19 February 2013

Uganda: Father Ssenfuma Takes RnB to Church

Forget about Fr Anthony Musaala's redemption of church hymns and brace yourselves for Rev Fr Michael Ssenfuma, who is trying to introduce RnB to the Catholic church.

Think heavy beats. Think Swangz Avenue. Although his church and Masaka diocese where he serves as the Youth Chaplain are too conservative, nothing will divert Ssenfuma from this genre that recently won him accolades from the Papal Nuncio to Southern Arabia and another one from Rotary International.

Watching him perform, one wouldn't think he is a priest due to the powerful beats and dance strokes he pulls as he works his audience.

"I appeal to young people - people of my generation. I want to draw them close to God," he says.

Born 36 years ago, Ssenfuma has served the youth chaplaincy since his ordination in 2005, the same year he ventured into the music industry.

"Music is part of me. My interests, background, taste, formation and exposure lead me to do things in a different way. I want to be unique," he says.

His entry into the music industry was inspired by a short stint he had at Radio Maria while still in the seminary. He realized there was a gap between the church and its followers, and something had to be done for the church to keep its faithful committed.

"[Does Christianity stop] after church? Definitely not, Christianity is a lifestyle," he says.

As a youth chaplain, his responsibility is to direct, inspire, guide and teach young people the values of the faith; that is why he will reach out to them, be it in a dance hall.

"It's all about understanding what is required where and when. I would be misunderstood if I did the same music in the middle of liturgy, but it's appropriate if I do it when the church comes to a community event," he said.

He has so far recorded four albums, each with about eight tracks, and is currently working on his fifth album, I will Dance to the Lord at Swangz Avenue, and plans to fly out to South Africa to do its video.

Despite being in the industry for at least eight years, Ssenfuma is yet to become a household name like his counterpart Fr Musaala.

"I am not in a hurry for anything, my focus at the moment is how I can change Masaka," he says.

With his six-man band, Anawim (Hebrew for 'The poor ones of God'), he has had a few performances in Kampala, USA and Abu Dhabi, and is currently preparing for another show on Easter Monday at Kati Kati restaurant to raise funds for the centennial jubilee of the first two indigenous African priests due later this year.

For a man like him who minds much about the quality of what he sells to the public, Fr Ssenfuma has not had an easy ride.

"I have not been able to get airplay for my music on major radios and TV stations because it comes with some costs. I think this is a problem of living in a highly commercialized world," he says.

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