The Book of Kirya: Songs written in the future about the past

Maurice Kirya. Photo by courtesy of Maurice Kirya's Facebook-page.

More than anything else, Book of Kirya is about helping others. If Misubbaawa was about lighting the candle, Book is about demonstrating to the whole world of onlookers that the light has not gone out. It is still shinning, bringing light, and if you bring your light, like Kirya is trying, like in Mulembe gwa Kirya, this light can become a fire, a blaze, an unstoppable inferno.

Reviewed by Iwaya

There are so many Maurices’ that it’s hard to know which Maurice to begin with. Should we talk about Maurice Kirya the winner of the 2010 RFI Discoveries Award? The first musician from a majorly English-speaking African country to win that prestigious Francophone music award.

Or should we talk about Maurice, the live band exponent? A young musician who, when most of the upcoming musical talents decided to stop fighting against miming, stuck all the more to playing live.

Perhaps we should talk about the private Maurice Kirya, the lover of old things? Antiques. Most notably, Maurice used to turn heads in Kampala riding in a battered VW Beetle he claimed had been former Ugandan President Idi Amin’s Volkswagen. But when you talked to Maurice, caught him at a good time, he liked to cheekily hint that old cars were not the only older-than-his-years interests he actively pursued. (Wink! Wink!)

Then, there is the Maurice who, not able to find an immediate platform to reach his fans in the mainstream Ugandan press, early spotted the opportunity the burgeoning interactive social media scene gave him. One of the first Ugandan musicians based in Uganda to open accounts in MySpace, Facebook, Twitter plus a personal YouTube channel, and still counting. Not just open, but use those platforms to aggressively market his music and win himself new fans.

Maurice the Artist

No, let’s talk about the Maurice that matters most to Maurice. The Maurice that was there before the fame and that will endure in the evening years of his career. The Maurice who wants to inspire. The Maurice who at 28—but really, ever since his career begun at 16—has been thinking about the legacy he wants to leave behind, his musical imprint.

Maurice Kirya. Photo by courtesy of Maurice Kirya’s Facebook-page.

An award win as big as the 2010 RFI Award would have been a chance to chest thump and declare, “I told you so!” Instead, this is what Maurice had to say after the September 16th-win:

“To me, this is a good opportunity to expose my country. It is an opportunity for me to show that there are so many people like me in Uganda, if I could turn people to look this way.”

This was also Maurice Kirya in 2010: “We want to lead a generation so that people can grow up and say they want to be like us.”

The Book of Kirya

Maurice Kirya makes it look easy. But it isn’t easy really. That’s why he takes years to put out an album. That’s why he would have The Blue Dress Song ready and doubt it, doubt it. Keep asking trusted ears if it sounded right, if it was the right song for him to put out.

You would not suspect this, going by the public persona Maurice strives to give off, that he could doubt himself. That his talent and his band could come up with a song they enjoy jamming to in their garage but he remains hesitant to share.

If you listen to Blue Dress carefully, you will find this self-questoning embedded in the lyrics. This anguish—don’t think this is about me…it’s just a story.

Since when were musicians so concerned about morality and what people think? Musicians are supposed to have a free pass to promiscuity. Many women swooning, banging down their doors, and spewing vitriol at each other’s Facebook page is testimony to the musician’s lovability.

The album cover of the Book of Kirya, 2012.

But here is Maurice, trying to be part of the pack but his talent not letting him. It is where lyrics like “I have this friend inside of me who says if I believe, I’ll be alright” spring from in Until My Lungs Fail Me. At first, it might seem like a simple song to you about a musician’s craving to always be on the stage, in the limelight. Dying at work, like Miriam Makeba, that’s the nirvana of an artist in the grip of their creative daemon.

You would not be able to tell, until you have listened again and again, that Lungs Fail Me is really a cry not to fail himself. Urge others not to fail their innate talent. Do the thing that you were brought into this world to do until you die. Die trying to be the best you can be at it. Help others.

