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LE Newsletter - April 22, 2004

  Interview With Nam

The cool and gracious Namugenyi Kiwanuka (affectionately referred to as ďNamĒ) granted me an interview this past Sunday, April 18, 2004.  I wanted to speak with her about her journey from MuchMusic to hosting and producing at NBA XL, a gig that sheís been in now for almost six months.  The former refugee of Uganda is what I would call a renaissance woman Ė with humility and wisdom encompassing each anecdote. 

LE:  Everyone knows that youíve left MuchMusic and have moved over to your own show at NBA XL (which airs every Wednesday evening).  I want to go back to the days just before you left MuchMusic.  I remember your acceptance speech at the UMAC Awards last summer and that you accepted the Best Media Personality with a heavy heart as they just cancelled On the Downlo.  Is that the straw that broke the camelís back as far as your decision to leave MuchMusic?

I think so.  When youíre passionate about something and it doesnít translate with management, itís frustrating.  Downlo was a show that was really needed on the air because it showcased up-and-coming talent.  Iíd ask for input but I never felt like my suggestions were taken into consideration.  I felt like I was just the host of the show.  I need to be a part of it and if Iím representing a community or a culture of people, I need to be able to try to be their voice and try to tell management what people on the street wanted to listen to. 

LE:  Fans of MuchMusic often emailed and called Nam as there were so many changes to the format after our beloved Master T left.  Nam found herself with her hands tied.  One of the major differences was that Master T also produced his show and had almost exclusive control of what videos were aired and what guests were invited to the studio.  The changes in the format were immediate.  One of the issues that troubled Nam was the lack of reggae and dancehall videos.  When she expressed her concerns to management, she was told that MuchMusic was a national station and did not just cater to Toronto.  Huh?  Apparently, the perception was that Canadian reggae and dancehall fans lived exclusively in Toronto.  In fairness, Nam states ďI can understand from managementís point of view, up until Sean Paul started putting out some really clean videos, a lot of the dancehall videos were shot on High 8 and the quality was not that great.  At the same time too, we are required to play Canadian Content (ďCanconĒ) and some of the Cancon videos are not the best because theyíre working with a limited budget but we still aired them.  The question is, are we airing them because we want to support the music or because weíre required to by the CRTC.  I didnít really want to be a puppet and I felt like I was puppet.Ē 

Maybe thatís what they wanted to limit your role to.  Maybe they felt that Master T had too much power. 

NAM:  Itís been said and Iíve heard that before.  I learned a lot from those experiences but if Iím walking on the street and Iím supposed to represent this artist whoís trying to make a dollar, but theyíre not getting any kind of support, I canít call myself a supporter or a lover of the music if Iím just standing there doing what Iím told.  It wasnít fun anymore.

LE:  Do you think that your experience translates into the Canadian music industry?

NAM:  You hear certain artists on so-called Black radio and then you hear other artists on rock stations.  If youíre dominating the airwaves like that, obviously youíre going to reach a larger audience.  I think someone like K-OS becomes so marginalized.  A fact thatís always been interesting to me has been never in Canadian history have we broken an urban artist.  Itís NEVER been done.  Maestro came close to it and Rascalz kind of did; Iím speaking outside of Canada.  Youíve got Avril, Sum 41, Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlin.  You can go on and on about other genres of music that have broken in the States but never have they broken an urban artist.  I have to sit back and say ďWhy?Ē  When it comes to urban artists in Canada, I see why they leave.  Thereís no point in staying here.  Your own country is not supporting you for whatever reason.  In the States for two years in a row, urban music was the #1 selling genre.  I donít get it. 

LE:  Itís interesting, when I was interviewing Jazzy Jeff last week, he was bigging up Canada and its support of its artists. 

