Texas-based artist Jon Muq brings spin to Western music with infusion of his native Ugandan sounds

Muq talks about his journey – from performing on the streets of Uganda to producing his debut album “Flying Away” with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach.

By Laura Rice & Jesus VidalesFebruary 22, 2024 12:27 pm, ,

Uganda-born artist Jon Muq dreamed of singing to people in the United States since he first picked up a guitar nearly ten years ago.

After years of work performing on the streets of Uganda, in clubs, and on cruises, he caught the attention of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach who helped him produce his debut album, “Flying Away.”

His music is infused with Ugandan and Western sounds with themes of resilience and connection drawn from his years growing up in Kampala and the people he left behind after moving to Austin.

Muq joined the Texas Standard to talk about his musical journey. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

Courtesy of Easy Eye Sound

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us about that journey from Uganda to Austin. What was that journey like?

Jon Muq: I always wanted to go to America. I didn’t know much about the States. I got this opportunity to work on a cruise line. After that opportunity, I was like, “okay, should I go back home? Or should I keep chasing my journey and dream of doing music?”

I requested to volunteer at the refugee place here in Austin to sing for a fundraiser, so I called them. I’m like, “hey, I want to come there and sing for free. I see you have no entertainment.”

When I arrived in Austin, I realized that it was a music city. I didn’t know anything about Texas. I just saw people holding guitars, and I asked, “why are people moving with guitars everywhere?” They told me, “well, it’s called South by Southwest.”

There are videos of you performing on YouTube, and it sort of seems to have organically taken off. How did you get the attention of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys?

I was playing my guitar, and the song “Blackbird” by the Beatles came into my head, and I was like, “wow, I like that melody.” And I made a short video of me singing that song in my version. 

So I posted it and I think that video spent like three years online until Dan Auerbach landed on that video. He reached out to me through Kevin Wommack. I didn’t know who the Black Keys were, so I was like, “okay, we have this message from Dan Auerbach”. So he told me, “Jon he’s one of the best producers.”

Tell us a little bit about your own journey of musical discovery back in Uganda. Was there a song that made you think, “well, I want to sort of expand my own musical voice”? Was there Western music that you sort of caught on to when you were in Uganda?

You know, when you’re young, you figure out what you love to do. When I was little, I was always drawn to sound. I would follow sound. And I landed on a CD with the song “We Are the World.”

Oh yeah, the Live Aid song.

Yes. That song really opened my whole perspective. I mean, I listened to all these people singing. I was like, “what if my voice can fit in between all these people?” Because this is one song, one melody. But people are singing in different tones. And it was magical. So that really drew me into Western music.

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How did you start writing your own songs, though?

Writing songs really came when I was in that process of learning how to play guitar nine years ago.

I was working one evening and heard someone playing a guitar and when I knocked on the gate, the guy opened, and I was so intrigued to see this instrument. That was the first time in my life to ever see a guitar. And I was like, “this is going to answer my questions.”

And for writing songs, this girl was breaking up with my closest friend. He came and told me, “this girl is leaving.” And I was like, “can I write a letter?” So I write a letter, and he gives it to the girl and it works. He calls me the next day and is like, “hey, she’s so happy.” And I’m like, “can you get my letter? This going to be my song. My first song.”

And what was the name of that first song?

It’s called “Always as One.”

What a wonderful story. You had a previous release, and I think this is a song that’s also going to be on the new album called “Runaway.” What’s the backstory there?

“Runaway” is about a self-reflection of what we pass through in life. We all are running for a good reason or a bad reason. I think as humans we run from things good or bad, but it takes courage to run.

It was not until I moved to Austin that I realized I ran away from a lot. I grew up with a family. I grew up with sisters, cousins, friends. I didn’t run, like running away – you know, rushing. But after a long time, I realized I had run away from that. But it takes courage. So that’s what that song is about.

Courtesy of Easy Eye Sound

Do you ever yearn for Uganda again, or do you feel at home in Texas?

It’s kind of balanced. I really appreciate Uganda because it built me into who I am. For me to be able to be in America and also respect America, because it’s helped me learn and grow a lot and discover things about me that I did not know at all. But sometimes, I yearn for Ugandan stuff, like my food.

Well, so tell us a little bit more about this new album that’s coming out. Obviously you’ve got some different sonic styles here. Do you have a favorite track on the album?

Yes. Favorite track is called “Hello Sunshine.”

This is a song about just a beautiful day. When you wake up you feel everything is just going great. The weather is good and it makes you forget. Almost like place. And it’s a really happy sunny song.

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