Akello: From war came music of hope

Sunday May 7 2017

Jackie Akello. PHOTO | DAILY MONITOR | NMG

Jackie Akello. PHOTO | DAILY MONITOR | NMG 

By Bamuturaki Musinguzi

Jackie Akello, who lives in Kampala, unveiled her self-titled eight-track debut album Akello at a live performance at the Pyramids Casino in Kampala last August, an event she dedicated to women and children who have experienced war and instability in Africa.

The songs on Akello address the Lord’s Resistance Army war and are sung in Acholi, Luganda and English. They are: Tam (Thoughts), Yang (Once upon a time), Apwoyo (Thank You), Amari (I Love You), Wan Wilobo (This World), An Amaro Wer (I Like to Sing), Cung (Let’s Stand) and a collaboration with Levixone titled Samanya (I did not know), sung in Luganda.

Tam is lamentation of a woman who has lost her love in the war. All the local men were taken, killed and the rest are traumatised. The song is a cry and prayer at the same time.

Akello’s other collaborations include: Black Yellow Red, an all-star project with artists like Michael Ross, Viboyo, Cindy, Irene Ntale, and Nick Nola, and Ffena Awamu with Mun G and T-Bro. She has also worked with several other Ugandan musicians.

The singer has performed at several local events including the 13th Edition of Blankets and Wine in Kampala last July and the 8th edition of the Bayimba International Festival of Arts at the National Theatre in Kampala held in September 2015.

She participated in the 2015 Singing Wells Project - a collaboration between Abubilla Music, a record label from London and Ketebul Music in Kenya, a non-profit organisation committed to identifying, preserving and promoting the diverse music traditions of East Africa.

Akello was born to Moses and Juliana Menya in Pader district. She has one sister and two brothers. She is in a relationship and has one son.

She holds a diploma in Cargo Handling and Aviation from the International Air Transport Association. She attended Kako Junior School and Kako Senior Secondary School.

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How were you personally affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army war?

It instilled fear in us. I lost my ancestral home and a number of my relatives. My children will know little of where their mother came from because they cannot visit my village of Opokrom in Pader district.

How did the war influence your music?

It gave us a story to tell. A story of peace, reconciliation, love, hope and thanksgiving. We are a strong people and I will sing and shout to the world so they can embrace what we have — true love.

How did you come to choose music as a career?

Music has always been a part of me and I have thought of nothing but music, hence my career choice. Music changes everything, from your mood to the way you perceive the world. I have a story to tell, and what better way to share it, but in the one language that the whole world understands. Music.

What language do you sing in most?

I sing in Acholi, English, and Luganda and most recently in Swahili. I draw a lot of inspiration from our culture.

Which musicians influenced you in your career choice?

Over the years, I have drawn a lot of inspiration from Suzan Kerunen. I look up to her for music and other things. Kenneth Mugabi is yet another Ugandan musician I admire and appreciate a lot. His music speaks to the soul. I would love to work with him and it would be an honour for me.

Why did you choose live performance over studio recording?

Live band music is rich with musical options and gives one a platform to get first hand feedback from fans. It also gives me a chance to mix and mingle with people which is quite humbling. I did however release my debut album on CD.

How would you describe your music?

Being in the genre of world music, it is an empowering tool that I use to propel social change and to tell inspiring, life-changing stories.

Why do you think the genre is not popular in Uganda?

Because it is still new to most Ugandans. So not many will give it the time of day. However, our music scene is still growing and more people seem to appreciate the art than was the case five years ago. I am quite hopeful that this genre will pick up.

There are few female musicians in the live band music circuit in Uganda. Why is this so?

I cannot say for sure but I believe it all comes down to preferences. It is however, quite impressive how well women are doing on the airwaves.

Do you have regular gigs in Kampala?

Not really. They were however a big part of my humble beginnings.

How do you combine music with fashion?

It is all art. One influences the other. Both are a means of expression or rather a way to portray oneself. I am a proud Luo so a splash of colour is what I embrace and the strong African woman in me refuses to shy away from bold prints.

Who designs your clothes?

Quite a number of talented young ladies. I have had the honour of being dressed by Marish Designs, Claire Fashion Garage and Lillian Kyabaki.

What fabric do you prefer?
I always go with what is comfortable and agrees with my skin.