Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe tells the inspirational story of international chess champion Phiona Mutesi, a prodigy from the slum Katwe in Kampala, Uganda. The film shows some of the realities of poverty, and it also shows the vibrancy of life in Katwe, through its people, sights, and sounds.
Part of the soundscape is a delightfully catchy song sung by a child to sell salt, a love letter of sorts to the “#1 Spice” which brings “flavor to the fish” and “flavor to the rice”. Queen of Katwe movie goers who stay for the credits are treated to a rousing full-length rendition of the single by Young Cardamom aka YC (Zohran Kwame Mamdani) and HAB (Hussein Abdul Bar). YC and HAB are a hip-hop duo addressing social issues through their music, blending the sounds of Kampala with influences from Uganda, South Sudan, India, Atlanta, and Lahore.
The two grew up in the same part of Kampala, called Buziga, and last year they released “Kanda (Chap Chap),” a song celebrating the East African street food chapati and using it as a way to discuss identity, migration and pride. Mamdani wrote about “Kanda (Chap Chap)” on the blog Africa is a Country (“You Want Another Rap, Uganda?”):
HAB and I are both Ugandans with roots abroad, with HAB’s in South Sudan and mine in India. We play on that as he raps in a mixture of Nubi, Luganda, Swahili, and English, and I start my second verse with “I got the same history as chapati/origins of India but born in UG/rock brown skin but ndi munnayuganda/luyembe ko muluzungu ne muluganda.” The last lines are in Luganda and translate into “rock brown skin but I’m Ugandan/I can rap in both English and Luganda.” Our lyrics and choice of language are rebuttals of what Ugandan society expects of us – that someone with some South Sudanese roots is forever “Nubi” and that Indian Ugandans are actually just Indians in Uganda. Chapati embodies this as it’s something that many thought could only ever be understood as South Asian, but has very much become a Ugandan dish. What used to be used to eat your main dish is now it’s own dish. Only in Kampala can I walk up to a roadside vendor and order two chapatis as my lunch.
The video for “Kanda (Chap Chap)” is colorful, not only because of the bright, traditional fabrics worn by the musicians, but also because of how chapatis are celebrated, with dance moves (“Roll the chapati!”) and handed out like diplomas, not to mention a DJ spinning one like a record.
Young Cardamom & HAB’s single “#1 Spice” can be found on the Queen of Katwe soundtrack. Their debut EP is Sidda Mukyaalo (I am not going back to the village). Find their music and videos on Soundcloud and YouTube.
* * *