A CIA Officer’s Life as the Frontman of One of Uganda's top Bands
The band’s reception in the rural town of Soroti was lukewarm – a departure from their raucous weekly performances back in the capital.
“We were playing our regular stuff and people were kind of into it,” said Jim Logan, the band’s guitarist. “But it just wasn’t hitting.”
This was in 2003. Logan, a Berklee College of Music-trained guitarist, and his band, the Kampala Jazz All-Stars, had trekked nearly six hours through the East African countryside to play the gig. With more than 1,000 people in the audience, the group’s vocalist, Darrell M. Blocker, had an idea.
“Dude, we have got to start singing some stuff,” he shouted between songs. “We’ve got to start doing stuff that they hear and they recognize.”
Blocker cued the band to play “Stir It Up,” Bob Marley’s reggae hit.
“Everybody got up and danced,” Logan recalled. “He turned the whole thing around.”
Blocker knew how to connect with the audience in Soroti because that’s how the CIA trains all of its operations officers – clandestine agents who work undercover to gather intelligence. The difference, of course, is that most of those skilled operators work in quiet bars or roadside motel rooms – not singing live before scores of adoring fans.
“My clandestine activities were enhanced by being viewed as a singer, because who would ever think that one could be both?” Blocker said. “That is a leap too far for most and I honestly feel that it kept me safer by being in plain sight.”
As a lifelong vocalist, Blocker always felt comfortable in front of an audience. From his local church choir in Hepzibah, Georgia, to glee club at the University of Georgia, he called singing his first love. But Blocker’s lengthy bout as a spy helped him hone that passion, he said, taking cues from his day job to breathe life into his nighttime performances.
“They’re both very intimate…” Blocker recently said, referring to performing onstage and “the art of espionage,” as he calls it. “…Intimate in the sense that, if you are truly paying attention and listening to whoever is sitting across from you, they will know it, and they will know that you’re sincere.”