By Byaruhanga Felix (@TheNinjaFelix)
You know that CNN article that’s on almost every Ugandan’s social media timeline talking about how the Rolex is one of Africa’s foods taking off? Yes that one, it should have had Young Cardamom & Hab’s Kanda (Chap Chap) video attached to it. Why? Just click here to watch the video. Anyway its an odd way to start a hip-hop interview but bear with me cause this interview isn’t about typical rappers as you’ll be reading and clicking on the particular links attached/embedded within the article. At the start of this year we were hosted on So Severe‘s hip-hop show (watch it here) and as he closed he played Kanda (Chap Chap) . Immediately, we had to ask who is rapping and to answer our questions Severe had to just let us stream the video before leaving the station. Fast forward to June 2016 I’m having a discussion with gentlemen behind the “Rolex Anthem” about their journey in the industry and their recently released EP “Sidda Mukyaalo”.
QN: To Start off how did Young Cardamom (YC) & HAB start to rap?
HAB: Our rap career started after I had worked on a certain movie project (Queen of Katwe) with my brother YC here. We were working in the casting department, so in the course of our work we happened to meet Hannz Tactiq. Hannz made for us a beat which later became Kanda – our first single.
YC: You know we have to credit Hannz as HAB is saying, he gave us confidence. We had thought of doing music for a while yet when you don’t know something it can seem insurmountable. But then you meet Hannz and he tells you I can make the beat for you, record, mix & master for you – it all started to seem a lot more possible. We then started going to Hannz’s studio in Kabalagala after work – which would generally end at 11 or midnight. It was just work and recording, work and recording. Also to add on HAB’s backstory, we have been brothers for around 10 years. We grew up in Buziga as neighbors.
QN: In your introduction you’ve talked about working on a movie, is that also part of the hustle that people can look into to hire you guys for? Also does this expertise play a role in shooting your videos?
YC: This is actually the first time we’ve ever mentioned that we worked on a movie because people then will associate us with only that but we’re more than just that one experience. We worked very hard on the film, in casting and as an assistant director so we definitely have the talent for that world, but it’s hard to focus just on film when you’re in Uganda. For us, when it comes to videos, it’s a very collaborative process. If you see our video Kanda, it was directed by Onoh, then P. S. V. was directed by Martin Kharumwa and we’ve already shot the next video for Wabula Naawe with Moses Bwayo. We bring a lot of concepts to the video that the director helps to fine tune and make into a finished project.
HAB: When we‘re shooting our videos, we first sit down, write out the concept of what our video should be like, what it should be about, and how to shoot it. We discuss these things ourselves and then we work with a director who adds their own flavor.
QN: Let’s talk about your latest work (EP) “Sidda Mukyaalo”. What’s the background and why that title?
HAB: Sidda Mukyaalo means “I’m not going back to village”. As for me, HAB, I’m a native Ugandan but the thing is that generally here in Uganda we associate going back to the village with the fact that we’ve already worked hard in the city ‘cause the city is the place we come to for greener pastures. So you work hard and by the time you go back to the village you’re settling down.
YC: For me, I’m an Asian Ugandan. There’s no Asian Ugandan village. So, while Uganda is my birthplace and home, I don’t have anything besides Kampala. I was born in Nsambya hospital and I’ve lived in Buziga since birth. So there’s no place for us to go to, Kampala is the final chance for us to make it in Uganda. The inspiration for the title came from seeing a boda guy dressed in full leather with writing on the back “No Going Back To The Village.” That determination is what we want in our work as rappers ‘cause its not enough to make good music, you have to promote it, move up and down, and get the music into people’s hands.
QN: As I listened to the tape there are a lot of languages you guys rapped in so one can easily notice the cultural influence on your music, so how have the fans received that?
HAB: Well, the thing is when you look at Kampala you can’t really just define it by Luganda and English. It’s made up of different people from different backgrounds. So when we rap in different languages we’re speaking to people from all societies in Kampala. Personally I speak Runyoro, Luganda, Lununbi, English and Swahili. The fans I’ve interacted with, they love the music but then ask “Which genre do you guys do?” So we’ve to tell them we‘re doing hip-hop though doing it differently in a way that defines Young Cardamom & HAB.
YC: We have to be true to ourselves. It’s like if I rap a full song in Luganda that’s not being true cause I’m not fluent in Luganda. I know Luganda but its from songs & adverts. So we have to be honest with people. My lyrics on the EP are in three languages, Luganda, English and Hindi while Hab five languages like he stated. If you talk about the linguistic heritage of Kampala in an area like Kabalagala, it’s diverse which is the basis of our concept of Kampala. You may not understand all the words but you’ll understand the feeling. We’ve been humbled by how people have welcomed us.
YC: I think people need to understand that whatever we do is never calculated. It’s not a strategy to rap in these languages. This is who we are. We can’t put up an act cause it’s had to maintain. In the process of doing so, however, we’ve faced many obstacles – just like any other upcoming artist.
HAB: Personally I think some of these obstacles are just someone’s mindset and we can’t change that. So we just have to keep pushing and distributing our works on all the TVs/Radios that welcome us. And also some fans, they may not like we do today but in the long run, as we continue, maybe there will be something we shall do that grips them.
QN: I realized on this project there’s less collaboration, two producer of which one is Ugandan. On your next project are you guys planning on including more collaborations & Ugandans?
HAB: In music you can’t be selfish doing all the things by yourself. So, we look forward on collaborating with more Ugandan artists as well if there are any other producers who are good and available – we shall work with them. For the producers on this project, we worked with Sandhill, a Canadian producer, and Izaya.
YC: In the beginning of your life as artists, you don’t face expectations from the outside about you work and you also don’t know your limits. We used this EP as a chance to test our limits, with an example that there are songs where I’m singing. On this project we only have one feature – Ali Sethi, a fantastic Pakistani singer. We worked with him because we simply understood that the track “Chotti Bahu” needed something neither HAB nor I could provide, and it was something only Ali could’ve done. And there are a lot of talented producers and artists in Uganda. We are definitely ready to jump on tracks where we can be featured.
QN: Lastly what are your thoughts on the UG music industry and the rap industry? As you answer that enlighten more on the money making bit of the industry and how you guys are finding it.
HAB: Well for me as HAB, our rap industry is occupied by guys who really know how to rap but often fail to maintain it. A guy will do one album and then just chill out. Recording good music in a studio is not enough, you need to push it. That’s lacking in our hip-hop section. We as a duo we don’t put money first, money comes in the long run.
YC: To add on to what HAB said, there are a lot of artists who make great songs and then just disappear. We’re also guilty of the same. We made Kanda and disappeared for 5 months. Now we are trying to be different in terms of consistency. There are people whom you have to applaud when it comes to consistency like Navio. My thought on the Ugandan hip-hop industry is that we tend to think that the world is much smaller than it is. Something can rock the world of Ugandan hip-hop and only 1000 people know about it yet we are in a country of 30 plus million people. So we have to think of Ugandan hip-hop as part of Uganda as a whole and not as part of a small segment of uptown Kampala society. That’s why we want to go perform in Soroti and anywhere that will have us.