The German-born, Ugandan-based singer spoke to SMART AFRICA Editor Elvis Mboya about business of music in the face of diversity and Covid-19 pandemic:   

LIVE MUSIC: DEENA and her Team on stage.

SMART AFRICA [SA]: Please, introduce yourself to the African audience

My name is DEENA, a 28 year-old, German Afro-fusion singer and songwriter based in Kampala, Uganda.

Since 2015, I have ventured into the genre of Afro-fusion and I have been singing in various East-African languages such as Luganda, Kiswahili, Runyankore, Kinyarwanda and in English.

My aim is to do an authentic East African music and spread it to the rest of the World.

My style of music differs a little from song to song as I love to try and experience different styles.

You can find songs in my lists that would just be jazz ballads, some are more of dancehall, while others are modern Afro-house.

Describe your personality, traits

I like to think of myself as a funny person. I am very energetic and a total workaholic. I am also very down to earth, friendly and social with people.

Share your musical journey – from when you started up to now

I started playing flute and guitar from a very young age. At about 14, I began solo singing and did acoustic music, playing guitar.

I wrote my first song at 16.

Thereafter, I have been engaged in different bands, choirs, and musical groups my whole life. By doing that over the years, I have been able to get alot of stage experience.

In 2015, when my career officially began in Uganda, [the reception] was a very pleasant surprise {and my music ended up on Uganda national charts].

From there onwards, I have had an amazing journey in the Ugandan music industry.

What specifically inspired you into mainstream music?

I don’t think I was inspired per se to join the “mainstream” music. I just did music and landed somehow in the charts in Uganda.

I think that is the real magic about it. I really didn’t have any expectations about it when I started.

I just wanted to do good music with some great people and that’s what I have done [and continue to do].

But, I guess God had his plans for me too.

Music should not be all about making money. I [just] fell in love with African music and all her diversity

STREETWISE: DEENA enjoying herself at an African food market.

Apart from singing, what other stage talents do you posses?

I totally love acting. It is a real passion for me and probably the reason why I enjoy video shoots so much.

I am also a good dancer (I think haha) and sometimes I love to do stage choreography myself.

I also love costume design and passionate about tailoring.

To be honest, I am interested in almost everything around music and entertainment.

I even edited, cut and coloured my own video before!

Professionally, what have you studied in school and at what level/work experience?

I finished A levels in 2012. My focus subjects in school were Languages and Sport.

I learned English, French and Italian.

From 2014 – 2018, I studied Social Work at a University in Berlin, Germany while I was doing music at the same time.

It was not easy but I managed both and finished with a Bachelor of Arts [B.A.] in Social Work.

Kindly introduce us to the team behind this daring yet passionate talent

From the beginning of my [professional] career in 2015, I have been signed and managed by Ruff’n’Tuff Records, which is an African record company with an increasing international visibility.

They have been doing an amazing job in connecting me and my music to so many talented producers, video-producers and other singers and artist all over East-Africa region and in Namibia.

I have had the chance to successfully perform, appear and tour Germany, Uganda and Namibia. So, big up to my record label, Ruff’n’Tuff Records!

Your country, Germany and continental Europe offer excellent infrastructure for nurturing talents. Why do you have interest in African audience where artists still struggle to survive?

Music should not be all about making money. I [just] fell in love with African music and all her diversity.

From the start, my wish was to learn how to do it and to get to know the industry and its amazing talents.

In Europe, and especially Germany, the audience for African music is very small. It is growing but you will not find the talents you can find here in Africa.

Secondly, I have been based in Kampala for many years now and of course I wish to pursue my music career where I prefer to live.

Briefly, share your personal experience in Africa: which countries have you visited and what lasting memories have you derived from each one of them?

Oh, I have seen so many beautiful countries and places all over Africa.

I have been to Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and of course Uganda.

I have also travelled to Northern African countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. 

At some point in time, I would like to travel to West Africa. I would really like to see Nigeria.

And, this may sound funny but I believe the best way to experience a country is through the stomach.

Most of the time, I tend to go back to countries where they have a particular good food.

So, you could say I like to eat my way through. Because I believe people who can make good food can also enjoy life.

That’s why you will often spot me eating street foods. I think street food really show how a society works.

Anyway, it has been an absolute privilege to be able to travel to so many countries in Africa and meet so many different people, cultures and their ways of life.

I would really love to work with Kenya’s Sauti Sol, Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, DRC’s Koffi Olomide, and Nigeria’s Yemi Alade!

BUSINESS: DEENA networking with Ugandan musician-turned politician Bobi Wine and his company.

What plans do you have in place to penetrate other African markets and to compete with existing talents in a cutthroat yet growing industry?

I don’t see myself competing anybody to be honest. I would be very humble just to continue making good music.

I am very humbled to see people liking my music or listening to it. It makes me proud to actually be able to connect people with each other [through music].

The same [gesture] I see with other artists and entertainers in the industry.

Therefore, instead of competition, I would rather like to work together and make a difference than “cutthroat” [competition].

Many musicians in Africa don’t make much money, even to sufficiently provide for their daily basic needs, amidst costly music and video production and meager royalties. What are your plans to monetize on your talent or do you have other revenue streams?

