Acoustic moments: A portrait of Michael Ouma

Photo of Michael Ouma. Taken from his Myspace-site.

A talented and multidimensional artist in his own right, Michael Ouma has been there and done that and lived to play the tune. His insight into music is almost legendary and gives one the sense that he plays from a totally otherworldly place compared to his peers. His passion for music and his desire to see the day when Uganda’s music and its instruments are recognized globally fuel his daily pursuit to become better at what he does.

By Samuel Lutaaya

I met up with him at the Alliance Française offices and he had this to say about himself.

I know this is a rather weird question to start with, but what is it with the hat?

I have always liked wearing headgear like hats, skullcaps and the like.  Wearing hats started out as fun and it eventually evolved into a signature for me. It became more of my identity because most people would refer to me as the guitarist with the hat. After all, there are not many players that wear hats.

Since we are talking about indentity, I have heard many people refer to you as Uganda’s Carlos Santana. Does this reference bother you?

Interestingly enough, it does not. There is one thing in this life that we all must come to terms with and that is the fact that there is a diversity of opinions and that everyone is entitled to his or hers.

I play various instruments and the guitar, you may find surprising, is an instrument I only picked up later in life. My initial interest was in the drums. I love Carlos Santana’s style of play and he has used his instrument of choice to carve out a place for himself in the industry.

I have a different style and if you listen very critically, you can hear the difference. I find it sad that people have boxed themselves in with that image because it kills the authenticity I have created. I can only imagine what would happen when I put on a concert.

Speaking of concerts, is there any coming up soon? What are you doing to come up to that point?

I am planning one for the end of the year but the details are a bit hazy even for me at this point. I will definitely keep you posted on whatever plans I have for the show.

I am aware that the range of the number of instruments you play is broad. Please tell me how you started out.

Photo of Michael Ouma. Taken from his Myspace-site.

I had a diverse musical upbringing. We had a guitar at home but I was more taken by the drums. In secondary school at Makerere College, I studied music formally engaging in classical piano, trumpet, saxophone, and even tried violin. I was also exposed to traditional instruments in the form of the tube fiddle, akogo (thumb piano), amadinda (xylophone), lyre, adungu (bow harp) which I mostly played, traditional drums, ndere (flute) . An instrument is a tool of expression, an extension of an individual.

Albums produced?

My debut album was self titled, Michael Ouma, and it was a collection of pieces for guitar. My next album will definitely incorporate the other side of me with the traditional instruments featuring prominently.

Have you performed at the World Music Day before?

I have as part of Soul Beat Africa. We played our own set as well as being a support band for artists like Suzan Kerunen and Sarah Ndagire. This is the first time I am playing as Michael Ouma.

What do you feel is your contribution to the event?

World Music Day (read about the event on Facebook) is a celebration of music. I am performing instrumentally laid music and as such I believe I will add to the variety. Besides, my presence there is definite proof of my commitment to the music industry and its development.

The audience should definitely expect a fusion of jazz and world music from my performance. I am doing instrumentally led music as opposed to the previous performances where I used to accompany the singers.

Many prominent musicians have either become producers or started their own studios or both. Do you see yourself on that path?

I have been a session producer for a while. Production is more about bringing the artist from the very start of his career to deciding the sound of the music and everything that defines the artist. Sarah Tamba is one of the artists I have produced. Her upcoming album is a co production with Sam Bisase, Festo Mugume, Dan Hama and herself. I am happy about the album because we have put in both the western and traditional Ugandan feel in it.

I do a lot of session instrumentation in various studios in town. I have worked with both mainstream and world music artists like Joel Sebunjo, Sarah Ndagire, Iryn Namubiru, Juliana Kanyomozi, Angela Kalule, Angela Katatumba, Qwela, Suzan Kerunen, to mention a few.

I would love to eventually have my own studio for my personal production of demos and stuff.

What path is your career taking and what does the future look for you?

I am at the point in my life when I have found the exit after going round the round about for a long time. I am venturing into instrumentally laid world music. It is a marriage between jazz and, world music.

Getting our traditional melodies, rhythms and instruments at the forefront is of deep interest to me and I feel that I would like to see Ugandan music and instruments find their place on the world map just like the kora and djembe. On my various travels, it is clear to me the importance of these two instruments in defining what music from the region is about and how it sounds. They both produce a distinct sound. Our music is beautiful and has something to say and we need to make sure we can share it with the world, not just as good music but also as our source of identity.

A Herculean task it is, is it not?

I know, but I would love to collaborate with various artists to make this a reality. Whatever they are doing will add to our contribution eventually to the field.

Even though each of us plays and delivers the music in different ways, we all contribute to what is known as world music in Uganda and push the banner out for the world to take notice of who we are.

What is your philosophy in life?

I once heard it said that time is the passing of life. Each second of your life counts and what you use it for determines your destiny.

I also believe that whatever your hands find to do, do with all your might. I found this one in the Bible.

Final notes:

Michael Ouma symbolizes an individual who is not afraid to explore different instruments and genres of music unlike many a musician who prefer to specialize and stay comfortable in their choices. This has stood him in good stead and given him the chance to rub shoulders with various artists both here in Uganda and abroad.

For those of you, who may not know about Michael Ouma and his music please go to You will be able to listen to tracks from his first album. As for me, I am signing out of this session and look forward to meeting another talented Ugandan artist who is out to change the world.

Samuel Lutaaya is a freelance writer with a varying range of interests namely; dance, film, theatre, music, photography, fashion.