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Isaiah Katumwa: On authentic Ugandan jazz

‘Taste of music, like any other product, is not based on class but exposure’

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Isaiah Katumwa is a renowned saxophonist and jazz promoter. For close to two decades, he has been growing enthusiasm for jazz in the country and region. He is widely known for his smooth African jazz creations.

His experience and passion for the saxophone dates back to childhood.

It all started with a street hawker selling imitation saxophones for children. Katumwa was nine years old and had just been introduced to his guardian by his mother. His guardian could tell how much Katumwa loved music as he danced and sang and had already introduced him to music instruments like trumpets, guitar, and piano. So he bought him the saxophone from the hawker.

Katumwa says when faced with the actual woodwind instrument, he was fascinated by the many buttons and his guardian just let him figure out how it is played. He did.

Later he was exposed to performances by different groups and individuals like legendary Moses Matovu of Afrigo Band. Alongside the saxophone, Katumwa was taught to play the bass guitar and several other instruments.

By 1995, Katumwa was ready for his first performance with WakaWaka Band at Sheraton Gardens. Although he would have loved to play the saxophone, he was assigned to play percussions. But he relished the exposure.

“It was like a dream come true having looked at those people at a distance,” he recalls, “I didn’t mind even when I wasn’t paid.”

Katumwa worked with different genres and groups; including the defunct Eagles Production, Afri-Diamonds, Kadongo-kamu legends like Fred Sebaata and others. In 2000, he joined church ministry under Miracle Centre Cathedral and the following year, released his first album titled ‘I will worship you’. He kept releasing albums every single year until 2006 when he broke-through with ‘Sinza’ meaning ‘praise’.

The song made its way to worldwide recognition by being aired on BBC. When he returned from the UK, Katumwa staged his first concert in 2007 in an event that has since turned out to be held annually.

This year which marks the 12th time the concert, which feature top international artists, will be held at the Kampala Serena Hotel. This year it is on April 30th and will feature Angelique Kidjo and Darren Rahn. Katumwa has played with global icons like Jonathan Butler, Hugh Masekela, Jimmy Dludlu and Seweto Kinchy.

Katumwa was exposed to different genres of music from which he chose to bring out a style that reflects him so well.

“I dig from the uniqueness of being authentic Ugandan and I mix that to the influence of slow jazz and the gospel element,” he says.

Katumwa denies jazz is for the rich. He says taste for music, like any other product,is not based on class but exposure.

“Many other people might have loved jazz but they have never listened to it,” he says,“The people who have listened to jazz are those in urban areas and successful people and therefore it has branded itself to the successful and fulfilled people.”

Katumwa says Uganda’s music industry has grown, with more money, professionalism, and credibility.

“It is no longer a question of whether we deserve respect or not,” he says.

At 16 years, one of his sons is already doing music and is one of the music directors of the band.

Katumwa went to Rev. John Foundation School and Kyambogo College School. He later pursued a degree in Sound Engineering, Music Technology and Music business in England.

His passion is to see young lives changed through music.

“If I could make it to where I am today, then anyone else can with God,” he says.

Katumwa is married with two children.

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