Juliana Kanyomozi on feminism, her new single ‘Woman’ and the toughest time of her life
Behind the unequivocal beauty, curvy frame and a mellifluous voice is an immensely strong woman with a story which an interview alone can’t suffice. SatisfashionUG meets the woman behind everything you thought you knew about Juliana Kanyomozi.
Juliana arrives for fitting for the photo shoot of this interview at the Bold Kampala store on Acacia Mall 10 minutes early. She’s wearing an orange chiffon top, a pair of damaged denim pants and peep toe ankle boots. Her hair is held up in a Mohawk inspired style. She greets me with a very formal “hello” and simultaneously introduces me to her brother Eddie who has helped us coordinate the interview.
Juliana Kanyomozi got her big break in the late 1990s. After getting discovered during a karaoke session, the then lanky beauty joined Iryn Namubiru as one half of one of the first all girl groups in Uganda I-Jay. The group however disbanded just shortly after releasing a number of hit songs. She then opted to pursue a solo career and has never looked back since then. A slew of chat topping songs ruling airwaves in East Africa and the world over; countless award accolades (including a KORA) and a legion of fans, the 34-year-old star has had it all.
As we wait for the stylist, I use the opportunity to take her through the concept of the photo shoot. The concept we had created was ‘Subtle glamour’ and this stemmed from the fact that we felt she was not yet ready to go all out.
“I wouldn’t mind going all out, I’ve always been edgy. That’s my style,” she suggests calmly with a fair grin on her face. After a brief exchange of ideas and thoughts with the stylist, we decide to opt for the edgy look.
We leave the store and head to The Lawns in Kololo to do the interview. As she drives we chat about so many things. She talks about how the attention and status she has earned over the years makes her uncomfortable sometimes.
“Sometimes I just prefer to be incognito because that’s the only time I can be me. But just a handful of people see me in that light, ” she says. By the time we get to the The Lawns, we have bonded and chatting like we’ve known each other for weeks. It is because of that, that I get the impression that she might have healed. After the tragedy of losing her son last year and an impromptu sabbatical from work and the social scene, I felt like the Juliana we’ve all grown to fall in love with was back. This was far from the truth – I later learn during the interview.
As part of her triumphant come back, Juliana will be releasing a new song titled ‘Woman‘. It is the project she has been working on for over two months and it is in its final stages of production. “The song is about the ordinary woman.” “Whether it is a woman in the market or one in an office doing a corporate job, we have the same core values as women,” her eyes brighten as she shares the inspiration of her new song. “If a man was put in the shoes of a woman for only a day, I doubt that he would manage to stand still for even a day!” “However, we still manage to brave through it all and continue to wear a smile on our faces even when all is not well inside,” she adds. The irony of this is that much as she has always been a strong woman, she got this inspiration during the toughest time of her life.
“This is the kind of the song that I feel will inspire, empower and celebrate womanhood. It strengthened me during a really tough time.”
“I didn’t want to come back with a song about love or having fun. The time to do that will come.” “I’m a woman who has been through a rough patch but then again I didn’t want to depress anyone. This is a song that comes from deep down within me. It is my story. And I believe it is the best project to launch my comeback!” “The Radio and Weasel collabo is something that has been long over due. When we both finally got the time, it happened,” She adds.
Juliana has always been an inspiration and a voice for women both in her music and the projects she works on such as Tusker Project Fame where she has been a judge for four consecutive seasons. She is one of the most awarded female singers in East Africa. Early last year Airtel Uganda named her one of the most influential women in Uganda.
That said, does she feel women have done enough to claim positions on top like she has done? “To a huge extent,” she replies emphatically. “It warms my heart when I see that women are taking leaps into even more challenging roles. It is an indication that women are now taken seriously. Back then no body cared to listen to a woman speak!” “We now have women in parliament, academia, business, technology and entertainment among other sectors. And they are running things!” “We still have a long way to go though, but we are getting there,” she concludes with her voice charged with optimism.
Still on women, I ask her about the current cyber vice of revenge porn. A number of Ugandan female celebrities have been victims of this hugely culpable vice. Desire Luzinda was almost arrested last year after her nude photos broke the internet.
“First of all in most cases it is never the woman’s fault. If you an adult and you’ve been in love with someone you know that there are no limits on what will happen in a private bedroom of two adults.” “If you don’t go all the way to please your man, he’ll leave you and then you’ll get judged for it!”
“When a man breaks that trust and decides to share those intimate details to the rest of the world, and use all that against her – that’s why we still have a long way as women to stand against such behavior,” she continues this time charged with emotion. “I frown upon such men. They are such a disgrace!” “What is even more perplexing is that it is only women who fall victim of these revenge porn attacks. When you do such a thing to a woman, you are not only victimizing all women but also your mother, daughters and sisters.” “It should stop with immediate effect!” She also adds that the media is fueling this already sickening belief that you can put someone down by simply sharing their nudity online. “It is not something to be proud of. It only makes life even harder for the victims!”
