He broke into an infectious smile upon ushering into the West Nile Web offices as I gazed at the slim, swaggering but confidence-oozing hip-hop music rapper.
Milton McPeter Maopini popularly known on stage and on the album covers as Gbaraspoken looked at home in this new environment and spoke like a good company at dinner during the whole interview.
But it is on a performance stage that his mastery of spoken-word poetry, dance and instrumentation fine-tuned to rhyme with the lyrics is in display.
His musical themes are crafted to resonate with the daily life experiences of his community such as girl-child education, prostitution, business, culture and animals like the leopard that have great symbolic importance to the people in the region.
His aim is to let the people understand these ills and influence them to change for the better.
With such themes and songs composed in Lugbara, Gbaraspoken is certainly the new star of the West Nile hip-hop music, an unofficial ambassador and unsung hero of the region.
He also wants to give his native language prominence. Lugbarati is a widely spoken native language in West Nile and parts of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo but Gbaraspoken laces the songs with a bit of Swahili and English to give them an international touch.
The songs are not only informative, captivating and fun but also blended with rich dose of inspirational poetry.
“I’m an advocate for positive life for children and I do my advocacy through music,” he said of his songs that have so far been compiled in three albums.
How he started
Gbaraspoken veered into hip-hop music by instinct. His is a story of an ambitious young man who dreamed of a life as fine artist but ended up in music.
Son to a primary school teacher from Micu village in Aroi sub county, Arua district, 26-year-old Gbaraspoken undertook his elementary education at Yivu primary school in Maracha where his father taught.
He later went to St. Charles Lwanga in Koboko for secondary school education where he excelled in fine art.
His initial motivation was to do a degree course in industrial arts but he got a government scholarship for a degree course in education, majoring in literature at Kyambogo University.
Upon completing the course, Gbaraspoken remained in central Uganda, doing a volunteer work with the International Rescue Committee by offering relief services to disaster victims.
Those experiences helped to shape his world view and he thought of bringing home new things he witnessed that he believed could transform his community.
This was when the idea to better communicate them through music, rapping and dance popped up in his mind because “music appeals to the soul.”
He also drew inspiration from vocalists like late Innocent Nyakuta whom he described as the father of West Nile music because his composition of songs in a mix of Lugbara and Congolese Lingala in late 1980’s and early 1990’s was masterful.
Then, he began taking baby-steps in his musical career and over time, Gbaraspoken has assembled a team of five artists with whom he has formed what he likes to call a music family where they perform together.
“I compose songs in my head, write them on piece of paper and rehearse vocally. In 2015 I did my actual professional recordings,” he narrated.
He named his first album Aparakayo (no jokes), but the most famous song in this album was about a young girl called Keturah who was forced by her parents into early marriage because they wanted bride wealth.
Child-marriages are common in West Nile but Gbaraspoken was prompted to compose this song by what he witnessed during a trip to Congo when he saw a teenage girl surrounded by three children all mothered by her.
In 2016, he churned out yet another album called Oyokole (whispers). The standout song in this one was about leopard, a wild beast that symbolises unity in the eyes of West Nile people.
The year 2017 saw Gbaraspoken come up with the Mindre Azia (six-tears). At the time of coming up with this album, expectant funs thought Gbaraspoken was going to be imitating crying people but in his typical poetic rapping, he surprised the people with themes that rotated around issues that affect them. For instance his song named Kapia after a migratory wild bird species talks about infidelity.
Gbaraspoken is also a trainer of creative arts. In 2015, he founded Platform503 to help youth development through creative arts.
Last year in, October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asked the group to train South Sudanese refugee youths at Bidibidi settlement that is home to about 272,000 displaced persons.
Over 800 youths participated in the programme codenamed “Bidibidi got talent” where three winners were identified and rewarded with UNHCR sponsorship for further training and talent development.
Gbaraspoken’s work in hip-hop rap is certainly been taken note of. In 2016, he was shortlisted in the competition for best artist northern region in the Uganda National Music awards and the best rapper northern region in the Uganda hip-hop awards but was unsuccessful.
However in the same year he won the best West Nile hip-hop accolade and in 2017, he was crowned the hip-hop artist of the year by the Northern Uganda entertainment awards.