Fred Zink, The Unsung Hero Of Ugandan Music
As human beings, we have a tendency to be stubborn and naive towards those among us that rise up and make a contribution to our community. We ignore them, when they stumble, we bask in their little botches. We enjoy criticizing and blatantly refute their significance to our societies while they are still alive! We only appreciate them once they are gone. For this reason, I wanted to pay homage to this man I now call a friend. The following is the humble story of Kinene Fred a.k.a the unsung hero of Uganda. "If in the last 10 years the Ugandan music industry was in the 50th position, now move it to 3rd. That’s how far it has come. There are now a multitude of talented artists and a vibrant positive competitive atmosphere in Uganda. Every hour, a song is released in Uganda and everyday there’s a new artist joining the industry. You can imagine the environment". Fred Zink
Introduce yourself to TAP; Name, where were you born/grew up, and where did you go to school?
I was born Kinene Fred on the 26th of November 1979 in Kampala Uganda. I’m the 5th born from a family of eight with four boys and four girls. My father was an engineer/contractor with “Roko” construction and my mother was a teacher. I predominantly lived a middle class life as a young person which helped cement my belief that I’d also be successful in life one day. When I was 4 years old, I started school at Najjanankumbi Adventist School before I went to Fairway Nursery in Mbale. From there, I went to Nabuyonga Primary in Mbale, Kibiri Boarding School in Kampala, Old Kampala S.S.S., Yale High School, and thereafter Uganda College of Commerce Tororo. I went to many more schools thereafter as I was a talented acting student and a football player. Once in Canada, I went to Humber College for trade and business management, followed by York University, and finally Harris Institute in Toronto for entertainment management.
What was your favourite moment as a child?
I had many outstanding moments, but I’d have to say my favourite was the year when I was in the Scouts and Guides group in Kazi, Uganda, and the World Scouts Jamboree was held in Kazi. I was chosen to raise the flag during the opening ceremony; and being a12 year old, you can imagine how big a deal it was!
When did you get into music? Did you ever consider a career as an artist?
I got into music relatively early although singing was not for me. Acting was more my thing, so I participated in school plays like “The adventures of Joseph”, “Uganda martyrs”, “Jacob’s family”. If there was a play, I was in it. I won several awards for lead roles I played during school competitions and gradually became a school events promoter. Being very active and social by nature, I became a prankster, which got me into a lot of fights as some of my friends didn’t take some of my jokes and pranks the right way. For instance, there was a very famous South African musician (the late Umar Katumba and Emitoes) who came to Uganda and wanted to start a band and an acting group. He chose my team to start with but my dreams came crashing down when I made a prank on one of the new members. He complained and before I even made my first appearance on stage, I got to White Nile Club Katwe and I was immediately shown the exit door. That experience really killed my morale for acting and singing and that path was silently and slowly killed. I decided to direct my energy into football as a way of dealing with my acting incident and as it turned out I was actually pretty good at it. Football took me to a lot of places thereafter, where I got opportunities to get paid to play for my school team which allowed me to study for free from senior 2 onwards.
Can you remember the first time you organized a concert/event? When/where was that, how much was the entree fee, who was the main artist? In high school, I was running for the entertainment prefect and I got an artist from another school to come help boost my campaign. I do not remember the price but I did charge a fee.
How far has Ugandan music gone in the past 10 years? What has been the main catalyst for that?
If in the last 10 years the Ugandan music industry was in the 50th position, now move it to 3rd. That’s how far it has come. There are now a multitude of talented artists and a vibrant positive competitive atmosphere in Uganda. Every hour, a song is released in Uganda and everyday there’s a new artist joining the industry. You can imagine the environment. I would say the first and main catalyst to all this is technology. With the internet, people are now able to get the music and news in seconds wherever they are. Second is unemployment. With the rise in unemployment rates lately in many parts of the world (Uganda not being an exception) one of the better options is self-employment; and self-employment in the music industry doesn’t take much but talent and the go-getter attitude.