“I was in the US when I Cloud was hacked and so many celebrities’ nude photos were leaked,” she recalls. “However no single reputable media outlet shared these photos and it was not because they feared legal action but they respected the women and didn’t want to contribute to the trauma these women were already going through.” “It saddens me that back home, it is the opposite that is happening,” she adds. That doesn’t take away the fact that she still thinks women in Uganda will one day beat this. “We should rise up and use our positions as women to say no to revenge porn because we are always the victims.”
Our conversation stretches to the edges of feminism. She suggests that women should strive to take over jobs in media. “Do you think a female editor would approve a newspaper cover with a naked woman?” she asks me repeatedly. What shocks me is that Juliana shares the same views on this revenge porn issue as we did in an article we published during the height of Desire Luzinda’s scandal. Even when most readers responded with reproach because the article took a feminist stand in the matter, we still believe revenge porn attacks are done purposely to ridicule and degrade women simply because they are women.
I pause for a minute before asking the next question. It is that part of the interview which I don’t want to take her through. The tragedy of losing her only child on 20th July last year. It breaks my heart that I have to reopen the old wounds. “Can you describe what ran through your mind that fateful morning when it happened?” I ask hesitantly. The grin she has maintained throughout the interview slowly fades away as she ruminates on the question.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve always been extremely strong. But this was beyond it,” she responds with rare bravery. “There are things that happen to you and you cannot find the perfect vocabulary to explain them. It’s that pain that leaves you helpless and no one else but God can help!” As she speaks I’m not only writing every single word but admiring her brave demeanor.
“This is something that you alone can feel!” “I was lucky I had family and close friends with me and luckily they’ve never let me go since then. At first I was angry with God. He had just taken away the most important thing I had in life. But then again, there’s always a reason for everything single thing He does ,” she talks about what she refers to as the lowest point in her entire life.
Considering our chat earlier on with the stylist and during the interview, I had concluded that she managed to move on. So I go on to ask how she managed to get through such as traumatizing experience. “No! I haven’t gotten over it. And I’ll never go through it. It is something that will always be a part of me. I’m only being a strong woman. I have my bad days where I sit with a box of tissue and let the tears flow!” she responds.
“I knew Keron very well. He would tell when something was bothering me and always asked me to cheer up. He always wanted me to be happy. So I”ll never let him down. I know he’s with me everyday cheering mummy on!”. “I’ve learnt to leave the hard situations to God. I don’t want to depress my fans. I want them to be happy. And that’s exactly what Keron would have wanted me to do,” she adds.
She has not performed again since that day and went back to studio only recently. This is also the first interview she’s doing since then. “It is all part of the healing process. I’m taking baby steps. I’m not yet there emotionally.” “When you’ve gone through something like this, you have to find the strength first,” she continues. “My fans shouldn’t worry. I’ll surely be back on my feet God willing,” this she says with a faint smile.
With all the pain a way, I ask her about work, success and her memorable concert Up close and personal with Juliana in 2013. Juliana is one of the few artistes who have managed to stay relevant over years beating off competition from the younger acts with so much ease. “It wasn’t easy when we started out. It wasn’t about money at all because the money wasn’t there. It was about the passion to sing and entertain people,” she replies with the exact energy she had during the beginning of the interview. It is clear that she’s immensely proud of her contribution to the music industry.
“I don’t have a formula. I have to honest, I’m blessed with a gift. I don’t even strategize at all. I only put my heart and soul in everything song I do.”. “My producers know it that if I don’t feel it then it won’t work!” About the concert which is arguably the most successful well put together live concert by a Ugandan artiste in a very long time, her face lights up again as she reflects on what it brought to her life. “We wanted to give people an experience and so we had to put in a lot of time in preparation for it – I went ahead to do research since it was the first time I was doing something like that,” she admits. “I’m still proud that we managed to pull it off.”
Her advice to the younger artistes is very simple. “Don’t be all over the place. Understand what works for you and stick to it.”
As she prepares her triumphant return, she can’t stop thanking everyone who has been there for her during the toughest time of her life. “Some people still call me to just ask how I’m doing. Others were there for me during those really tough days. It is those small things that remind me about love and humanity.” “I’m really grateful and thankful to everyone of you from the bottom of my heart.”
Two days after, Juliana and I meet again this time for the photo shoot. She worked seamlessly with our team for close to four hours to produce the beautiful images above. Behind the unequivocal beauty, curvy frame and a mellifluous voice is an immensely strong woman with a really beautiful heart. We part ways when I’ve had the opportunity to spend sometime with the real Juliana Kanyomozi.
Photographed by Giulio Molfese/ Photo4Fashion
Styling by Nunu/ Bold Kampala
Makeup by Mona
Fashion Editor: Hassan
See the full fashion shoot here