Mr. Joseph Jurua a.k.a JJ Suru is a music and entertainment hustler who has juggled from hip-hop, Afro and other hard to gauge musical genre to reggae.
Just like many musicians from the West Nile region, he began his career in the church choir at a tender age.
He also sang at school especially during the preparation for Uganda’s Independence Day anniversary celebrations and took part in Lugbara traditional dances.
When he joined secondary school, Suru became active in staging school drama and karaoke shows during holidays.
These amateur performances helped to prepare the now 31-year-old dreadlocked artiste for the multitasking job in the entertainment world. He describes himself as a songwriter, screenplay director, and an aspiring film producer.
His love for music
Though it is his source of livelihood today, Suru’s love for music emanated from his challenging background which he simply wanted to highlight and make known to the world.
Born as a result of early marriage and raised by the grandmother in a squalid suburb of Arua town near Jiako primary school, Suru’s maiden songs were a reflection of his early life.
He composed his first song in 2007 while in S.4, however, the family did not buy into his idea of becoming a musician without formal education. Family members insisted that he continued with school and focus on studies so that he could become a responsible person in the future.
It was after joining Kampala International University to pursue a course in public administration that Suru got the much-needed freedom to record his first song “Abaza.”
It was hip-hop music unsurprisingly themed around the confusion caused in families by broken relationships.
“The key message was that families should learn to solve parental disagreements because children need love and care from both parents during their formative years of development,” he says.
However, Suru’s stay at the university was short-lived because the person who was paying his tuition abruptly cutoff communication and he had no fees.
Getting stranded in Kampala
He dropped out and began loitering in Kampala, eventually getting a chance to work at Fifi films, a recording studio in Kampala.
The studio produced both audio and videos and Suru got interested in learning video editing using adobe software. It was also from here that he got interested in script play for drama while investing his paltry earning to do a certificate course in health records.
Embraced by his first learning attitude, the studio owner decided to team with Suru to jointly produce a film. They called it Pamvu (footmarks), but after recording three-quarters of the work, the owner traveled to South Africa and in his absence, all vital studio equipment were stolen following a break-in.
Ultimately the production project of what was supposed to be a family play emphasizing morals and intended to sensitize people on the dangers of fornication, HIV and stigma could not proceed.
Suru remained stranded in Kampala and chose to grow dreadlocks while at the same time looking for any kind of job that could bring him money.
He was made to operate a casino but was dismissed for not shaving. He also lost a job posting at Garden city for the same reason.
But Suru refused to change his new found lifestyle, instead, he took to hosting shows at mini-clubs in Kasangati, a suburb of Kampala.
In 2015, Suru moved to Arua after sensing that he was not going to make a breakthrough in Kampala.
He got close to Van Smoki, by then an upcoming brand in the region’s music industry. They staged music shows together allowing people to know Suru better and thereby building on his own reputation as he fine-tuned his talent.
Composing songs in Lugbara, English, and Kiswahili, Suru quickly churned out captivating solo songs like Uganda my home, mother-in-law, epama (save me) and mi egama (remember me) among others.
The following year, he began transitioning from hip-hop which he says requires serious attitude to reggae that he deemed more marketable, educative and gentle.
Suru says he thought he could balance between music and formal employment the he applied to the Arua district service commission and was employed as a records officer at Ullepi health centre III in 2016.
While the locals in the area admired his dreadlock, the district officials questioned his shabby looking head and after forcing him to shave it off in vain, Suru was dismissed.
Fortunately, this happened after Suru and other artists like Milton McPeter Maopini known as Gbaraspoken had already formed platform 503 to aid youth development through creative arts.
Suru was made the finance manager of the organization in which he also specializes in teaching drama and music.
In 2017 the UNHCR assigned the group to train South Sudan refugees under a project Bidibidi got talent and as the project drew to closure last year, platform 503 was awarded a Shs 18m to conduct sexual and gender-based violence starting this February.
The project is funded by the United Nations Population Fund through Out Box, an organization implementing the Up Accelerate project.
Suru says they have developed products known as You Change skits which are five to ten minute films on reproductive health aimed at fighting domestic violence in the refugee settlements.
Challenges and opportunities
Suru says climbing the ladder of creative arts to this level has not been a bed of roses. The hiccups, he says include “our own people giving more attention to foreign artists.
The airspace on local radios, he notes is saturated with foreign content while the local populace that is supposed to form the core of their fun base is left to watch them in disco halls during occasional holidays.
To address the gap, Suru calls for the establishment of a digital television dedicated to promoting local music and arts.
The artiste who dreams of ending his career as a film producer says West Nile is blessed with diverse language and culture worth promoting through creative arts such as music and films.