Helping others

More than anything else, Book of Kirya is about helping others. If Misubbaawa was about lighting the candle, Book is about demonstrating to the whole world of onlookers that the light has not gone out. It is still shinning, bringing light, and if you bring your light, like Kirya is trying, like in Mulembe gwa Kirya, this light can become a fire, a blaze, an unstoppable inferno.

It is a marching song: Kirya wants to lead.

Previously, as the most diplomatic of musicians, you could never have got Maurice to condemn a mosquito as a harmful insect. Now Maurice is not afraid to share more than the music credo he shares with Michael Jackson on Don’t Wanna Fight: “I’m a simple music man”.

On Fight, Maurice will go so far as address a worrying a fad among Ugandan musicians; the turning of music fights into physical street altercations.

Maurice does not just want to name-check his concern with this newest form of headline-grabbing. He wants to understand it and his judgment is unforgiving: “Some of you have forgotten what brought us here; you have lost your way”. The fights are a form of compensation for an inner musical hollowness.

Don’t Cry

But perhaps the most important song on Book of Kirya is one that will not soon be played on any of our FM stations in Uganda. Or video replayed on a music show on our TVs. It is a song that belongs in the sitting rooms of many Ugandan homes, the iPod shuffle list of many Ugandans who will not be home with their loved ones in the holidays and will miss out on many important family occasions. That song is Don’t Cry.

Don’t Cry is the trauma every Ugandan family has experienced, like it has experienced losing a loved one to HIV/AIDS. This is another kind of loss: The absence of a loved one who is not dead, but might as well be, because some never return when they go to seek better fortunes in foreign lands, from Juba to Baghdad.

It is a dedication to the millions of Ugandans who have left this country to be able to give more to it. The Ugandans who live in foreign lands—don’t mind if they live on one meal a day—as long as their families are fed back home.

It is a deep song whose quietness sucks in. Like a good host, if you buy the genuine album, you’ll notice that Maurice noticed this too, hence Ethiopian Coffee. A joke after a sermon. A very enjoyable joke.

Iwaya is a writer, blogger and photographer passionate about new media. Other creative endeavours include

4 thoughts on “The Book of Kirya: Songs written in the future about the past

  1. I reflect on Serubiri’s submission that Maurice belongs to the era where ipads,Twiiter, Facebook and ipods rule! The question for many 21st centrury African Artist has always been how to be relevant. In so many ways, Maurice has answered that question.
    He knows his audience and communicates with them audibly on these social medias of the 2ist century.
    But the broader question can be: Isn’t there a paradox when you want to be relevant in the 21st Century to your audience and yet remain detached to a wider public who deem your music not really African because its consumed by Kids who grew up in front of T.V sets and watch films on Ipods etc?

  2. Maurice, i appreciate your music. plus that other effort to document your work. thanx, u have utilized the dot. com era musically, and pliz teach others. thanx for making our five senses to feed on live music{fresh foods} thaaaaaaaaaaaaaanx dear, u have my prayers man.

  3. Thank you, Serubiri!

    I don’t think ‘straight’ poetry is one of Maurice Kirya’s strengths, although he is quite a good prose writer. If you take the time to read some of his facebook notes, you will realise he could as easily have become a writer.

    I do not tackle Maurice in the broader musical atmosphere of kadongo kamu & hip hop simply because his stated goal has always been to move the industry in a new direction: a covert rejection of the status quo.

  4. Your review puts Maurice in the world of advanced tech, iPods, iPads, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where he perfectly belongs, and where his audience is most frequent. I still struggle with connecting Kadongo Kamu with Hip Hop and Kirya’s R&B, but you avoid that struggle altogether and instead focus on Maurice’s preaching to himself, to the young (future) generation of music lovers in Uganda as well as to his fellow musicians (Don’t Wanna Fight). You also avoid, his poetry by brushing it off as a “joke”. I have to say this is an amazingly refreshing take on Maurice Kirya in 2013!

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