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Josephine Mugerwa: From child dancer to music icon

“Becoming a star despite my poor background wasn’t easy; but I am grateful that the highs and lows in life had pushed me to become stronger”

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Josephine Mugerwa also known as Phina Mugerwa Masanyalaze is a Ugandan musician and dancer. Mugerwa captivated Ugandan revellers and in 2006 was nicknamed ‘Uganda’s Shakira’ after Colombian singer, songwriter, dancer, philanthropist and businesswoman Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll. Her stage name Masanyalaze relates to her first single ‘Masanyalaze’ and her energetic performance.

Mugerwa says she chose and stuck to such energetic and audience engaging performance to cut through the competitive music industry.

“Many Ugandan musicians could only manage to sing and hire queen dancers to spice up their performances’, says Mugerwa.

“Pursuing it was in one way of proving to some people that a musician can also be a good dancer”

Growing up in the slums of Kawaala in Kampala city, Mugerwa was exposed to many opportunities of dance. She developed a love for musical performances. Her mother appears to have spotted the young girl’s talent and took her to trade shows and promotional events that featured musical performances. Her mother would raise the hand as soon as MC’s called for volunteer dance competitors. The little Mugerwa was guaranteed to thrill while her mother collected any promotional goodies on offer.

She says, “The gifts kept pushing me to get back”.

She did her gigs outside school time; in the evenings, over the weekends or during holidays to allow for focus on school. That would be the schedule until Senior Six Vacation when Mugerwa failed to make it on government scholarship and her parents could not afford private sponsorship at the university.

There was an opening at Diamonds Ensemble for dancers and Mugerwa was among the few selected to join the group in late 1990s. The role involved her dancing along in plays and musical performances for different artistes. But she yearned to pursue her dream of music and dance. Her mother helped her money for the first recording.

“I didn’t just want to record any song but do it with the professional producers,” says Mugerwa, “I booked with one of the producers who fixed me within recording breaks for well financed musicians in the wee hours of the night”.

Mugerwa finally recorded her first song ‘Masanyalaze’ in 2006 and she has since never turned back. The Pearl of Africa Music Awards (PAM) were an annual national music award event held in Uganda that recognised efforts of musicians, producers and others for their record efforts to promote the music industry. Mugerwa emerged winner in the category of ‘Best New Artiste’. The boosted her profile in the music industry.

She says, “PAM awards were still a big thing for Uganda’s music industry and it was the right time for me to shine”.

Her next project would be featuring in one of Bobi Wine’s songs in which she re-awakened the once popular Calypso dance leap. That meant exporting her talent across borders. For the greater part of her music journey, Mugerwa has been a solo performing artiste. But, until 2014, she was signed to Fusion band of Water Front Beach.

Mugerwa is the fourth of the five children of Francis Kiwanuka and Annet Komugisha born in 1984. She went to Namirembe Kindergarten and Namirembe Infants Primary School for primary education before joining St Andrew’s Kaggwa and Daniel Secondary School and Springfield College for Ordinary and Advanced level respectively.

Her latest release ‘Tonooba’ literally meaning ‘don’t divorce’ is a totally different style of music something she says rhymes well with her age and role as a mother.

“Everything comes of age and so is music,” she says.

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