Welcome to the New Wave. Today we are looking at “Ugandan New Wave” – a round-up of the most exciting young Ugandan music artists.
From an ever-expanding list, we have picked the 10 singers/rappers/producers who we think will define the sound of Ugandan music for years to come. The artists chosen are adding lots of innovation to the game while being true to their Ugandaness and their personalities.
Just a few of these artists have released albums and gotten recognition from mainstream platforms. What they have in common, however, is their subversive approach to their craft and how they incorporate Ugandan genres into contemporary ones like R&B, Hip-hop, and Afrobeats.
While the new wave may have its fair share of criticism, the fans who pack their shows and stream their music have a strong connection to these artists.
Note: The list is no particular order.
Many people have made memories to Kohen’s 3 EPs so far; ‘Wena I’, ‘Weena II’, and ‘Heart
Strings’ – his latest joint with his producer Axon. The projects consist of heart-melting songs that
revealed an engaging songwriter and skilled singer with songs like, Not Letting Go which has gathered over 120,000 streams on Spotify.
Kohen’s bases are AfroSoul, Pop, and R&B but his craft is an enigma that blends other influences and is always evolving according to how he feels. He also has a rare talent for writing lyrics with depth that are worded in everyday Luganda mixed with a bit of English and native languages.
Kohen Jaycee is independent and is signed to his own label “Ninyowe”. He has recently performed at most of the big stages in the country right now.
“Uganda has the youngest music audience therefore we have a bright future. I feel like we the artists need to do much to push the narrative so the people can appreciate,” Kohen said in an interview.
He is worth a listen!
Lamu caught the attention of Nigerian singer and music executive Mr. Eazi in 2019 during his EmPawa Africa project and was picked to represent Uganda as one of the 100 up-and-coming artists from across Africa.
She dropped her Debut Single Something About You which officially launched her professional music career that same year. The Kampala-based singer has a rare talent, which is always on display in her music.
Her sound can be easily defined as diverse as she fuses different styles and genres; mixing Kiswahili with English and Luganda in her lyrics. Her genre is Afro-pop & RnB. Lamu has performed on some of Uganda’s biggest stages including at the Blankets and Wine, Afropalooza, and at the Nyege Nyege festival.
She also launched a campaign with tourism that saw her get crowned as Miss Earth Uganda 2021/22. Lamu is still unsigned but she has released an EP titled ‘No Pressure’ and various singles and features including Habibi – one of her most streamed singles with over 100,000 streams.
“Ugandan music still has a long way to go, right from talent development to having our music exported around the world…but we are headed there,” Lamu told Mbu.ug
“My dream is to inspire, give hope and change the world with my music,” Joshua Baraka says. Baraka’s bases are Soul and R&B. The artist, who’s also a producer and singer, has a special talent for writing lyrics that have depth but are worded in everyday English.
These traits are displayed in his own solo projects and singles like “Belinda” which has gathered over 50,000 streams on Spotify. Joshua is working on collaborations and an album that is expected to come out around mid- year.
He is currently independent and unsigned and has lately been getting chances to perform on larger stages like Blankets & Wine. “It is a very good time to be a Ugandan artist right now because the industry is evolving and shaping,” he mentions.
Afrie caught the attention of the continent with her songs; I Am An African Girl which is now the theme song for the African Union Campaign to educate girls, and one of her most popular songs dubbed Mulala which has gathered over 40,000 views on YouTube.
She has performed at the African Union Campaign in Rwanda and appeared in Nigeria’s AFRIMMA.
The Ugandan singer has a big personality, which is always on display in her music. She sings in English, Luganda, and Swahili. She describes her music genre as AfroFusion.
In Rash’s interview with Afrie, she says that she dreams of a sound that represents the Ugandan/African girl locally and globally. As an independent artist, Afrie has managed to tour some parts of Africa, appearing at major events.
Afrie is part of a new generation that is slowly changing how Ugandan music sounds — ask around, the singer has been nominated four times in the AFRIMMA awards for Songwriter Of The Year, Best Female Artist East Africa, Best Inspirational Artist.
Top-tier lyricists aren’t easy to come by. This is what makes Flex D’Paper one to keep a close eye on. Flex is probably the most musically experienced artist on this list and has the potential to be one of the best to ever do it in the coming years. On his latest album, Kampala Boy, the Kampala-based rapper displayed polished rapping skills and dynamism — top-notch storytelling, impressive wordplay, and convincing delivery.
The album featured the likes of Navio and Fik Fameica. A few years ago, Flex released an EP titled “Not For Sale” and one of his most successful hits, Yenze Aliko rose above most HipHop playlists and amassed tens of thousands of views and streams.
To date, Flex has collaborated with industry heavyweights like Navio, Fik Fameica, A Pass among others, and has amassed decent spins on major radio stations and TV channels on top of scooping a number of accolades.
His music is characterized by Hip-hop, Dancehall, and Afrobeat sounds. The artist’s music is mostly in English and Luganda. Flex has big dreams for the industry which he calls “Taking baby steps.” By far, for him, Katonda Is Involved!
