She is probably the most conspicuous feminine face in the Tusker Project Fame (TPF) competitions for the last few years.
The glowing adoration she receives from one of the show’s co-host Dr Ronnie ‘Mich’ Egwang makes the crowd go wild. Kenyans who watch the show either in the academy or at the comforts of their homes have come to regard her as one of their own.
But then Juliana Kanyomozi is no ordinary girl.
The diva, who is fondly known by her first name, is a princess of the Toro Kingdom in Uganda. It so happens that the King Oyo Rukidi and Juliana are first cousins.
This puts Juliana at the heart of many royal events such as weddings and other formal family gatherings.
Eager to confirm the royal connection reports that I had only gleaned from online magazines, I book an appointment with the songstress during the last week of the just concluded TPF Season Six.
At least she will be more relaxed with no more ‘probations’ and judging episodes, or so I imagine.
“Is it true you are a princess?” I ask.
“Yes, I am and I love the glamour and all the traditions that come with royal events. Late last year, I was deeply involved in the wedding of the batebe, the king’s sister. Life stops during such functions. This culture is just amazing. Away from that, I am a normal girl who is in love with music,” states Juliana.
The multi-talented girl, who has rocked the region with her captivating lyrics, discovered her gift at a tender age. Her parents, especially her late father, Gerald, were lovers of music. Juliana says her father was such a good drummer that he would step out of the house to “just go and play with a band in the neighbourhood.”
By the time she was about nine years, Juliana was already singing in her church and gaining confidence by the day. Still, the thought of singing on international arenas was the last thing on her mind.
But it was her grandmother who was perhaps her greatest inspiration. According to Juliana, she had one of the most superb voices within the family. The old lady, who sadly passed on three years ago, loved music so much that in many instances, it actually preceded greetings.
“My grandmother could sing. She had the smoothest voices I have ever heard. At times, tears would roll down my eyes when I listened to her singing. I think I took after her. We seem to have similar voices,” says Juliana.
She enrolled at the then prestigious Namasagali College where she enhanced her musical prowess even further. The school was sought after by the best and talented students in Uganda. Here, Juliana not only honed her singing skills but also her stage acting as well.
“The school head, Father Damien Grimes from Scotland pushed us to get the best out of our talents. Music, dancing, poetry — I learnt them all at Namasagali. Oh, the only thing I never learnt was swimming,” says Juliana.
Fast-forward and Juliana is one of the most recognisable Afro pop and R&B female singers in East Africa. In addition, her collaboration with other musical greats such as Bobi Wine and Jean Pierre Nimbona, better known as Kidum has catapulted her to the realm of celebrities. Some of these alliances happened by chance.
Take the case of her ‘collabo’ with Kidum in the song Haturudi Nyuma, one of the most popular of her songs. It so happened that Juliana and Kidum were set to perform at the same concert in Rwanda where Juliana says she was mesmerised by Kidum’s performance.
“Off the stage, Kidum was speaking in Kiswahili. I was not very fluent with the language at the time. However, I gathered that he was talking about me and my music; how much he admired my songs. On my part, I was also blown away by his performance. It was not difficult to do the song with Kidum whom I consider to be one of the best musicians of our generation,” says Juliana.
The script was the same when she did a song with Alicios, a girl who is shaping up as the next big thing on East Africa’s musical scene. Their song Mpita Njia — a colloquial phrase depicting a boy who plays girls without lasting commitment — has already attracted more than a million viewers on YouTube, gaining continental recognition. Such is the influence of Juliana’s magical voice.
“Alicios wrote the song that got my immediate attention. I remember I was in Kenya for some performance. So urgent was the urge to get the song out there that the girl and I recorded it on my way to the airport. I think I just could not let the opportunity slip by,” she says.
To date, Juliana has recorded more than 200 songs.
Juliana says the region is full of unexploited musical talent going by her experience at the TPF competitions. According to her, the “more you think you have discovered the best singer, the more you realise there are hundreds more out there who could do the same, or even better if given the platform.”
In fact, it is TPF that has played a big role in exposing Juliana to the talents that lay hidden in the region. She says the contestants have a platform very few upcoming musicians have, adding that it is not every day that you get more than 100 million people in six countries listen to your music. “The contestants have eight weeks of airtime. Most of us never had such luxuries.”
And what does Juliana think of Kenya, her ‘adoptive’ country?
“I came to Kenya during TPF Season Three. I was pleasantly surprised by the country’s beauty, more so the people. By the way, I think you have a very cool president. I don’t think I would get intimidated performing in front of him in contrast to the way I sometimes freak when performing to other regional heads of state. I guess I would not mind living here…well I love Kampala,” she says.
Indeed, Juliana’s demeanour and musical prowess are proof that beauty and brains can be good bedfellows.
SignUp For Newsletter
Get amazing content delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to our daily Newsletter.