The Duuka

Growing up in the Gorilla Highlands, we watched the TV and saw pictures from the rest of the world. These images fired up our imaginations, and oh how we day-dreamed of America and England!

In our minds these were the closest to heaven life on Earth could possibly get. We believed everything they had was inherently superior, and life was automatically better and more profitable for people lucky enough to inhabit these lands.

As I grew older it started to bother me that we all believed dreams didn’t come true in our homeland but only elsewhere …

I knew I wanted to be a musician from a young age, but at the time, there was very little respect for musicians. In fact, the music course at Makerere — Music Dance and Drama (M.D.D) — had garnered another meaning for the acronym: Musilu dala dala, which means very very stupid. It was believed to be the course for all the failures and dumbasses that didn’t have any intellectual skills and resorted to music. Music and art seemed like they were everyone’s last choice of vocation when all other academic ventures failed.

I was just a kid when I told my dad I wanted to be a musician. His response forever changed my life: “It matters less what you do and more how you do it. The secret to success is to find that thing that you can do best and to do it your best.”

Since that day I started to realise that the countries and places I admired only seemed better because they knew the secret of attaching and adding value to the things they had.

“Do you know how much the world is willing to pay for the kinda things you take for granted every day?” — that’s the opening line of the song “The Duuka” by our band Qwela. Every day the news gives us another story of an African nation on the bad end of a trade deal. Natural resources, agricultural products, human resource, … all very highly valued but grossly under-priced. The world’s poorest people living on the richest continent. Not seeing the value of what they possess.

This is the background of the song The Duuka.

I used the analogy of The Duuka because it means “the shop”. Almost every African town is familiar with the concept of neighbourhood shops and kiosks that sell everyday products in small affordable quantities to serve a populace that lives mostly from hand to mouth. These shops can go for decades selling the same goods in the same space without developing and changing much. It seems to be the very same approach we carry into our negotiations when we deal with the rest of the world. We sell cheap and we buy cheap and yet we have very valuable and much needed resources. We import everything because we have this entrenched belief that everything we produce for ourselves is inadequate and what we get from overseas is better. As a result we also hardly export things at their true value.

The Duuka is a song that calls us to look inwards at the values and ability we have and to break free of the crippling beggar mentality that has us being the neighborhood pauper in world trade. Written by myself, Joe Kahiri, band leader and founder of Qwela, the fresh Afro-fusion sound of Uganda. Recorded at Ewetu Studios by the masterful Njoroge Kiracho.

It will be the first release off our upcoming album “Qwe-zimba” which in the local dialect means “to build yourself”. Let me give you an acoustic teaser and share with you the lyrics …


THE DUUKA

Do you know how much the world is willing to pay
For the kinda things we take for granted everyday
We sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Just a dollar in the duuka down the road
Sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Half a dollar in the duuka down the road

Around the world they’ll pay so much money
Just for a jar of unrefined honey
Stuff that’s selling in the wheel barrow box
But you don’t know how much that pineapple rocks

The laughter on the street and
The stories that are told
A free experience that is worth so much gold
Taxis and boda bodas are our comic relief
Like the stories we get from historic belief

But

Do you know how much the world is willing to pay
For the kinda things we take for granted everyday
We sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Just a dollar in the duuka down the road
Sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Half a dollar in the duuka down the road

Priceless artwork on Buganda road
1 dollar each you will find them sold
Such beauty, sold cheaply, such cultural gold
And then you find them sold abroad a hundred fold
And then you find them sold abroad a hundred fold
And then you find them sold abroad a hundred fold

On and on we seem to go
But we never know the value of the things we own

Lets stop begging and start producing
Stop duplicating and start creating
Collaborating and corporating
Forget all the aid and
Lets start trading

Do you know how much the world is willing to pay
For the kinda things we take for granted everyday
We sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Just a dollar in the duuka down the road
Sell ‘em in the duuka down the road
Half a dollar in the duuka down the road

Yessir Yess madam
We need trade not aid
Don’t get played

In the duuka down the road x8


photo by Miha Logar

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