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In Conversation: Bowman Aremwaki, the Ugandan Artiste with a Universal Musical Language

In Conversation: Bowman Aremwaki, the Ugandan Artiste with a Universal Musical Language

Bowman Arenwaki | Public Notice| In Conversation with Afrocritik

Music in itself, is a language — a universal one. Music has taught me other languages… My dream has always been to teach others my language through music, the same way I have learnt other languages.”_ Bowman Aremwaki  

By Frank Njugi

The art of sampling in music was once defined by American writer, literary critic, and scholar, Ralph Ellison,  as a dynamic process in which the most refined styles from the past are continually merged with the play-it-by-eye-and-by-ear improvisations which are invented in our efforts to control our environment and entertain ourselves. Sampling is a Black vernacular tradition that has given us chitterlings, jazz, and most of all, Hip-Hop.  In the Pearl of Africa, Uganda, one artiste is making spontaneous improvisations and sampling from different modern soundscapes, the bedrock of his artistry.

Bowman Aremwaki is a 26-year-old from Western Uganda, whose 2024 debut EP, Public Notice,  is a fascinating blend of vast soundscapes — from Dancehall to Afrobeats and RnB. Aremwaki is representative of a new generation of young Ugandan artistes whose unique blend of music is fuelling the belief that the Ugandan sound is alive and booming. The songs on Public Notice have been getting massive airplay since release, signifying an artiste elbowing his way to recognition.

In an exclusive interview with Afrocritik, Aremwaki speaks on this debut EP, his career beginnings, and the state of Ugandan and East African Music.

What’s Bowman Aremwaki’s origin story?

The church forged me as an artiste. My mum used to sing in our church choir and I used to sing alongside her a lot, even at home while doing housework or while chilling. When I was 10 years old – in 2008 – I sang for the first time for a big crowd in church and got a standing ovation. From that moment, I got interested in doing music. At that age, I joined a choir and found myself singing in front of large audiences, all while still really young. 

You began your career as part of the music collective, Shwento, alongside artistes such as Agaba Collins and Simbaraishe Goodson. Can you tell us a bit about the collective and the transition to becoming a solo artiste? 

We formed Shwento in 2020 alongside other artistes who I was in lockdown with in the same location – Western Uganda. During formation, our aim was for Shwento to become an umbrella collective that brought together all artistes from Western Uganda. A collective of independent artistes who come together to create music, and less of a band.  In 2022, I ventured out – while still recording music with Shwento – and started recording my own songs as a solo act.  I recorded my first song and released it in December 2022.  Since then I’ve been releasing solo projects. It is in 2024 that I  decided to fully venture out on my own with my first EP, Public Notice.

Bowman Arenwaki | Public Notice| In Conversation with Afrocritik
Bowman Aremwaki

What is the most difficult or best part of being a solo artiste as opposed to being part of a collective?

I don’t think there is a difficult part about being a solo artiste. If anything, I love working alone towards my individual goals. This is as opposed to when you’re a group, whereby all of you have different ideas and so a lot of compromise, sacrifice and a lot of back and forth is involved to achieve what you aim for.  I wouldn’t say I’m overly glad that I’m doing solo music or that I’m glad I had to step off from the collective, but I would say it’s a little bit easier to coordinate my work because I don’t have other people whose ideals I have to consider first.  Now it’s just me and my team deciding how we go forward towards my individual goals unlike previously. 

Public Notice was a fascinating blend of different soundscapes. How does it feel seeing the warm reception and love the EP has received? Also, what was the inspiration behind the different sonic directions you took in each of the five tracks in Public Notice

As a musician who has been doing music since I was young, it’s particularly hard for me to even say I have a determined particular type of music which I love more. I don’t have a favourite genre of music. I don’t have a favourite artiste. I don’t have a favourite song.  So it is easier for me to blend a lot of sounds in my work because I am inspired by a lot of different soundscapes. I have soaked in a variety of sounds over the years, and what I put out is inspired by this. With Public Notice, I wanted to give out a blend of the many soundscapes I am inclined to. I am really grateful for the amazing reception it has received as that is an authentication that my art and music are valid.

You produce your own music under your producer tag, “1998″. What is it like having artistic and creative control over your music?

I learnt how to produce during a stint living with Simbaraishe Goodson, one of the Shwento members. Actually, some of the songs in Public Notice were produced during this period as I was learning. My producer tag, “1998”, is inspired by the year of my birth. As 1998, I really enjoy the work, but ultimately on the engineering part, I am always employing professionals so that my music is mixed and mastered adeptly.

Before I learnt how to produce my own music, I struggled a lot with establishing a connection between the producers I worked with and the kind of sound I wanted for my music. It becomes easier to work with an engineer or another producer when you have already done 70% of the production work, and all they have to do is take it to 90% or towards 100%.

Bowman Arenwaki | Public Notice| In Conversation with Afrocritik

You tend to incorporate different languages in your songs as seen in Public Notice. Why this approach to your music?

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Music, in itself, is a language — a universal one. Music has taught me other languages. My native tongue is Kiga. I come from the Southwestern part of Uganda. My dream has always been to teach others my language through music, the same way I have learnt other languages. I am always fascinated by the incorporation of languages such as Igbo or Yoruba in Nigerian music, or Swahili in Kenyan and Tanzanian music. The majority of my songs have Kiga in them. In Public Notice, I also sang in Shona — in the song “Mumbai” – a language you will majorly find spoken in Zimbabwe and South African countries, because I wanted to connect with audiences there as well.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Ugandan and East African Music?

I think our music is about to take off. Thanks to globalisation, the internet, and the ease with which one can now make music and share it, I tend to think things are looking bright for Ugandan and East African music. People have started to realise that music can be commercialised, and people now see that being an artiste is a thing that can be an actual career. Because of this, the amount of investment that’s been put into music has increased. I am hopeful that going forward,  as East Africa, we can reach a level where we can globally compete — as it is, Africa has started to compete because of the growth of Afrobeat and Afrofusion. Some of our biggest African stars who are representing us out there are making it easy for us to be considered. Thanks to the Nigerian, South African, Kenyan, Tanzanian, and even some of our Ugandan stars, we’re starting to get a platform on which we can stand.

We the local artistes are also putting in the effort as well to improve our industry.  For example, we’ve been fighting about copyright law here in Uganda, which has existed in Kenya for a minute now and a few other countries.

Bowman Arenwaki | Public Notice| In Conversation with Afrocritik

What more can we expect from Bowman Aremwaki in regard to his musical output?

I can promise to never stop trying to make good music. For as long as I can sing, write and produce, be sure that there will be a lot of good music coming out.  I’ve been connecting with other talented artistes as well, so some collaborations are forthcoming. I also hope to work and shoot a few videos for my singles – currently working towards that. 

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan Writer, Culture journalist and Critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, The Republic, Sinema Focus, Culture Africa, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

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