The first question I asked Hanson was whether he has watched Black Panther seeing as it has two Ugandan actors in it. We discussed for quite a while about the need for black representation in the arts and the success the movie has enjoyed.
The humorous and outgoing artist had a lot to share and we quickly had to switch back to the â€˜mainâ€™ interview as we were now losing track of time. Hanson Baliruno unpacked his story of performing in Sweden even with all the anxiety, the contrast between international music and that of Africaâ€™s to why he thought Sauti Sol was a one-man singer. He also has a liking for Kenyaâ€™s â€˜githeriâ€™ dish, which, hopefully, got to sample before he left.
Who is Hanson Baliruno?
Iâ€™m a recording and performing artist, songwriter, actor and fashion enthusiast. I am a Christian who has been brought up in faith and I used to sing Gospel music. I was part of the church choir and thatâ€™s where I saw potential in music. Nowadays I sing what people refer to as â€˜secularâ€™ but which I consider â€˜businessâ€™ because itâ€™s a career which has its own purpose just like we have doctors, bankers, who serve both religious and non-religious people. If conductors only allowed people who donâ€™t own cars to board matatus then there would be a problem so why is â€˜secularâ€™ music treated so differently? Itâ€™s a career like any other and I treat it that way.
What motivated you to pursue music?
People encouraged me to go for it. I realised I was special when I was 15 years and I saw that this is something I could pursue. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston inspired me a lot. I then got a scholarship to Sweden to study theology but that never stopped me from singing. One of the people who work for Warner Music noticed me and encouraged me to sing more and I built on that. I even won an award in the Scandinavian Music Awards.
How did you get around to discovering the talented Ugandan kids for your song Follow Follow?
I was talking with the manager of the kids via Facebook and I had 10 songs they could choose from and they decided on Follow Follow. The first video had 8million views but it was pulled down because of copyright issues. This is the video that drew French Montana to Uganda and ended up working with them in his song.
Do you think singing in a local language such as Swahili or Luganda works for artists?
It has helped my music because I have to capture the local market first and then the international market later. I was already doing well in Sweden and I was still mixing it up with English and my local language Luganda. I mix it up with English and Kiswahili and I think that does work for artists.
How different is your EP Sound of Hanson different from your other albums?
In this album, I mixed what is abroad and what is here in Africa. I just sound different and I didnâ€™t follow any trends. I donâ€™t want to put myself in a cage and exploring is what I did with this album.
Which is your favourite lyric in Akatambala?
I like that part where I call Saidaâ€¦ Itâ€™s unique. There is a certain sound I make and that lights me up. Saida, in this case, is Saida Karoli, the legendary musician who has sung the song â€˜Chekechaâ€™. I love African sounds because it sounds original and Saida Karoli allowed me to remix the song. She offered to the studio and we did the song together. Akatambala refers to a traditional kitambaa (veil).
How different is the music globally from that of Ugandaâ€™s and Africaâ€™s? What can we do to improve?
Listeners trust the person who is coming to perform based on the organizer who is bringing them. If the organizer has a reputation for bringing talent, then the audience doesnâ€™t care if the singer is popular unlike what happens in most African countries. This is one thing I picked while in Sweden. Global audiences are risk-takers and will â€˜tasteâ€™ new things, from food to music which is not an African culture. In my case, I donâ€™t understand why people take salads but I have not tried it to know whether it works for me or not. This is what is limiting us. We need to try out more new things especially music and give a chance to new sounds.
Which Kenyan artists would you like to work with? Â
Sauti Sol. Their song â€˜Sura Yakoâ€™ had me hooked and I initially thought it was one person until months later that I knew it was a band. I also like Vivianâ€™s sound and Avrilâ€™s. I would definitely like to work with them.