Monday, 19 October 2015

Meet Shifah Musisi: the singing fashion designer Written by JOHNSON GRACE MAGANJA

In music circles, she is known as Shifah Musisi, but her real names are Shifah Nalubega.
She is best known for her afro soul music songs, Sanyu Lyange and Muntu Mulamu, off her seven-track album titled Olugendo, that have earned rotational air-play on radio and TV. But she also owns Marish Designs - a fashion and design house whose name she coined from her mother’s and her names.
Shifah is the last born of Hajati Mariam Nambusi’s seven children. Her father, Haji Abdul Musisi, also had children with another wife, and that means she comes from a large extended family. She recalls growing up with her grandmother in a village in Kapeeka, Luweero district. She says it was fun being in the village.
“We would go to fetch water at the well and play on our way back. The village was peaceful. It had a cool environment and people were friendly. The food we ate was quite natural and very delicious. This was so unlike the life I found when I came to Kampala to stay with my parents at Kiwafu estate in Kansanga. The city was too crowded and everybody seemed to mind their own business,” says this 25-year-old.
This partly explains why most of her music videos feature children and a village setting. It was after her A-level studies in 2010 at Mulama SS that she seriously got to pen her first song, Kangende Noono, which was dedicated to her sister who was then getting married.
It was edited by her dad, who also paid the studio that did the recording. Shifah felt this was the best wedding gift she could offer her sister.

Her life’s first blow came when her mum passed on a few years ago. She says her mum loved her very much and recalls her saying, “This one will be a [clothes] designer.” Shifah also recalls that her mum bought her first piano while she was studying at Greenhill Academy and later also bought her a guitar while she was at Kibuli SS.
“My mum always wanted me to learn music,” she says.
Then her dad too passed on shortly after, and this became her second blow that almost made her quit music. With him there, she always felt protected. 
“I loved my dad so much because he supported me a lot in my music,” she says with evident nostalgia in her voice.

Shifa Musisi - the muscian

Her love for music helped her overcome the grief that filled her life after the demise of her parents. 
“Whenever I felt depressed I would go to my room and play my guitar and come out stronger and happy again,” she says.

After the loss of her parents, she lived with her siblings in Kansanga. She had then completed a course at Record Fashion School. She tidied up the small room that acted as an old shoes storeroom which her dad had allocated her.
This became her first design workshop. She placed in it a sewing machine, some jewelry and clothes she had made at school. Her first clients were her sisters’ and dad’s friends. That was the birth of Marish Designs.
Later, she relocated to Kikuubo, where, assisted by her friends, she ran a shop. It wasn’t a bed of roses, she recalls, because not many people then appreciated the beauty of African wear and jewelry.

High electricity bills and high rent were among the challenges she faced. Not long after, she relocated to Bukoto, in the building that also houses Kenjoy supermarket. Situated on the top floor, her workshop is a spacious room with a large portrait of herself made from bark cloth, fabric and dry banana fibre.
There is also jewelry, a variety of urban-African wear for women, men and children on display. The African wear is tailored here and there is also a room where she does her song rehearsals. Helping her out are two assistants.
Shifah says her music career and fashion business has opened doors for her to meet leading fashion personalities from whom she has learnt new ideas. Among these are Sylvia Awori, Ras Kasozi, Felix Lubega and Art Punch.

A prayerful person, Shifa writes her own songs which are inspired by her life’s experiences, family and friends. She finds time to rest during weekends, but that is often interrupted when she is called to perform with her band, also called Marish.
She has big dreams of starting a fashion school some day, and a music school for children.
“I believe we should keep our African culture alive. Children should learn how to play African musical instruments,” she opines.
While at school she enjoyed swimming, playing the piano, dancing and music lessons. Her love for music earned her the slot of Entertainment prefect for her two years at Mulama SS.

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