A Pass, real name Alexander Bagonza, has crafted himself into a household asset in the Ugandan music industry. His exuberant social demeanour and knack of making good music have placed him on the center of conversation.
With hundreds of songs in his catalogue, the 28-year-old musician finds time to create conversations with his fans -- expressing how he feels about his country and the issues affecting the society.
We talked to Apass.
Yeah, you know! I'm here to have your mind on a few things -- but first your album - African Yayo -- I realised media didn't talk about it that much.
People here don't know about music albums, they know photo albums. Most people don't understand what they call albums. Why they are done and for what purpose. They are used to singles where someone does a tune and put it out there; then start talking about it -- this and that.
I understand what an album is because I remember buying people's albums and listening to artistes albums when I was a kid. I appreciate that albums are a body of work.
People coming up with stuff and putting it together. So, that is why I have been doing albums -- from "Nva Kampala" to this one (African Yayo).
"Nva Kampala" was massive because it introduced you to the masses.
Exactly! And it's still doing so.
I mean, I was in a taxi coming here (to his home which doubles as a studio) and they played "Tuli kubigere". I was like "this is the vibe, the music people are supposed to be releasing". "Didada" was the first song off the album "African Yayo" and you released it at a time when people thought Apass is gone. That was the same time you were being compared to Latinum despite all your body of work.
True! True! But I wouldn't say "despite". It's disrespect. I don't think anyone should ever compare me to any Ugandan artiste. It's unfair. It's like comparing Jay-Z to Lil Yatchy. Those are jokes. It doesn't match. The levels of understanding and artistry are different, you know! We are way diverse. These are other people trying to make a way by learning from other people who are us and you start comparing me to someone who is learning from me. At the same time, my level of doing music is way beyond that.
I feel like people went into that stage because I took one year and a half off.
It was a long time for a person who has released "Nva Kampala", a solid album. It literally felt like you were releasing a song every day.
It was a very long time for a person who released "Memories", "Gamululu".
That period felt like "okay, Apass has run out of art. To me, the first song off African yayo -- (Didada) -- sounded like a signal of "you know what guys, I have been cooking -- and you know what, shut up!". Did you feel the same way?
Yes. I just wanted people to keep quiet. There were so many other people who were talking so much stuff about me -- saying I'm out and I have run out of lyrics. They bet money and done so much stuff like I can't really come back because it's hard for someone to come back!
I know how to make music. The problem is that people feel like when you don't release music or overexposed, you ain't doing anything.
I believe creating music is not a one-day event. It's a process. When I first listened to Didada -- I said Apass is here, again and he has come to prove that he still has the juice.
People were having a moment. When they don't have you and they have other substitutes, they start saying! You know when Ronaldo is on the bench because he got an injury and because you have Welbeck and is doing well, it doesn't mean that Ronaldo is not the great one. The problem is that people don't relate music to other parts of life. Your dad not being able to provide food today or tomorrow doesn't mean he hasn't been doing it for a while and doesn't mean he won't do it after.
When I dropped Didada, I just wanted to show people very abstract and very different.
Yeah. It was different. "Nva Kampala" was really cool. Deep and packaged. You opened up on "African Yayo". Did you feel pressurised when creating Didada?
The day I recorded that song I knew it was a hit song. I even told Herbert Skills when I was showing him how we were going to create the beat -- because I produced it myself. I told him what I wanted. This is the kind of kick I want, it's going to sound like this. I want it to move like this. I don't play but I actually make the beats of most of the songs, not every song. Some of the songs are done by guys entirely and some songs I bring out the idea and we create. I'm a producer -- they make the beats and I produce the songs -- I write and produce the whole song. So, I monitor everything, from mixing to mastering. When I sent the vocals to Herbert Skillz, because it was on a BPM, I told him this was going to be a dope song.
I listen to a lot of music, I know what kind of kick I want. Then I bring the reference of the kick and how I want it to be played. This guy did it in one day and sent it to me the next day, I was like "this is it".
How was the process of creating African Yayo? 26 songs mean a lot of time and creativity.
This album took a while because some songs come from 2013, 2014, and 2015. It was a long process because I always wanted to do an album. I have so many albums, to be honest, that I have already organised and I know this is what I want for this and this. I'm ready for so many things, I'm not really rushing on anything and I feel like making the Nva Kampala album, I just wanted to step a level ahead of that and create something.
That is why you're looking at that artwork there (points at a huge portrait hanging on his wall. It's the first thing you see when you enter the house). We didn't really want to do this artwork whereby someone takes a picture and it's just a picture. We had to do a painting for the album itself. That took a lot of time. It's not easy.
The first time I saw the artwork, I was wowed. It embodies the whole feel of the album.
Yes, and the whole idea of "African Yayo".
What was the reception? How did your fans react to your new music?
First of all, I want to thank the Ugandan musicians that posted my album. So many of them posted about it which is weird.
You're a funny guy and you relate to people. If anyone didn't share it, then he or she has a bias.
I may not follow people on Twitter or Instagram but there is a vibe I give.
All of a sudden you were following no one on Twitter.
I had to do something different.
Was that a strategy?
It is more of a strategy to get people to check on what you're doing. When people follow you, they tend to leave things. I meet so many people who tell me to follow them on Instagram. Why should I follow you? What is the vibe around you that I want to follow? I know myself, there is an energy I bring and that is why people follow me.
I remember days when I wasn't really doing well. Fine, I was okay but sometimes I would feel bad that there are people out there enjoying and performing on shows -- and I'm not. You watch people and feel bad. I reached a point where I said I can't be doing this. It gets to a level where it gets to you. It's so addictive.
Most of these rooms here don't have TVs. I have so many books
Really? I'm surprised you read books.
