Peace African Youth Ensemble (PAYE)

Ri Iyovwaye

London, UK - Jul 2007

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Apart from the immense talent that this group of young Ugandan based musicians posses, what also appealed was the genuinely patriotic stance through which they hope to reach all of their compatriots together with their strong sense and value for tradition.

Based and started in Uganda in December 2004 by musicians Kulungi Israel and Ronald Kibirige, from a group of seven they have now mushroomed to seventeen members. Through their talent and love of music, their main aim is to help artistically talented youth to develop and benefit from their abilities.

While many other bands are set on world-wide acclaim PAYE simply want to sell enough recordings to buy a PA system and be able to afford to record more of their music. Many of the band members are orphans who have been touched by the scourge of war or aids, in the long term PAYE hope to build a facility where youngsters like themselves can record their material and use part of it as a home. They are keen to talk to any sponsors who can help them realise this goal.

Their debut album ‘Mama Africa’ is a real revelation considering that it was recorded with only one stereo microphone direct to mini disc. Everything was done in real time with no fancy multi-tracking or effects processors. At the mastering stage only eq and light reverb were added to finalise things. What results from this modest recording set-up is a sound that is an honest and heartfelt expression of life through youthful eyes. The album proudly wears its traditional African music credentials on its sleeve yet in some parts tastefully adds elements of western music to good effect.

In this day and age of MTV and hip hop, it’s surprising to find a group of youngsters who have not been persuaded by the glitz and glam on our TV screens to follow the herd.

From London, AGN caught up with PAYE in Uganda by telephone to get a feel for where things are at.

AGN: What is the current average age of the group?

PAYE: The youngest member is 7 and the oldest is 25. We have an average age of 16.

AGN: Who are the people who are most receptive to your music?

PAYE: We tend to find those in the 30+ age range are the most receptive, they generally seem to be more into the traditional aspects of what we do.

AGN: How do the youths take to your music?

PAYE: It’s an uphill task getting them to listen to what we do. The popularity of Western music styles coupled with the sheer volume of media through which they reach local youths makes it a challenge for us to gain visibility.

AGN: Can you see such attitudes changing?

PAYE: If more is done to promote traditional music and the value and self worth that their existence can engender, I think attitudes will change. We will continue to do our best to expose the beauty of traditional music.

AGN: You rely heavily on traditional instruments, is it difficult or expensive to find experienced musicians to teach you and help you develop?

PAYE: Not really. We get taught a lot at school, many band members also belong to cultural troupes and hence receive further instruction via this route.

AGN: Production wise, what is your biggest challenge?

PAYE: Recording time is very pricey and so is the production of CD’s, ultimately generating sufficient funds to record and reproduce/ market our music is the biggest challenge.

AGN: Where do you see things heading within the next few years?

PAYE: The fact that there are over 50 distinct ethnic groups in Uganda also brings about other challenges, people tend not to embrace music sung in the languages of other ethnic groups. We hope to create wider appeal with future recordings by combining different languages on the same songs. Thankfully the band is blessed with musicians from different ethnic groups across Uganda. Hopefully we can harness this to good effect.

AGN: Thank you for taking a moment to talk to us. We wish you the very best with your future endeavours.