Album review: Stinkin Rich by Izaya the Composer

July 14, 2020

Stinkin Rich Album cover

In 2006, Isaiah Katumwa released his sax- led jazz album, “Sinza”. The music style on the album was completely different from what the Ugandan radios were playing. 

For starters, there were barely any lyrics or voices on the project. Secondly, jazz was a relatively new genre in Uganda and not many had delved into the style.

However, “Sinza” did very well and even got onto the playlists of some Ugandan radio stations. Many CDs were sold as well.

Isaiah Katumwa then took a giant leap and booked Victoria Hall for a concert. The hall was filled to the brim as thousands of Ugandans tussled to pay ten times more than most concerts were charging. 

The standard was raised, not only for concerts, but also for music. 

Almost 15 years later, Izaya the Composer has released his debut album. Izaya is different from Isaiah in many ways, but there are also similarities. 

Izaya, who classifies himself as an electronic artist, is actually a multiple instrumentalist and he comfortably plays the keyboard, electric guitar, bass guitar and acoustic guitar. 

He also is a student of the industry who combines multiple genres, to add “class” to the sound, without compromising its Ugandan identity. 

And whereas Isaiah was the undisputed king of the live concerts, Izaya has made festivals his turf. You almost cannot hold a festival without headlining Izaya the Composer (he has played all the major ones in Uganda and even gone on to be booked in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar).

And arguably, festivals now are what live concerts were then. The two aren’t mutually exclusive but a festival is what happens when a live concert is scaled. It’s basically a three day compilation of live shows by the best performers. 

Izaya and Isaiah have worked together before and I’m sure there exists between the former and the latter a student- master kind of reverence.

But not since Isaiah Katumwa broke onto the scene with “Sinza” have we heard such a complete musical experience as Izaya the Composer has delivered with “Stinkin rich”.

Izaya is a band and a DJ and a producer and a composer rolled into one. On the album, he takes us to different parts of Uganda, and Africa at large, sampling different recognisable traditional sounds, and adding an electric touch to top it all off. 

From the cover art and the album title, one can tell that he is using music to express what we were not taught in school, that Africa is obscenely wealthy. 

And he does it well. This is an album that we can listen to with our grandparents and parents and uncles and aunties. And we can listen to it with our friends during the pregame. And we will listen to it when we are 70. Because it it timeless.

By Wanjala

Below, Izaya explains the inspiration behind each song on the project

  1. We were the first on the moon  [Tempo-125bpm, Key- A minor]

What if Africans were the first on the moon? What would our experience be? What color would our space suites be? Would we return? This track represents what the voyage looks/ sounds like in my mind, right from lift off to landing. 

  1. Mansa Musa  [Tempo-90bpm, Key- C Major]

One of the wealthiest men to ever walk the face of the earth was an African named “Mansa Musa” (The tenth king/ Mansa of the Mali Empire and the quintessence of the album title). He had a fortune estimated at $131 billion, which makes him the wealthiest man in modern history. In all my academic years, I’d never heard about him for some reason, at least not from my teachers and yet I knew all about the ‘explorers’ and missionaries. He was extremely generous with his wealth, he caused inflation in Cairo, Medina and Mecca. This track represents what my imagination of his walking posture was.

  1. Mamadou Ndala (A tribute)  [Tempo-125bpm, Key- F minor]

Mamadou Mustafa Ndala was a colonel in the Congolese armed forces and was instrumental to many of the battles that suppressed the notorious rebel group “M23”. The DRC was at war for a while and the root cause of these wars were her mineral resources. The rebel groups involved in these wars were rumored to be funded by large corporations in the West that had interests in Congo’s mineral resources . Ndala made it his life’s purpose to defend his country against the greedy. He fought and won many battles against the rebels until he was assassinated in 2014 in an ambush. This track is a tribute to him for his patriotism, integrity and his bravery.

