In Summary
  • Reclaiming her life: Irene Naava Nanyanzi, who has a hearing and speech impairment, recently appeared in the Nkwegomba music video. She talked to Gabriel Buule about her musical appearance and other aspects of her life as a person with a disability

Irene Naava Nanyanzi, 21, was born a healthy child until the age of three when she was struck by malaria that left her with a permanent hearing and speech impairement.
As a result, she had to learn and communicate with sign language.

Nanyanzi’s ability to communicate with sign language got her noticed and she featured as the cover girl in singer Kenneth Mugabi’s Nkwegomba video that has been an internet sensation.

The video, which was released in September, shows Nanyanzi using sign language to sing the chorus of the song.
During the interview, Nanyanzi communicates with sign language which I (the reporter) also understand. And sometimes when she wants to emphasise a point, she writes down something on a piece of paper.

Nanyanzi says her dream is to become a music icon and by appearing in a music video, it is a gateway to her dream.
“I am looking forward to several opportunities that might come my way,” she signs
Appearing in a music video is among the greatest things that have ever happened to Nanyanzi’s life, who boasts about the opportunities and friends she has got following the music video.

Nasike, is a friend who also has a hearing and speech impairment. She cannot hide the bliss over Nanyanzi’s achievement. She says seeing a person with the same impairement appear in a music video is a huge milestone.

Music is her thing
Edith Luwedde, Nanyanzi’s mother, explains that her daughter grew up loving television and radio. She watched keenly and danced to the beats mimicking whatever she either heard or saw.
“Her appearance in a music video is a dream come true. This is something she has always longed for,” Luwedde explains.

Growing up
Luwedde notes that is was not easy bringing up Nanyanzi, it came with its own share of challenges.
“She is a sensitive child. Despite her inability to talk, she always wants to be included in most verbal conversations. It’s always up to me to understand the child’s needs at all times,” she says.

According to Nanyanzi, most people take too long to realise that she has a hearing and speech impairment and on some occasions, she even gets bullied by motorcyclists (boda boda men) who take advantage of the fact that she cannot speak.
Besides using sign language, Nanyanzi also writes as a mode of communication.
“I text mostly when chatting with my friends on the phone,” she signs.
Her free time is often spent with peers at the national theatre practicing dance and watching performances.

The music video
Kenneth Mugabi, the Nkwegomba singer, explains that in his song, Nanyanzi was telling a Ugandan old school love life story in a universal language.
Mugabi says the intention of including Nanyanzi in the video is in order to seek for inclusiveness in the music industry.
“The idea of making the video came after I was watching a video clip on youtube featuring American singer, Sia.

In the song, Sia uses sign language and I was moved to replicate the idea but still contemplated how to execute it until I met music producer Adnan Ssenkumba, who executed the entire project,” Mugabi says.
Ssenkumba also doubles as the proprietor of Wrist House Uganda, a film, music and art project that also works with people who have a hearing impairment.

Since Adnan and Mugabi went to the same school, they share a similar school love story where some school pupils engage into intimacy with fellow students and a preying teacher haunts the couple but his focus is on the boy because he has interest in the same girl.
Ssenkumba believes individuals with a hearing impairment are capable of doing many amazing things including contributing towards the music industry

For this particular video, he worked with other people, also having a hearing impairment. Nanyanzi is the main character.
“The beauy with them is that they do not complicate issues and they express their feelings with facial expressions,” he says.
Undoubtedly, Nanyanzi says the music video has not only exposed her but also showed her capabilities despite her hearing and speech and impairment.

Nanyanzi’s family and education background
Irene Naava Nanyanzi was born on November 11, 1997 in Nansana Wakiso District. She is a daughter of Edith Luwedde and Herbert Makumbi, a local businessman.
She is the first born in a family of four (two boys and two girls). Nanyanzi is the only speech and hearing impaired member of the family and her situation has influenced most of the family members to learn sign language.
Naava started her education at Ntinda School of the deaf where she finished her primary school in 2013 passing with a second grade. Later, she joined Wakiso secondary school for the deaf where she completed O -Level in 2016.
Currently, Nanyanzi is pursuing a certificate in catering at Malaika Institute in Kamwokya –Kampala.