by Tom Nguyen
I met GNL Zamba and his partner, Miriam Tamar, outside a show in 2016, where they introduced themselves as being new to L.A. and thanking me for cluing them into the global music scene with my site. Little did I know that GNL Zamba is Uganda’s most well-known hip hop artist, and having never mentioned his background to me, my mind was blown 2 years later when he dropped this hot freestyle this past April!
So you know what they say…the real geniuses are the ones who don’t have to say much, but when they do, y’all better listen! And trust me, I’m listening now! Here’s an interview with GNL Zamba on what exactly Lugaflow is, how love led him to Los Angeles, and forming NSIMBI, a new duo, with his wife, Miriam Tamar.
EnClave: For folks outside Uganda and in LA who don’t know, can you tell us about Lugaflow and the hip hop scene in Uganda. How long have you been rapping and what got you started?
GNL Zamba: Uganda’s music scene is very vibrant and has been for a while but that wasn’t the case for hip hop. It wasn’t mainstream, with little respect and coverage. It wasn’t considered a favorite until 2008. That is when the game totally changed. I released an album called Koyi Koyi (Riddles of Life), which became the most colossal hip hop album in Uganda’s industry. The album was under the theme of indigenous pride (Lugafow), the album used traditional chants and which made the rhymes fun and relatable. I told stories of growing poor in Kampala. The genre got its new life from the Koyi Koyi album. I became a household name with fans of all ages and the sponsorships from corporate partners helped me cement Lugaflow (indigenous language flow) into an urban movement. My first concert that year had over 12,000 people at Kyadondo rugby grounds. Something that was unprecedented for a hip hop MC before. I was overjoyed.
EnClave LA: What brought you out here to Los Angeles?
GNL Zamba: Music, Film and a girl! I often reply haha! I met my partner in Uganda almost 6 years ago; she had been working to rebuild the post war community in northern Uganda. She had just ended her work and was transitioning into music when we met. We both loved culture and were both looking for a new voice to express ourselves and the community. We worked on edutainment songs for organizations under the ministry of health to sensitize the youth about safe sex and began performing on stages together.
We were in the middle of making a super band when a personal tragedy forced her to she move back to the states. I was hesitant to join her because I loved my Ugandan life and didn’t want to trade it. I visited often and saw her whenever I had a chance to perform in the U.S.A. Until I decided to get an 01 Visa and give L.A. a try. Now we are releasing our first project together as a hip hop world fusion duo in a few weeks. It will be called NSIMBI.
EnClave LA: Tell us about the new single you just dropped like a bomb… “Yours Sincerely”…your lyrical flow is so tight. What prompted you to write this song. The Chano8 article mentioned Fefe Bussi’s Who is Who challenge. What is that and did it play a role in you writing this song?
GNL Zamba: “Yours sincerely!” is my way of sending a message to my fans that it is time to see them again. I was on Facebook live connecting with them when I got so many messages for a song or an album. I was overwhelmed by the love. It has been almost three years since I last released something. I was on top of my game when I suddenly left to LA. The mystery of why I hadn’t released new projects coupled by the fire of “Who is Who” Challenge had many MCs efforts being rated to my lyricism and wondered what “the Godfather of Lugaflow” had to say.
At the end of the Facebook live broadcast I promised my fans a song in 24 hrs. I linked up with a producer Fly Tucker in Silver lake, a friend who owns a studio where we have been recording “The Spear EP” and he began playing beats. I began free styling my ideas and message that became “Yours Sincerely!”
The 4:52 minute song is now a hit in Uganda with all major radio stations playing it (CAPITAL FM, GALAXY FM, HOT 100 FM, RADIO CITY FM, CBS to mention a few). The bloggers and the newspapers have on it and the streets (fans) can’t contain themselves.
I did not want this to be part of the “Who is Who” challenge; that is why I used a different beat from Nas’ “Hate Me Now” beat that everyone was using. I want to show off my skills but also bring young MCs into the fold of authentic hip hop. My focus right now is to use hip hop to foster entrepreneurship in my country. Make it a tool for building skills that will help the youth make a living through the art. As the “godfather of Lugaflow” I want to push for egalitarianism and cultural preservation of our languages (traditions) through hip hop. Similar to what our ancestors did around the fire place ages ago.