TAP- Bebe cool says: “If the Ugandan music industry goes on like it is now for the next 20 years, Uganda is going to have the best music industry ever to exist in Africa." Do you agree?
Yes I agree. However, in the next 20 years issues like management, music distribution, quality of music and music videos, and minor elements of negative competition would have to positively change.
Tell us about Canada and what it means for you?
Canada is the home that I love to return to because people here are “free”. “Free” in the sense that they are (somewhat) free from oppression, there’s a (functional) democracy and people live and speak freely.
TAP: When and how did you get into the promotions business? Tell us all about Zink Productions, how it started, where is it based?
I will answer the question in reference to (the Canadian location called) Zink Promotions, which is under the parent company Zink Productions. I started it with 3 things: my love for entertainment, belief in myself and trust in God. So I started Zink Productions group of companies, a Canadian registered company with different branches. Zink Promotions started in 2000 with the primary aim of promoting African events and music in Canada. It ultimately went international in 2007. Under Zink Productions International, we have chapters in USA, UGANDA, UK and Canada as the head office.
The story of how it started is very simple, one day I went to a show advertised by two South African promoters in Toronto. Sadly, after paying the cover charge, the artist did not show up. I had just come to this country 4 months prior and $35 at that time was a steep fee to part with. We left the venue and went to “Karibu” (an African club in the east end), only to find it closed. We were left no option but to go home and sleep, deprived of the music that we had looked forward to, to cure our nostalgic feeling. The next morning I started thinking about doing it in my own way, so I started with my Ugandan community doing dinners, dances, community events and summer camps. In 2005 I had gained popularity and chose to quit my fulltime job so as to build and develop Zink Productions further. Our motto is “zink don’t sink”.
TAP: What are Zink Productions’ goals?
For fear of taking up too much space I shall briefly summarise what our goals encompass. Developing and promoting African talent in the mainstream music industry as well as within the youth in our communities at home and abroad, providing a platform for African talent to get showcased in western/developed countries, and of course curing nostalgia by gathering and uniting the African audience via their forms of cultural entertainment.
TAP: Who was the first artist to be promoted by Zink Productions outside of Africa? How many artists have you promoted since? Can you name all of them?
The first was Ragga Dee and since then have promoted many more including different projects in partnership with MTV, CBC, BBC, UNITED WAY, and other NGO's to name but a few.
I don’t think I can name them all, you won’t have the space but some of the popular ones include (but are not limited to): REDSAN, JOSE CHAMELEONE, RAGGA DEE, NAMELLESS, KIDUM, 2FACE, D BANJ, MARIAM NDAGIRE, BOBI WINE, BEBE COOL, GIDI GIDI MAJI MAJI, LUCKY DUBE, MORGAN HERITAGE, MADOXX and many more.
TAP: How hard is it to secure Visas, venues and promotions in the west for artists based in Africa? Getting a visa is simple. Meet all the requirements (more than basic requirements makes it even better) and have a clean record. Of course it helps to have a “healthy” bank statement. The same goes for artist visas. Venues depend on the demand for the artist but are always available. My company is the first in Canada to have an African artist on a billboard and subway without partnering/being sponsored by another company.
TAP: Let's talk revenues; approximately how much money (combined income) have all your artists made from your events?
I cannot give the details regarding each artist but I can say (based on “Africa unplugged”- an event in London), we had 23 artists at Wembley arena and we all made in and around the $15,000 ballpark. And that was just one show in September.
TAP: What are your favourite cities in North America to bring artists to and why?
Chicago, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, Vancouver, Dallas and Arizona. Fans in this cities are very supportive and always come in big numbers.
TAP: What's the longest tour you've ever been on?
A 3month tour: part of Chameleon’s world tour. We started in the U.S., with 25 shows, then 6 shows in Canada, 2 shows in the Caribbean, and then finished up with 4 shows in the UK.
TAP: What has been the single funniest moment on all the tours you've done? What's that one moment, event that you will never forget?
When we were on the USA tour, we took time off to play in the snow and it ended up being a crazy snow fight. Looking back, that was one heck of a funny day.
