Interview with Author Sheila Kalusumu

kenneth parnell ·

Welcome to our Author interview series,  Sheila Kalusumu has published a bilingual book with music and stories presented in the Luganda and English languages. As you will see the talented Sheila Kalausuma also speaks Swedish. 

Is this your first book?   

I have written several children's books, but Enyimba z'abato (Children’s Songs) is the first book I have published.

 How did you get the idea to write it?

Singing is a fun way for children to learn languages and learn about new worlds. At home I sing children’s songs in Luganda, English and Swedish. I have different books of children's songs and lullabies in English and Swedish. A book with children’s songs in my native language, Luganda, was missing.

Uganda - Luganda Traditional Dance


My children wondered why there weren’t any books of children’s songs in Luganda. I had never seen such a book myself, and I searched for one but found none. I then decided that it was time to do something about it since such book was non-existent. Instead of complaining that such a book was not available, I chose to create one. I thought that there might be other Ugandans who also wished that such a book existed. Therefore, I wrote the book in Luganda so that other Ugandans who speak Luganda can benefit from it, in Uganda as well as abroad.  And also, in a way, to preserve a small piece of Baganda culture. In addition to learning the songs, you learn about the Baganda culture through the illustrations.


How many languages ​​do you speak?

I speak Luganda, English and Swedish fluently. In school I also studied Spanish and German.


Can you tell the reader something about the Luganda language and Baganda culture?

Luganda is a Bantu language spoken mainly by Baganda, and in particular in Kampala. Luganda is the second largest language in Uganda after English, which is the official language in Uganda.


Baganda is the largest ethnicity in Uganda. The Baganda have a king (Kabaka), who is included in the second part of my book, Nagenda e Buddu. The king has a major role in Baganda culture and in the Ugandan community. People in Uganda dress colourfully, and "gomesi" is the traditional clothing for Baganda women. Gomesi is featured in the song “Kaleeba” in the book. Baganda men dress in "kanzu".


Do you feel music helps with language learning?

Absolutely. Music is extremely important when learning a new language. Songs are a good aid for memory, pronunciation, flow and grammar. Most often, we learn the lyrics before learning the meaning of the words we’re singing. There is a lot of repetition in singing,  which is a great recipe for learning languages.


What sort of education did you have?

I have an MBA in economics and I work as a criminal investigator.


What is your favorite line or song from the book?

"Aliwa, Aliwa Omuto Nambi" (“Where is little Nambi?”). I replaced the name Sarah in the song with Nambi. Uganda was a British colony until 1962, when it gained its independence. Many forenames in Uganda are therefore English names, but because the book is written in Luganda and the pictures are inspired by the culture of Baganda people, I chose a Baganda name instead.


What is your favorite animal?

I love all animals, but if I had to choose, I would choose the leopard. The Buganda King Muteesa I had a leopard as a pet, which could be seen by the public at the Kasubi Tombs in Kampala.


What do you see as the most pressing issues in the world?

I think it's important that children grow up feeling loved and in a safe environment that benefits their personal, social and mental development so that they can grow up and become their best self.


I also believe that African languages will disappear if we don’t do something now. The languages are, for example, not being used in African schools, and few people abroad teach their children their native languages. It’s upsetting to know that children get punished in schools for speaking their native languages in African countries. Imagine being punished in the USA for speaking English and not Luganda! I want Africans to be proud to be Africans and to be proud of their languages and their cultures.


What are your plans for your next book?

I want to publish three more books in Luganda. I think that it’s important to teach children in Uganda and abroad their native language. I also want to publish a children's book in Swedish.


Did you have any funny challenges while writing this book?

It was a challenge to find proofreaders. Then there were several variations of the same song because different people remembered the same song differently. Also, the illustrators were asked to draw African children, but the children always ended up with blue or green eyes, which is a very rare eye colour in Africans.


How did you find the process of getting it published?

I wasn’t able to find a book publisher in Sweden that agreed to publish the book, which I can understand since the book is in Luganda. I therefore decided to self-publish.


What advice would you give a first-time author?

Follow your heart, and if you want something badly enough you will find a way. If you can, contact any future customers, such as bookstores, before the book is printed to get an idea of the level of ​​interest in the book.