They call her the Queen of Ugandan hip hop.
Lady Slyke, legal name Sharon Bqogi, has broken down walls for women as the first female MC to have rapped in the local language of Luganda, or Lugaflow. She's an award winning artist with a history of advocating for social change through her music. Now, the 28-year-old has taken on the role of news anchor. But this is not your traditional news program.
Lady Slyke and her fellow Newz Beat reporters rap the news. In an attempt to engage younger viewers, anchors and correspondents deliver rhythmic reports on everything from human trafficking to Ebola weekly, in English and Lugandan. We spoke to Lady Slyke about her unique approach to journalism, the status of women in Uganda and more.
Isis Madrid: Tell me a little about yourself.
Lady Slyke: My name is Sharon Bwogi, a.k.a. Lady Slyke. I’m an MC, rapper, writer, poet and Newz Beat anchor. I’m also a member of Jahliya band. We play a fusion of hip hop, reggae, dancehall, world music and jazz. I love live performance and interaction with the audiences. As a side business, I design and make fashion accessories.
IM: How did you get into rapping?
LS: By 8 years old, I was singing in a church choir. Children weren’t allowed to eat the holy bread before finishing catechism or confirmation study. While me and my fellow pupils were left sitting in the pews, grown-ups headed for the holy bread. I was spending my time reading the hymn book in different ways, fast and slow. It started to sound like a rap. From this I developed my style.
Later, I listened to radio where an MC, DJ Berry, was rapping and scratching records. I was so shocked to hear it was similar to what I was trying on my own, and it was on the radio. I got more inspired and kept on with my rap try-outs — writing and meeting more people with similar interests.
IM: What is your music about?
LS: I rap about my personal experiences, what I have gone through, what my friends have been through, social and political stories around me. The goal is educative, empowering music.
IM: What is the state of gender equality in Uganda? What, in your opinion, are the top three women’s rights issues that need to be addressed?
SB: Although most laws make it seem like there is equality, it is still quite a paternalistic culture and society.
Culturally — women in many areas can’t inherit land, for example. Child marriage is a problem. Girl child education is lagging. Even in the music scene, it’s a man’s world for the most part.
The issue of family planning resources not being available, or not enough education about it, is affecting women and girls in Uganda. Stockouts are a recurring problem. There are myths about contraception that need to be clarified.
IM: How did Newz Beat get created?
SB: We have a groups of friends — rappers, producers, writers — who always exchange ideas whenever we meet. It’s common that the youth say "news is boring," "there’s nothing for me in it," "always the same feuds."
As rappers, the youth are our biggest fans, so we decided to use rap as a way to spread educational "edu-tainment" to the youth and public at large. We try to change the perception that information on TV is boring and reawaken the passion for engagement and dialogue.
IM: What is the goal of Newz Beat?
SB: In a real sense, Newz Beat is a message from the people, by the people, to the people. We listen to our audience, talk their language and cover topics that are relevant and interesting to them.
Access to information is a human right, and we want to make that right a reality in rap. We all need to know what’s wrong or right and what’s going on around us, for the better of you and me. Also, Newz Beat covers many positive stories — inspirational stories — in addition to exposing bad practices.
NewzBeat elevated hip hop to the next level. Many people here still think it’s music from the ghetto. Now that we’re on TV delivering news, we’re given a voice and are respected.
IM: How many episodes have there been?
SB: Season one had 32 episodes. Now we're on episode 40 of season 2. Each episode is made in two languages, English and Luganda.
IM: What has the local reaction to Newz Beat been like?
SB: There were skeptics and nay-sayers in the beginning. Some people didn't understand what it was and what it was for. It was so different. But many loved it from day one, and now people are familiar with the style and format, and like it a lot.
IM: What kind of stories do you most enjoy rapping about on Newz Beat?
SB: I love health topics, social topics, political and empowering topics. We cover a wide range and as long as there’s something the viewer can walk away with that is useful, it makes me happy.
IM: How has the show evolved over the years? What have you learned?
SB: I’m glad people love the show. Our fans feel like they're part of the show. They ask questions, discuss and sometimes suggest what they would want us to talk about.
I have learned to work on a tight schedule, consistently. I've learned how to exchange ideas. I can research news much better than before NewzBeat. Doing the show, I've learned health tips, farming tips, environment, recycling info, the law. It's expanded my knowledge in so many areas.
IM: What’s the state of journalistic freedom in Uganda?
SB: There’s some self-censorship from journalists, for their own safety. Overall, although there are restrictions, Uganda enjoys much bigger freedom of press than most African countries, to tell the truth.