I read a lot. I have books in my studio and car. I take time to read and learn stuff. That is why I have lyrics. So many people don't have lyrics because they are not exposed to so much content. People get to feel attached to what they are used to until you get out of the comfort zone.
I realised something unique. You have a new look in your latest videos.
The suits? Yes!
Is it some sort of rebranding?
Exactly. You don't want to come back when you're a normal guy. When I come on TV, I need to be presentable in a certain way and stand out.
You don't want to call yourself a teacher and then you...
(Apass Laughing)...land then look like a prefect. We need to know what we are making stuff and what we need from them.
How should musicians generate additional revenue? It's something you're doing great online.
Some artistes are not cut out to be ambassadors or voiceover artistes. I think it's lack of imagination and creativity. For example, I'm the Uber ambassador in Uganda. I was an ambassador for Airtel and other different brands. People feel like there is a vibe you have that they need to associate with. I'm ready for anything around music that connects to the people and community. You won't get so many shows, they are few.
Talking about community, you were one of the few artistes that I expected to talk tough and protest against social media tax. How did it come about?
It's only natural. There are policies I can't agree with. I may not do much; I may come and talk about it and protest to show how I feel representing other people. I'm very honest about my views. I'm never shy to say something I believe in or disagree with. If something is not cool, address it. It is very hard when you're thinking things and the other person is thinking but you all can't agree.
I stood for that because I believed in it and I think it's unjust. These people are taking money from poor Ugandans who are hustling.
During the protests, social media people were saying you disappeared when you saw police officers.
The cameras panned away from me. We stood there; Nubian, Dan Magic and I. The guys who were coming wanted Bobi Wine only, the focus was on him. They left us there -- I just went back home.
Do you think politics is influencing the way you approach music?
I think politics has always influenced how we work. Some artistes may not talk about it openly but it really affects them as well. I have always sung songs about politics; for example, "ameenvu" and "Omwaka Gguno". It's not new to me. We are just a mirror of what happens in our society. If we don't speak about what happens in our society then we are not really artistes -- we are musical prostitutes.
There are those who argue that artists should separate art from politics. What you have to say to them?
You can't. I think most people are small minded. They don't want someone who is popular to talk about politics. That is their problem. If I joined politics, it would be a crazy vibe. First of all, I'm outspoken. I'm more outspoken than Bobi Wine. I have very strong views about how the country operates and how best I would want things to operate. It's just that I'm not interested in politics. You need to sit with me one day and see how I look at things. It's very different. We sing for people, we study them, we know people. You can't be a musician when you don't know people. I feel like to a certain level, most people are small-minded and don't think outside the box. We think outside the box and kick the box away. Because I'm driving then I'm no longer a musician? And I am a driver? Because you think I make jokes I'm a comedian? No!
Bebe Cool. Is there actual bad blood there?
No there isn't. I don't think I will ever have any bad blood with any artiste, it's useless. Why? When I'm in a position I like? When I'm the one supposed to shoot my videos and write my own songs. Why would I bother with another man? I wouldn't. There is never gonna be bad blood. I will just inform them when they go wrong.
Some people think you're childish because you troll a lot?
They are also childish. If they think I'm childish, they should come and tell it to my face. How can they even prove it? Am I childish to be living in such a big place alone? Does a child have a big car?
Does a child have a studio in his house worth UGX100m? If a child is doing all that for himself, then he is very smart. I totally understand some people on social media. They want to act differently.
I think society always wants to shape people.
Meanwhile, do you do think what happened to Bebe Cool on stage is a perfect example of why Musicians should stay away from politics?
I don't think it's. I think musicians need to know when to put politics aside. For Bebe's situation, it was a different setting -- it's not really because he supports the government and people don't like him. He has always supported the government and no one had faulted him. He didn't care what a brother (Bobi Wine) was going through at that time. And he goes on to say Bobi Wine is pretending. It's a problem for people who are listening to such things who really care about this person. The doctors have confirmed that he needs to go for treatment and you think he is playing. You can't start joking like that.
I liked the way Sheebah handled the backlash.
She wanted to stay clear because she said stupid stuff before. She said that what Bebe Cool went through wasn't good. Which is true! But you're telling this to vicious people who are angrier.
What angers people is that musicians who didn't condemn Bobi Wine situation were coming out loud to talk tough against what they did to Bebe.
They knew what Bobi Wine went through and everybody was quiet. Sheebah was quiet. Her post was very unnecessary. If something is black and white, say it. Don't pretend to keep people so you can get shows and avoid losing people who want to give you gigs. You would rather lose that and keep your respect. She realised what she had written.
Would you vote for Bobi Wine if he stood for the presidency?
Apass: Why not? I vote for policies. It doesn't matter if it is Bobi Wine or Museveni or Besigye; I always look at the policies.
Does Bobi Wine have solid and convincing policies?
I think it's one thing he is supposed to talk about more. I see so many of these politicians saying Museveni should go; What is the plan? I have heard these things over and over again.
There is nothing new. We really need change and people should be wise. I think Museveni should leave immediately. He is done. There is nothing new.
Whoever is coming next should stand with a serious plan. Uganda is so backward. Imagine they are charging Ugandans for using applications they didn't even develop
They are taking us for a ride?
Ugandans need to know that these people have no clue on what they are doing and where they are going. We need to prove them wrong. Politicians have a tradition of not keeping their promises. We need to guard our vote.
People have different opinions. Do you think they ought to be respected?
Some opinions are wrong. Anyone can have an opinion. But is it a fact? Is it true? Is it human enough? If many people think your opinion is wrong, what do you think?
It is trash
Apass: Journalists are being beaten. Is it okay? Have they caught people who did it? No. Have they bothered to find out which person shot Bobi Wine's driver? People have beaten Bobi and it's confirmed! People are at a level where they are not thinking!