I think the fact that Canadian hip hop is very different musically from American hip hop, obviously because of different experiences and our population has much more of a West Indian influence.  I think itís great that the CRTC has the Cancon stipulation because otherwise, would the music get any support? 
Youíve got to go one step more.  Are you just playing the videos because you are required to?  Iím still trying to support the music at NBA XL and Petal (Baptiste) and Andrea (Chrysanthou) at MuchMusic still do that because theyíre part of the community.  Maybe thatís what Jazzy was referring to.  Thatís why weíre all here Ė to push it to that next level so everybody outside of Canada can see the jewels and the talent that is here. 

LE:  When did you first fall in love with basketball?

I used to play basketball in high school.  I was a shooting guard.  I stopped playing because I had to get a full time job while I was in high school.  I remember at one point on air at MuchMusic, I would get all these emails saying ďStop talking about basketball!Ē because thatís all Iíd talk about!  This is the second year doing XL.  Last year they approached me to do the show full time and I said letís see if we can work it out so I can do both.  So, they worked out a deal.  There was a synergy there
and I would share interviews with MuchMusic and NBA XL.  This year when they came back to me, I had to weigh my options.  There was something else that I wanted to do because in addition to being the host of the show, they also offered me a position as an associate producer and I couldnít say no to that. 

LE:  Are you happy?

NAM:  Extremely happy!  I miss the people that I used to work with at MuchMusic - it became like family.  I started out as an intern so I kind of grew up there.  Thatís one thing that Iíll always have close to MuchMusic.  CHUM
is an incredible organization to be part of.  Sooner or later though youíve got to make the choice to move on.  I almost stayed at MuchMusic because I thought maybe I could move around within CHUM and who knows, maybe that will still be an option but I had to say ďLetís see what happensĒ.  MuchMusic was comfortable for me Ė it was fun, I got paid, I got to hang out with my friends. 

LE:  Just the opportunity to have creative control again must be fulfilling compared with constantly being frustrated.

For a long time, I felt as if youíre here because you look a certain way even though thatís not the way I started.  I worked my way up.  My old boss, Denise Donlan, who is now Sonyís music president, was incredible because she would push me to challenge myself and she was never complacent with what I did.  I liked that because it was empowering. 

LE:  Whatís your favourite part of your new gig? 

The favourite part of my new job is that Iím in an environment where Iím being encouraged to explore all aspects of my talent from hosting, to interviewing, to producing.  I like being in an editing suite and collaborating with an editor.  Iím always encouraged to challenge myself. 

I donít want to just do this either.  I eventually want to own my own station.  Some people might think thatís a little bit too optimistic but I really want to do that.  Thatís why Iím setting myself up the way that I am.  The challenge is not allowing people to define who you are and showing people what you can do.  When Denise (Donlan) was still my boss, she asked me what I wanted to do in a few years.  I said that I wanted to have her job.  She understands that.  She was also someone who worked
her way up.  She was a roadie, a manager, she was on air, and a producer.  Now sheís running a music company. 

I decided to pitch an idea to Sportsnet to see if I could do a documentary on
Jamaal Magloire.  Heís accomplished what only three basketball players from Canada have done, which is to be in the NBA.  And they let me do it!  It shows that NBA Canada has a lot of confidence in their players. 

LE:  So, youíre doing a documentary on
Jamaal Magloire Ėhow did it all transpire?

NAM:  Jamaal did something with the MMVAs last year.  They knew I was a big basketball fan and they asked who I thought should be invited and I suggested Jamaal.  It got me thinking that not many people know who he is and he doesnít get the amount of media coverage that say, Steve Nash gets.  So when I started at Sportsnet, I was thinking that I want to do a documentary because I like working on them. Once they said yes, everything just happened.  He got on the All Star team Ė he becomes the second Canadian in NBA history to be an all star and heís the first one from Toronto.  He was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Ė heís had a really good season.  Plus, on the personal side, a few years ago, his brother, Justin Sheppard was murdered and his case is still unresolved.  So, he has an interesting history and the few times that Iíve met him, heís a great guy.  And it just started out like that. 

Nam said that the documentary will be an overview of Jamaalís career.  It starts off from this year when he was at the All Star game.  Sheís talked to his past coaches, fellow teammates, etc.  This special Canadian documentary will air on May 6th on Sportsnet.