Haha! That is a good question that my management should answer. I am just an artist and that is all I want to be.

I believe having the pressure of success (usually measured in money) is very obstructive to any artist.

Who are some of the established artists/labels in Africa would you wish to have strategic partnerships with, to enable you have the right platform you desire to scale up your singing career?

Again, here I would like to speak from an artistic kind of view instead of a “strategic” one.

I am the kind of an artist who doesn’t look at another person’s success [for comparison].

You might be an absolute newcomer or underground musician, but if your music is nice and kicks me I will work with you.

I really appreciate to go to small pubs, bars and clubs and [interact with] low key musicians. Most of the time you will find the real talent in there. Not the auto-tuned ones….

If it comes to well established artists, I would really love to work with [Kenya’s] Sauti Sol. They are super amazing and good musicians and are guitar players like me.

In Tanzania, it would be without a doubt Diamond Platnumz.

Further, if I ever have an opportunity for live stage performance with DRC’s Koffi Olomide, I would probably faint out of excitement!

And, one of my absolute favourites is Nigeria’s Yemi Alade. I adore everything she does!

Many entertainers in Africa dream of a career in Europe, believed to be more lucrative. How’s music business in your home country compared to Africa, including other places you have visited and how would you advise young talented Africans yearning for European market?

I would really love to see more African musicians venturing into the European music industry.

I think we could be learning a lot from each other. If there can be more opportunities, for instance, if there can be financed programmes, there would be some successful music created – that I am sure of.

I also believe that the young generation like myself are very globally connected through the internet.

[With growing use of technology] nowadays, it’s actually possible to sit in Germany but listing to a Kenyan artists, for instance.

I would definitely advise artists to use streaming platforms to make their music available and of course through the big social media platforms.

I would also advice artists from Africa to apply for financed cultural and music programmes or to get gigs at those many summer festivals in Europe. The audience for Afro-music in Europe is still small yet it is growing.

Your daring move to venture into African music space is admirable and could be received with mixed feelings. What are your real personal expectations?

I don’t have any personal expectations in particular. I am certainly not here to fight or to offend anyone as well.

But, I would be super excited if I could have a chance to work here and get to know the industry better.

Covid-19 pandemic has regressed many gains in the music and entertainment business since air traveling and face-to-face events have either been halted or shifted to digital space across the globe as governments effect health protocols to curb the virus. How has this ‘new normal’ affected your singing activities and what other options are you pursuing? 

To be honest Covid-19 has affected music and arts massively. We are only able to make arts and music seen because we perform live.

And, it’s not just the financial aspect of it but music lives from spreading and exchange between humans.

Whatever options that are currently available like YouTube channels and TV performances, among others, are good trials, but in my opinion it can not replace what live music does.

Those musicians who currently survive and continue through the pandemic are the same ones who are financially enabled through their big labels.They simply can afford it.

Small or underground musicians are totally helpless. It is very sad.

I think currently nobody knows if and how the art industry will really recover. But I really pray it will.

For my part, I have been stepping back to focus on other parts of my current life.

[While under lockdown] I have been having studio time working on new ideas or projects.

I also enjoy some time off a bit to cool off my mind.

At times, the music industry can be very hectic and overwhelming.

I want to show that African music doesn’t need pity. They are hard working people who should be respected and their talents uplifted!

TERI TULO: DEENA on the cover of her music album.

Are you the next ‘Madonna’ of Africa – musically, philanthropically or for ‘passion for the continent?

I don’t think it is possible to compare me to Madonna. And, I also certainly would not like to be compared to her. Some very famous international artists like Madonna might be promoting [the concept] of having passion for the African continent, but I believe most of it is unfortunately for marketing purposes.

They might come to support social projects or being filmed in orphanages (which is nice for charity organisations), but from a musical view, I would rather like to see those artist coming and actually working and featuring with African artists.

Instead of doing charity, they could actually promote the industry and African artists through roping in these artists into their networks.

If they make artists known [through their networks], they would be empowered to support themselves instead of being held down by an overpowering American music market. That would be real support I guess.

I have been trying to do that in Germany as well in my media appearances through portraying the diversity and richness of music in the African continent.

Through my experience in the Ugandan music industry, I am hopefully to portray a modern picture of an African country.

I want to show that African music doesn’t need pity. They are hard working people who should be respected and their talents uplifted.

That is a picture that is so unknown to most people in Europe [and Western world] hence they would just not cross their minds to invite African artists and see the value in it.

Lastly, I have to say that my journey in the Ugandan music industry has been full of challenges. But I have seen, learned alot and have really grown musically and as a person. That experience, I will always appreciate from the bottom of my heart.

Please, share a public profile/website or online platforms where your fans can easily access your information and day to day music activities?

Facebook: DEENA UG, Instagram: deena_ug, YouTube: Ruff’n’Tuff Records, and of course you can listen to my music on all online platforms such as Spotify, and iTunes, among others.

It would be lovely to have Africans support and follow me online so that we can have more fun together and do business.  

A JIG: DEENA and dancers on stage.

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