Kamanzi’s music is an anomaly. The artist’s music is inspired by an amalgamation of unforgettable experiences and her fervent passion for arranging, singing, writing, playing, and listening to music. She defines her genre as Afro-Soul.
In 2022, Kamanzi released her debut and only single so far titled Pity Party. It’s an Afro-fused ballad that has been bubbling under, gaining over 3,000 views on YouTube. With only one record so far, the independent unsigned artist has got close to 2,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
She has performed on some big stages like Berklee College of Music Songwritings in Boston, Massachusetts, Blankets and Wine, Buzz Teens Awards, and in neighboring countries like Kenya.
Kamanzi enjoys the art she creates and prizes in the journey to the fruition of the projects and plans she partakes in. If and when harnessed to optimum capacity through opportunities and challenges, she aspires to create a digital and physical space where people (especially young girls) emulate that authenticity in their own crafts.
“I intend to elucidate the dilemma around the narrative of African-based music and more intentionally Ugandan music and its entire value chain by eventually tapping into all avenues that music can be impactful through creating timeless moments and art through everything I breathe on, for now, and for generations to come,” Kamanzi said in an interview.
“I intend to cleave the P.R. & Marketing practice with my intrinsic need to help facilitate the growth of African Female Musicians” she added.
A producer for Sheebah, Fik Fameica, Kohen, Joshua Baraka, among others, Axon is a notable act. His production always has sprinkles of various genres and his pro-lism ensures Axon’smusic is always identifiably modern Ugandan/African.
He has worked on various EPs/albums – Beautiful Pieces, Niwe Akeine, BoBV, and his latest Heart Strings featuring Kohen Jaycee among others. Heart Strings sees the artists further experimenting with the genres they seem familiar with.
All Axon’s projects are an exhibition of his Afrocentric approach to music. Axon co-founded BramBram Records, a record label, and has done many collaborations. He also said he has something in store for his fans coming off his international collaborations.
“I think Ugandan music is going in the right direction as it has always been. The new generation is getting better and better each day that passes by. However, for us to attain global and commercial success, we need to really work harder than ever,” Axon says.
“The music is great but other aspects such as investment, proper marketing, and distribution among other things should be put into consideration in order for us to compete outside Uganda.”
Akeine’s music sounds as sacred as her name. The artist is following in the footsteps of such artists as Rihanna and Beyonce — her vocal style is inspired by vintage African and Western artists. Her style of music is versatile, depending on how deep your knowledge of African music goes, you’ll pick up styles of R&B, Soul, Afro-beats from her sound. She regards her style as AfroSoul.
She can sing!
And she has the rare talent of writing lyrics that have depth but are worded in everyday Runyankole Rukiiga (Runyakitala) plus English. These traits are displayed in her own solo projects and singles and the various collaborations with fellow rising stars.
She has released EPs like, “Niwe Akeine” which had a fair performance with projects like Tingatsiga hitting ‘000s of streams on Spotify. She has performed on some big shows like PITP which featured CKay and Oxlade.
Currently unsigned and independent, Akeine dreams of a bigger picture and prays for big collaborations with artists like UG-UK rapper Ms Banks. “Uganda’s industry is promising hands, and the potential is wild,” she says.
“I see us competing with the current stars like Nigerians, it’s just a matter of support from the big guys in the industry ie: the media, deejays, and other stakeholders.”
Lagum The Rapper
Lagum the Rapper is establishing himself as a lyricist of note in hip-hop circles, a rare talent of versatility, hence mixing genres, Hip hop, Afrobeats, and R&B. Lagum’s music is characterized by virtuoso melodies and a natural swagger.
He is currently signed to a label and has released quite a number of records and collaborations. Last year, he released a single Tuliwano which has gained over 50,000 streams on Spotify. Lagum the Rapper recently scooped the Collaboration of the Year 2022 award at the UGHipHop awards for his song with Catching Flights fellow artist Likkle Bangi.
He has performed at Blankets & Wine, Nyege Nyege, and more big stages. Lagum is also a ray of hope for a genre that has not been getting enough representation in the mainstream in the past few years.
Azawi is officially a star! After releasing several successful singles in the last few years, she finally released her debut album, AFRICAN MUSIC in 2021. The album featured the likes of Fik Fameica, A Pass, and Benon.
For the past few years, Azawi has been getting recognition and awards including Newcomer of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Artist Of The Year, and others at most of the country’s biggest award shows, officially marking her arrival.
She recently appeared on the New York Times Square and was listed for the YouTube BlackVoices Class 2021. Azawi sings a genre that would be described as Afrobeats. On her album, she plays with different styles from Afrobeats to her country’s local style, Kidandali.
Her music has gained international recognition getting over 2,000,000 streams in 183 countries on Spotify in 2022 only. Azawi is part of a new generation that is slowly changing how Ugandan music sounds, and her mother record label, Swangz Avenue is known for its professional approach to music, specializing mostly in female artists and good production.
Azawi’s success helps put Ugandan music in the international mainstream. Azawi is one of the most prolific young artists having released many records in the short time she has been here, and all of them are worth a listen. She is a ray of hope for Ugandan music that has not been getting enough representation in the main stream in the past few years.