Newspaper article International New York Times

From Gap-Year Volunteer to Ugandan Pop Star

Newspaper article International New York Times

From Gap-Year Volunteer to Ugandan Pop Star

Article excerpt

A conversation with the German singer Deena Herr who wowed Uganda.

After finishing high school in Germany, Deena Herr decided to spend her gap year in Rwanda volunteering at a charity center for street children. Three years later, through a series of chance events, Ms. Herr, 22, has become a very unlikely pop star in neighboring Uganda. A self-taught musician who speaks six languages - - including Kinyarwanda and some Swahili -- Ms. Herr got noticed for singing, apparently without an accent, in Luganda, the country's most widely spoken language. A music video of her first single, the Afro-beat love song "Mumulete," written with Meddie Menz, quickly went viral on social media, shared by thousands of Ugandans shocked that a "muzungu," a white person, could sing flawlessly in their native tongue. "I can't believe my ears and eyes," one commenter said. Ms. Herr said she was overwhelmed by the reaction. "It was a huge surprise," she said by phone from Kampala, where she is finishing up an internship in social work while recording her first album on the local label Ruff N Tuff. "It's playing on the radio, on the streets, in the clubs, some people even have it on their phones." The following are excerpts from a conversation.

Q. You had serious doubts about whether to release your first single in Luganda. What were you afraid of?

A.Honestly, I thought when we came out with this song that people here would be offended by me -- because I'm white and I'm doing their music. But actually, it was a very big welcome. People were like, "No matter where you come from, what you look like, if you take the time to learn our language, and love our language, you're so welcome here."

Q. Do you think you have a gift for languages?

A.I guess I do. Even in school I spoke four languages fluently and picked up some Portuguese when I traveled in Brazil. …

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