And the least favourite part of your new job?

NAM:  That itís in Scarborough.  No offence to everybody who lives in Scarborough but Iím downtown girl.  But itís saved me a lot of money from shopping on Queen Street W.! 

LE:  Whoís your all-time favourite player to interview and why?

Iíd have to say Allen Iverson.  Because hereís someone thatís not as physically big as the other players.  For the past three years, heís been playing injured.  One time last year, they actually did a diagram on ESPN of all the injuries that he was dealing with.  And he still played.  I can identify with that because no matter how many times you get knocked down, you need to get back up.  The more times you get up, the stronger you become.  I think he has a lot of heart and heís a warrior. 

LE:  Whoís your all-time favourite player overall and why?

Iíd have to say Magic Johnson.  Not only for what he did on the basketball court but who he is as a man.  People can argue back and forth about
how he cheated on his wife or how he contracted HIV.  I donít know that.  As a result of what happened, he has become a stronger man.  Martin Luther King Jr. has a quote ďThe ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.Ē  When Magic found out that he was HIV positive, he didnít have to tell anybody.  People could have speculated but he came forward and he started educating people.  He also opened all these businesses in Compton and he opened the Magic Johnson Theatre where people can go and feel safe.  Heís really used that adversity to impact millions of people.  Itís not just about what you do on the basketball court or as a basketball player, but how you define yourself as a man.  People will remember him 20 years from now, not only for what he did on the court but what he did as man. 

LE:  As one of the few Canadian Black women in the world of sports journalism, what are the challenges you face? 

Iím just me doing my job.  My bosses at Sportsnet have been great.  I feel happy to be in an environment where itís more about the work that I do and not the way that I look. 

LE:  Namís natural and striking hair has been the subject of way too many conversations, for which she does not understand.  But it does seem clear that the way you look (or donít look) matters far too much in our society.  Nam is much more concerned with the message that she is conveying.

What does my hair have to do with what comes out of my mouth or how I conduct myself professionally?  Or my work ethic.  It has nothing to do with it.  Just because you are not used to it ...  Black women have hair like this Ė itís not something that should even be an issue.

What would you tell a young woman wanting to enter this arena?

NAM:  Education.  A lot of people say that you donít need a degree to get by and thatís theyíre opinion but the thing that Iím most proud of in my life is my degree.  I put myself through journalism school and I finished it and have a journalism degree.  I always tell people that if this is what you want to do, get into it for the right reasons i.e. where you have a career planned.  You donít want to be exploited because that happens a lot and you donít want to undermine the other people in that business.  Donít think that it has to do with what you look like because it doesnít.  Itís a very competitive business.  You really need to know what youíre doing. 

I think how women are perceived - itís either youíre a pretty girl or youíre a groupie - those are the two extremes.  So, the one thing that I will say to a young woman, is that you need to take pride in yourself.  You need to represent yourself and carry yourself in a manner where youíre proud of who you are.  It comes down to your credibility and credibility is such a big thing. 

LE:  How would you like to be remembered?  What kind of legacy would you like people to remember you for?

That I was sincere.  That I wasnít fake.  I think that TV can pick up on that.  TV doesnít lie.  Youíre making eye contact and your eyes are the windows of the soul.  I think two qualities that Iím proud of are my loyalty and my sincerity.  And that Iím not fake.  Sometimes that works against me because if I donít like you, you will know it.  You will see it in my eyes.  It takes a lot for me not to like somebody but sometimes my gut instinct tells me that youíre not good people.  I can usually tell when thereís a certain energy between me and someone else.  Iím not fake and I take pride in what I do. 

Namugenyi Kiwanuka Ė certainly not a fake but rather a convincing role model for women of any age, race or credo.  I seek out people with such integrity and humility Ė not qualities that are often recognized in this society (and scarcely in the entertainment business) but one that I, myself, celebrate and aspire to. 

Good luck Nam in all your future ventures and weíll be watching.  Donít forget to tune in on May 6th for her documentary on Jamaal Magloire.