TAP: Before you decided to bring an artist in Canada, England or USA for shows, what are the things you had to consider?
Fees, his/her fan base, venues, transportation, visas, and insurance.
TAP: What advice would you give to upcoming as well as established artists in East Africa regarding reaching out for a global diaspora market? How does an artist get promoted by Zink Productions?
For any artist, it is key for them to believe in what they do. Improve audio and videos to capture the western markets, look for good management of course love and support your music. To be promoted, if your talent speaks for itself, we shall look for you before you look for us but we are available online if you want to contact us.
TAP: You are the official Jose Chameleone international agent; tell us about the doctor and your relationship with him?
Well, he is Chameleone. What else can I say that has not been said already about this hit-maker? He makes hit after hit each year and Chameleone has undoubtedly attained international heights that lots of Ugandan musicians only dream of. He stays in the records today as the only Ugandan musician to have ever been featured on a World Cup song (in 2010 when it was hosted in South Africa). Besides being business partners, we are best of friends.
TAP: Is there something about you that no one knows? And what keeps u going?
The fans, the great team of people I work with, the management team and promoters. That, plus my passion for music promotion keeps me going. Everyone knows everything; am an open book.
TAP: What three words would your friends use to describe you? Fred is outgoing, funny and trustworthy
TAP: Describe a life-changing experience you went through and how you grew from it?
I broke my ankle and at that moment it was game over for my football dreams. I tried all I could; visited doctors in South Africa, Brazil, Uganda, and Canada. It took me a while but I learned that things can change when you least expect it, and it is okay because it is part of life. Now, here I am, doing an interview on music promotions which I never thought I would ever do!
TAP: What is the greatest goal you've ever achieved?
Zink Productions; and 10Years down the road it feels great.
TAP: According to your definition of success, how successful have you been so far?
I have been very successful. And according to me, success is not achieved alone but as a team. And my team has made it!
TAP: What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Hahahaha! What I want to achieve is simple. First, to stay alive; second, to be in a position where am acknowledged by people in my area for what I have done as a part of the development of the African music industry. Lastly, to be happy. Money is not everything.
TAP: If you had to live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
I can’t really think of anything that I would do differently so I would just live it as it is.
TAP: If you had to change something about your native country what would it be?
I would like to change Uganda’s geographical location so that we could be close to an ocean.
TAP: What are the three major challenges facing Uganda today?
Transport/roads, political climate and power supply.
TAP: What do you love most about Ugandan music and culture?
Ugandan music is growing fast in Africa, leading to the rise of talented individuals that take the music they have, infuse it with culture and make it hip, modern and contemporary for all. It is a culture that includes not excludes people.
TAP: Tell us about your team, who are your supporting cast? Who are the people that make Fred and Zink Productions what it is?
I have a very big team and I can’t really mention everyone by name as the list is endless but they make me and Zink Productions what it is in music, media, events planning, charities and branding.
TAP: Any chance of doing a music tour of Africa in the near future with Chameleone or another artist?
We just finished the USA tour and we are now on an African tour with 3 shows in Congo, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. We will be doing a tour in Kenya immediately after this, then we are booked for a UK and European tour and will finish the year with a Canadian tour. Now, this is how busy it can get.
TAP: What shows should we expect from Zink production both in Canada, USA and Europe for the rest of this year?
Well, I have become a little laid back with the Canadian entertainment platform, as there are so many promoters mainly in Toronto and we have failed to work together at times as we end up having 5 events on the same night. I might however, have a Canadian tour this year with Eddy Kenzo, Chameleon and Redsan.
TAP: Any word of advice for young promoters that want to join the business?
Be trustworthy, and reach out to the community as it is the fans from these communities that keep us going. Plan ahead and thoroughly. Promotion is not an avenue to look for women; make your money first then everything will come easy.
TAP: Last but not least, in your books, who are the top three Ugandan artists of all time?
Well I would say Chameleone, Juliana, Maddoxx and many more but those for a start.
~ Interview by @RasMutabaruka
Edited by Brenda Kaye