another for my best international performances. It really meant a lot to me and it was such a great achievement for this was the first and only rock video ever in Uganda to receive an award. This also opened up so many doors for me to those who didn’t know there was a new Rockstar in town and I have gain much respect locally and internationally.

In researching for this interview, I read somewhere you auditioned for American Idol in 2005. What impression did you come away with from this experience?

Man, it was an experience! I traveled all alone to San Francisco which was like a 6 hr drive to the venue from my home state. I was number 6 in line, out of thousands of people. I slept outside the venue for 2 nights straight!!!!!! Lol. It was crazy, but soo much fun and I met a lot of interesting and talented people. I didn’t make it, but I did learn a lot and that experience made me stronger. You don’t always have to go through American idol to become a star, there are other ways to make it and since then I had never given up. But it was great.

You performed at the Ugandan Festival 2010 on December 18th, how did it go? How did it feel performing alongside Maurice Kiry and Klear Kut?

It was really fun. Maurice and Klear Kut are very talented and great friends of mine and I am sure they enjoyed performing alongside with me. We need more festivals like this one in Uganda and I was very happy to be a part of the festival.

What’s on your I-pod just now?

A lot of different style of music. From Billie holiday to Lady Gaga. Like I said I am fusion and listen to all styles of music.

If you had a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference or change the world what would do or how would change the world?

Hmmmm….I would want to change cross generational sex and see to it that men who abuse young girls are imprisoned. Doing them justice will make the world know and realize the consequences they will face by committing such a crime.

Can you describe your style of songwriting? How does it feel sharing writing duties with your mother on the track ‘Every time’?

For me, I write what I am feeling at a particular moment, sometimes it might be my own experience or someone else’s experience, or maybe just what I see or know what happens with everyday people and life. I write most of my songs, but most of the time my mother comes up with the titles. She is a great songwriter and we had good time writing, Everytime. That was my first single and video that was released in Uganda. Immediately it got a lot of airplay on EATV and MTV Base.

Are there any musicians you would love to collaborate with?

 Well internationally I would love to work with beyonce, she and I are kind of similar and do have the same energy on stage. And also I would love to work with Avril Lavigne and Hayley Williams of Paramore .She has a real cool stage presence and knows how to rock out!

Besides music, what other ventures/projects are you involved?

 I believe in social work and I am a member at an NGO that my mother is a founder and a Chairperson called, Women at Work International. I am also a dance teacher and give private lessons. I work with organizations like PACE in their go getters program, empowering young girls and stressing the issue of abstinence. I am also partnering with two young men, Brian of Hot 100 and Humphrey at NBS Television. We have started foundation called Reach A Hand Foundation, where we work with boys and girls from the ages of 12 to 18.

Any parting words for the fans?

Thanks to you all who have supported me since I started hosting Jam Agenda on WBS Television four years ago. Thanks to all of u who have been part of my musical journey, and never gave up on Rachel k. If you have a talent and you are upcoming artists, come to No-End Studios in Kamwokya on Mawanda road, I personally will help you work on vocal development. To all young students, please abstain and stay focused. Life is very precious, and it all starts with you. I love you all, my rockstars. : )

      The Afrikan Child hopes that Rachel K continues to remain true to herself and we have no doubt that she will, because she is clearly a young woman who has both feet firmly on the ground. It is only a matter of time, before she starts to capture some of the musical awards in North America, as she has done in Kampala !

Again, thanks to Ms. Rachel K. for her time and willingness to answer my questions. For more from Rachel, check out her music on her MySpace site… as well as her videos@ You can also purchase Rachel’s music on ITunes and follow her journal entries on her blog , as well as on Twitter @ iamrachelk.

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