EnClave LA: What language are you mostly rapping in, and can you tell us what some of the lyrics mean or the message you’re projecting with this song?
GNL Zamba: The language I am using on the song is dominantly Luganda, which is my mother tongue. I come from the lake tribe of the Bantu (Buganda). My tribe is the largest among 57 tribes in Uganda. The Lugaflow style is what unifies all those tribes and dialects.
In the song lyrics there are a lot of double entendres, African ghetto metaphors and punchlines; I am bragging about my oratory skills and projecting my character “GNL Zamba” to the greatness of celestial stars. I am equating my self to King T’Challah from Black Panther saving Wakanda/Uganda.
I am speaking through philosophy and prophesying that the “Son of Mufasa will soon be back” (Lion King reference here).
I am saying that my critics do not pay attention to detail because if they did they would have seen that my lyrical career didn’t have a full stop, but a comma.
To the MCs dissing I said “nze okukulaba netaga kukozesa microscope naye ate gwe okundaba wetaga kukozesa Telescope”. Which means, “I need a microscope to see you lil ones but you need a telescope to see me.”
I said I am here to “promote love but don’t touch my beard”; touching an elder’s beard in Buganda is a sign of disrespect and then I proceeded to lay down the law.
My fans love it when I explain life through an eclectic lens of ghetto humor. My subject matter could dart from a soap opera character that they see daily on TV [or] that a punchline could connect to something their grandmother always says like when I say “Nkyali young and restless in this life mwattu.”
Both of them are popular TV soaps, one locally produced in Uganda, one from Hollywood but life mwatu is something people say for endearment. But when I used the phrase in the song it was just to explain to my fans that I was still “young and vibrant in life my dear.”
Subtly though, the message is braggadocios; I drop the knowledge to encourage the youth to read more so they can get as versatile as I am. I mention being back to Timbuktu like the great Mansa Musa. Timbuktu was the first university and center for oratory knowledge where most ancient scholars came to learn from griots of Mali Africa. All this before 12th century Africa, before Egyptians (Kemetians) made paper out of papyrus.
EnClave LA: What do you think of LA’s hip-hop scene, and are there artists here and abroad you really dig right now?
GNL Zamba: I love the LA hiphop scene. I linked up with an OG in the battle hip hop game (JU-ICE); he was the only guy to ever beat Eminem in a rap battle and he gave me an opportunity to open his nights, free styling at the Soho House in West Hollywood. Very exciting stuff. I grew up listening to the Chronic by Dr. Dre, Snoop, Too Short and E-40 and Xzibit. Right now, L.A. is the Mecca of all MCs and they all journey here like the new Egypt.
I love Nas as my favorite MC (I love his message for the people). I have just been listening to J Cole…love his new joint, Nipsey Hustle too, but for the new generation, I [think] this Kendrick Lamar is miles ahead and representing the West coast well. Hip hop wins the Pulitzer wow!!!!
I dream to work with him. I hope my new projects can get the exposure they need so we can do SXSW, Afro Punk, Globe Fest and Coachella. Right now I am putting in the work and sending positive energy to the universe so special things can happen!
EnClave LA: What’s next for GNL Zamba? How can we get a hold of more of your music and can folks catch you at a performance in LA sometime soon?
GNL Zamba: I am putting out two projects this year, the first one I hinted on is the duo hip hop world fusion 13 track album NSIMBI, June 22nd (Live band recording East African traditional instruments played by multi instrumentalists Kinobe and Jaja Bashengezi), also releasing singles from “The Spear” EP I have done with the L.A. collaborators led by Fly Tucker (Producer and electric guitar), Tony Austin (drums), Daunte Pascuso (bass) and Black Shakespeare (The Lions).
This year we are preparing to go for a concert in East Africa, after NSIMBI Album Release Party, Friday, June 29th, in Los Angeles.