  1. Pin to Wakanda  [Tempo-145bpm, Key- C# Major]

The fictional city “Wakanda” from the movie “Black panther” is unnoticed by the outside world because of its technological advancement that’s light years ahead of any other country in the world, thanks to an extraterrestrial metal called “vibranium”. I have this fantasy that Uganda is Wakanda, only with a different kind of metal- our diverse culture, hence my decision to showcase the Endingidi which is a type of fiddle that is popular among most Bantu tribes in Uganda.

  1. Tenet  [Tempo-125bpm, Key- C# Major]

Pop music in the 80s had a very distinct tone. Around the time, not a lot of “electronic music” was coming from Africa, let alone Uganda . Here’s my interpretation of what Ugandan pop would’ve sounded like if Idi Amin …….. (all protocol observed) didn’t force people who went to town in slippers/ sandals to eat them.   

  1. Nankasa  [Tempo-135bpm, Key- F minor]

A percussive rhythm paired with a unique dance routine from central Uganda (Buganda) at 145bpm with a virtual Moog modular system 55 (Extremely cool emulation of one of the best synthesizers ever built) and distorted guitars. Think if Kabaka Mwanga decided he was into progressive death metal and experimental music, what the royal ensemble’s first record would’ve sounded like, considering the fact that the penalty for mediocrity was death, literally.

  1. Serotonin  [Tempo-115bpm, Key- C minor, transpose to G minor]

Imagine (write up for Track no 4 {Tenet}) but a decade later when disco was a thing. After that, add a brass section because this is 2020.

  1. Hallelujah  [Tempo-110bpm, Key- D Major]

My friend suggested this title lol. I had nothing to do with it . It was originally titled “Wurly”, inspired by an electronic piano, also known as EP from the mid 50s called a Wurlitzer (Wurli). The particular patch I used was played by a great keyboardist called George Duke who released a collection of keyboard chord progressions/ parts titled Soul Treasures with a company called Native Instruments just before he died of Leukemia in 2013. The jam just sounded Hallelujah(ey) .

Chill house vibes fused with black gospel and soul.

9. Zanzibar [Tempo-126bpm, Key- C minor] This sound was inspired by my trip to Zanzibar earlier in February 2020. I wanted to explore the Phrygian scale, which is a musical scale very popular with countries that speak Arabic, or, countries with an Arabic influence like Zanzibar in this case. Another genre that extensively explores this mode is Taarab. I also wanted to add an African influence, hence the Soukous drum rhythm that’s very popular in DR Congo. Also, because it’s 2020, I had to add 808 bass.

  1. Uncle Robert  [Tempo-115bpm, Key- C# Major]

When we were growing up, my brothers and I used to get picked up from school every evening by our parents and sometimes by the family driver at the time who was called uncle Robert. My parents called him Mukiga but to the rest of us, he was Uncle Robert. He had a very funny dance move he’d occasionally display to make us laugh and it has never left my mind. It was like Calypso but danced sideways and with one foot anchored to the ground. During the COVID19 lockdown, It randomly came to me and I decided to make a tune for that dance move. 

  1. Spiritual Realm  [Tempo-125bpm, Key- B flat Major]

This is the song that would play on loop at a deep house party in the spiritual realm, which is strange because it’s not even a deep house song. Just imagine what a festival for spirits would look like and let the music facilitate your imagination.

  1. Imbalu (Ft. Andrew Ahuurra)  [Tempo-145bpm, Key- C minor]

The only feature on this album is my big brother Andrew Ahuurra, who taught me how to play the guitar and mentored me as a music composer/ producer. He also gave me my first multitrack recorder and helped me install my first copy of production software on my mom’s computer, for which I am forever grateful. So to have him as a feature on my debut album is nothing less than an honor. He also remembers uncle Robert lol. This song is inspired by the popular cultural ritual of manhood from Eastern Uganda called Imbalu and the dance that encapsulates it called Kadodi. 

Nothing can prepare a man for this circumcision ritual, not even that purple stuff T’Challa drinks in the movie Black Panther to become a man. But maybe this song can.