INTERVIEW: Jon Muq flies higher with debut, help from mentor Dan Auerbach

Jon Muq, courtesy Larry Niehues

Jon Muq, courtesy Larry Niehues

For Ugandan musician and songwriter Jon Muq, “flying away” carries hopeful connotations. The title of his debut album, Flying Away is the story of a young man from a village, learning English and music by listening to old records—starting with a CD of “We Are the World,” no less—and one day sharing stages with heavyweights like Norah Jones, Mavis Staples and Billy Joel. It’s a story that has been in the making for nearly nine years.

Flying Away
Jon Muq

Easy Eye Sound, May 31
Get the album on Amazon Music.

“When I was in Uganda learning music, I believed I wanted to fly away,” Muq said in a recent interview. “I wanted to fly somewhere and do something good, and that happened!”

Now based in Austin, Muq has lived an extraordinary music journey. It started with him singing Western songs in the streets of Mutungo, a village in Uganda, to landing a gig in a local hotel. He would go on to perform on a cruise ship, and that eventually led him to Texas where he met the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. The two of them began making music together.

“It was my first time sitting in a plane, my first time traveling. So when it came to thinking of titles, it really came to mind that this album is about flying away and it should help other people believe they can fly away [too],” Muq said.

Set to release in May on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound (also home to San Francisco’s Shannon Shaw), the 12-track album is highly autobiographical.

“Each song on this album is a story; it’s about an event that has really happened,” he said. “Some are happy songs, some are upbeat, some are slow but each song has its own cool vibe. It’s all about happiness and bringing joy to people.

“I do everything around my story,” he added. “How I grew up and where I grew up. Even in the music, I need that element there because if I take that away, that means I’ll be living someone else’s identity.”

Muq said he wants to create music that will bring impactful change to his home country and the rest of the African continent. One of his dreams is to build maternity hospitals in Uganda to alleviate a crisis of young mothers giving birth with no proper healthcare. The chance of losing a child during childbirth are much higher there than in the United States. Childbirth is often feared rather than celebrated and he wants to change the narrative, he said.

“Many of them become mothers at young ages when they can’t even support themselves and this puts them at risk. I saw my twin sister pass through that and it scared me a lot,” he said. “Where I grew up people prayed when someone was giving birth. So my dream as a musician is to create a facility knowing that when someone walks in they will leave happy.”

“Shake Shake,” his latest single, is an upbeat love bop that opens with soothing harmonies and shakers. It’s an invitation to sway, dance and be free. Muq said that writing “Shake Shake” was a fluid process.

“I was just playing with stuff, I liked … how it flows, and decided I am going to write some simple words to it, but it was about the moment,” he said.

Creating Flying Away required three ingredients: the moment, the melody and the story, he said.

“I like melodies and when I feel it, I just embrace that moment, get a pen and write a story through that,” he said. “The reason I believe in moments … they don’t come twice.”

Working with Auerbach was a joyful and creative learning experience, Muq said. The Black Keys musician and now successful producer guided him along the way, providing feedback and suggestions at every step.

There were challenges with moving to a new country and fitting in, he said, for which he had to work to balance his creative side. These included closing the language and lifestyle gap. After the move, he quickly picked up more and more of the language.

Living in Austin has influenced Muq’s sound and his growth as an artist, too.

“Austin is a music town and when you see other musicians everyday, it’s truly inspiring and it keeps you going,” he said.

Even before the album is out, Muq is teasing his new songs on a short U.S. tour. He also plans to bring his music back to Africa and perform there, too.

“I am really excited about singing beautiful songs to people,” he said. “[Whether] one person is touched, or 100, then I will be happy.”

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