Phyv5 is a five piece alternative rock band out of Kampala, Uganda. Balaam the oldest member of the band is on the bass and also does vocals and will do anything and everything for the band. Deed is the band’s front-man and writer. Cath is the lead guitarist. Deed and him come up with the basic foundations for all the band songs. Zia is on the second guitar. Remish is our drummer. I first heard about them when they played a show in Uganda where Deejay Tumz was playing. I got interested in them because as far as Uganda goes, the only rock/metal outfit I knew of was Vale of Amonition. I decided to hit them up and have them tell their story. – Yvonne Ndubi
Tell us a little about the history of the band, how you met and started playing
Balaam: Phyv5 was formed in 2010 on a chilly evening and actually started as a joke all because we all shared the same raging love for rock music. And also because rock bands looked cool. The idea stuck and 10 years later here we are. Funnier still none of the guys could play any instrument when we started. The first gig we did was in 2012 at Boda Boda. Some rooftop hangout. And I remember us playing and it was weird. Very scary. We were scared of sucking and also wanted to do the songs justice. And we were excitedly playing in front of a live crowd for the first time.
Deed: I joined around July 2016. I was initially a fan and discovered the band at Bubbles and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing because it was rock music in Uganda and I never expected that. So I was sold as a fan and started showing up to their gigs and this one time I showed up and the band didn’t play. So I asked Zia why the band wasn’t playing and he told me the lead singer was having a few issues. Zia then encouraged me to join the band and I agreed because I thought I would be like Mike Shinoda in Linkin Park. Balaam then taught me how to sing and that’s how I became the lead singer.
What are some of your triumphs so far?
Deed: We made the first altrock song from Uganda. That’s a big win for me. And now some people know theres a rock band in Uganda and the numbers keep growing from that one song alone. And now we have set a mark and I was part of the process so yeah am proud.
Balaam : Our biggest triumph is really being recognized as a legitimate rock band. Having people accept that some lousy Ugandans can make music like this and music everyone can relate to. But to me personally reaching the hearts of rockers and non rockers alike shows how music can help us connect. I mean we started as a band but when we see the effect we can have on people we grow strength from it . We know people appreciate the genre and we are not just wasting time. It helps us move forward regardless of the hurdles.
What are some of the challenges of being in a rock band in Uganda?
Deed: As a band we struggle to get gigs that sustain us because you literally have to convince people that rock music is real music not noise (can’t believe I have to say that) and has a legitimate following in Uganda and real fans. So a lot of time it doesn’t work out because not too many people consider it a real genre in Uganda. We have other challenges like we don’t have equipment like a full drum set, rehearsal space and things like that.
Balaam: Our setting. The music scene here favours kidandali those sort of 90s dancehall reggae beats and its how musicians become big here. And for us to try and break into this space is the hardest. Everyone is like what are you doing?? There is an expectation to stick to the status quo. But even as a band we think about these things. We wish there was an authentic way for us to include and generally experiment with our own musical culture in to rock as a genre and are even trying this. But we aren’t willing to force it just because although we feel it’s our responsibility as artists. I believe nothing will hold us back if we remain true to the genre. We would obviously love to cross over and have most people enjoy our music, regardless of what they feel about rock.
How is the Ugandan rock scene like, the fan base, Is it as a good place? If not, what do you think can be done to make it better?
Deed : We might be the only rock band. Wait theres Vale of ammunition but they have mainly performed in Kenya. But generally as for the scene there are a lot of biases against rock. But that’s starting to change because a lot more people are now more exposed and experimental. The fans also keeping growing and generally as artisites we want to make music more people can relate to.
Balaam : Its there but obviously not to Kenya’s level. Theres no real collective. All the rock lovers are spread out and do not live in the same bubble. If there was a way we could bring them together maybe through the love of the same band. <insert laughter>. What am trying to say is that if you were to somehow call all rock lovers in Kampala to show up to the same place most wouldn’t make it. Not really because they didn’t want to come but there is no stickiness yet in the community for them to move as a whole. And that’s the biggest challenge there is. These other artistes of other genres, good or bad can have a concert in Kampala and people will come from all corners of the country
Talk about your new song and future plans
Deed : We birthed this song at Milege Acoustic Project Homestead. Cath was outside just playing around on his guitar and I remember I was making coffee. I came out and asked it was an original piece. He said it was. So I told him to play the exact same thing and I sang over it and recorded. When I went home I made proper sentences and actual words and formed an actual theme. Before I sang along because I just wanted to freely express how the music made me feel and now I could translate that feeling into actual lyrics. We are currently in studio doing #Someone_Phyv5. It’s a true lovers ballad.
Balaam : With the first song we wanted a heavier more rock vibe. We wanted a song that represented the kind of sound we want to have as a band and that’s why we went with #LittleDevil. We have a whole bunch of songs we want to do and Deed will talk about it.
What do you think about the Kenyan rock scene? Would you invite Kenyan bands for the next UG Rock Festival?
Deed : Numero uno is that Kenya actually has good rock music and I have tapped multiple bands. But if you were to ask a typical rocker in Uganda. I think PLG stands out the most. I love the song about a hole in a pocket. I like the way Kenyans incorporate their identity through using Kiswahili and Kenyans are the ones leading the rock scene in East Africa. But I also back us as Phyv5 to come up and show our worth. If I had to choose a band it would be Parking Lot Grass obviously. I would sit them down and I believe we could do some amazing stuff.
Balaam: The Kenyan Rock scene is amazing and inspirational I mean you guys are doing some amazing stuff. And to be honest this has also pushed us to want and have our music within your discussion. There is potential here and a cross over ability between Uganda and Kenya but there are some limiting factors like language. Our government has really killed Kiswahili and its use but Swahili is able to unite Kenyans and allow them express themselves in different ways<genres> where everyone can relate on that basic level. I mean look at how rock has blown up in Japan and China and all these other places. But yours is definitely growing. Its all about East Africa and Africa and if we can be one through the music then why not. We love LYT Rush, SLC, refuge, SimplyTomas and all the others
What has the band been up during the quarantine period?
Deed : We released a song. Yeah that’s the start. Also I have been writing a lot. I have all the songs for the first album done just waiting on finding some finances for production and we shall release them. I also writing other songs just to horne my skills. But the reception over Little Devil has been amazing. We are right there in the conversation and I am proud. As I said before we are working on someone.
Balaam : Deed has been writing a lot which is a good thing. But on a personal level its been really hard emotionally and financially just getting by. And meeting as a band to just bounce ideas and a creative vibe has also been hard. But the guys are 100 committed to any given chance to do our thing. And even if things have been hard we still remain focused and hopefully we keep our hands above it all
If you were to share a stage with only band, which one would you pick? Why?
Deed : I have 3 bands.
First, because it will happen the soonest is PLG.
Then Breaking Benjamin and 3 Doors Down because I know their whole catalogue and can sing any song off head. Also, I am a big fan
Balaam : For me it has to be Chevelle. It’s a band that has been through it all , faced everything and are still true to the genre and to the fans. For them to go through all the change they have gone through and now being a duo and still paying homage to those roots despite how the genre and the world is changing. And their craftsmanship. I mean Pete is something else. Hes a beast. It would be an hounour to share the stage with them if we ever have a chance