Bash Luks elucidates the musical genres that influenced Ugandan music

By Bash Luks II Contributor
Music Review Bash Luks
FEB 27, 2024 LISTEN
Bash Luks

The music industry in Uganda is highly dynamic and plays a significant role in the social and economic aspects of people's lives. Celebrities in Uganda are predominantly musicians, who have increasingly utilized their music, regardless of genre, to convey messages and promote social and economic transformation.

The primary language choice across all music genres is Ganda/Luganda, with some artists incorporating English and, more recently, Swahili to reach a broader audience. This passage offers an overview of several prominent music genres in Uganda.

In Uganda, music exhibits distinct regional variations. The rich tapestry of Ugandan music is deeply rooted in diverse genres that have been down through generations. This wide array of musical styles has given rise to a fusion of sounds, enjoyed by the people of Uganda, including the beloved Kadongo Kamu tunes. In terms of music and entertainment, Uganda now holds the esteemed position of being ranked third in Africa. This achievement can be attributed to the country's remarkable diversity, as it is home to over 56 different ethnic groups and tribes, all of which contribute to the vibrant tapestry of indigenous music.

The Kadongo Kamu style emerged as the first popular form of music from traditional music, specifically the Ganda/Luganda Music. During the 80s and early 90s, this style of music was dominated by renowned musicians like Peterson Mutebi, Dan Mugula, Sebaduka Toffa, Fred Sonko, Livingstone Kasozi, Fred Masagazi, Baligidde, Abuman Mukungu, Gerald Mukasa, Sauda Nakakaawa, Matia Luyima, Herman Basudde, Livingstone Kasozi, and Paul Kaffero. Kadongo Kamu influenced various music genres, making it the most impactful style in Uganda. In the late 90s, a new genre called Bax Ragga was introduced by Abdu Mulaasi. With the effects of globalization, Uganda, like many African countries, has experienced a surge in modern audio production. As a result, there has been an embrace of Western music styles such as Dancehall and Hip Hop.

Musicians hold a prominent position in Uganda and dominate the entertainment scene, with music being the primary focus of mainstream media. Ugandans closely follow the personal lives of musicians, making them the center of attention. Music concerts, often referred to as album launches, enjoy great popularity. Companies invest substantial amounts of money in these concerts, and advertisements for these events are frequently seen on radio and television.

The initial music style that gained popularity is the Kadongo Kamu genre, originating from traditional music in Uganda. The term "Kadongo Kamu" translates to "One Guitar" in English. This name is attributed to the prominent role of the bass guitar often serving as the primary instrument in creating music. Due its strong appeal among cultural enthusiasts in the Buganda region, this genre attracts an audience. Furthermore, other music genres have inspiration from Kadongo Kamu, solidifying its status as the most influential style of music.

Fred Masagazi was one of the pioneers in the early 1960s, being the first musician to sing and play the bass guitar in Uganda after its independence. Christopher Sebaduka and Elly Wamala, who were part of the musical events during the 1962 independence celebrations, are considered the founders of this musical style. Their educational songs gained them a significant fanbase, and they were among the few musicians involved in Uganda's independence. Other musicians like Herman Basudde, Fred Ssebatta, Bernard Kabanda, and Paul Kafeero continued to uphold the style and sound of this music. Although they passed away, their music continues to live on. Among the surviving pioneers of this music is Dan Mugula. Despite being marginalized in favor of more recent music styles, this genre is still widely played.

Kidandali is a music genre that currently holds the title of arguably being the most popular genre of music in Uganda. The origins of this genre can be traced back to the time when Uganda gained its independence and bands emerged in various parts of the country. This musical style closely followed the emergence of Kadongo Kamu and can be seen as a modern variation of it. However, the term "Kidandali" is not universally accepted as the name for this genre, as some local sources prefer the simpler term "Band Music," while others opt for Afrobeat, despite the lack of similarities with the actual Afrobeat genre.

The Afrigo Band, is widely recognized as the pioneering group in the development of this genre of music. They have managed to stand the test of time since releasing their debut album, 'Omutanda Gyali,' in 1994. Notably, they were the first Uganda musical group to release their music on CD. The music of the Afrigo Band was heavily influenced by Soukous and Congolese artists such as Franco, who were dominant throughout the African Continent at that time. Although there were other bands like Rwenzori Band, Big Five Band, and Simba Ngoma Band along the way, Afrigo Band emerged as the most prominent and enduring, particularly during the political unrest of the 1970s to 1990s.

Artists such as Joanita Kawalya and Rachael Magoola were members of Afrigo Band, playing a significant role in establishing the foundation for modern-day Kidandali music. Other bands, like Kaads Band, also contributed to this foundation. However, the pivotal moment came with the establishment of the Eagles Production Band. This Band played a crucial role in nurturing and promoting talented artists such as Mesach Semakula, Grace Ssekamatte, Geoffrey Lutaaya, Ronald Mayinja, Fred Sseruga and Haruna Mubiru.

During the 2000s, the genre became closely associated with the Eagles Production. This Band continued to nurture and showcase new talent, particularly female artists such as Catherine Kusasira, Irene Namatovu, and Stecia Mayanja. Another significant development occurred around 2007 when David Lutalo gained popularity with his hit song 'Kapapala.' This breakthrough allowed the genre to expand beyond the confines of the Eagles Production Band, paving the way for other solo artists to enter the scene.

The rise of Kidandali also brought forth a new generation of acclaimed musicians, such as Bobi Wine, who is affectionately known as the "Ghetto President." Hailing from a humble background, Bobi Wine's musical style and lyrical content resonate with both rural and urban communities. His main competitors in the industry are Jose Chameleone and Bebe Cool.

Dancehall music in Uganda takes inspiration from Jamaican Dancehall and holds significant influence in the Ugandan pop music industry. While most dancehall artists perform in their local language, they often incorporate Jamaican patois into their music. During early to mid-199s, as Uganda's pop industry was taking shape, Raggamuffin music from Jamaica made a profound impact on Ugandan artists. Shabba Ranks and Buju Banton served as inspirations for Ugandan artists like Ragga Dee and Rasta Rob. The Dem Bow beat, created by Shabba Ranks, became the fundamental rhythm for Ugandan dancehall, similar to its influence on Reggaeton. In the late 1990s, new artists such as Mega Dee and Emperor Orlando joined the scene.

New artists such as Jose Chameleone, Bebe Cool, and Bobi Wine entered the music scene and made a significant impact. However, they did not bring about any noticeable improvements in the quality and sound of the music they inherited, as it remained simplistic and heavily influenced by Dem Bow. The overall quality of the music was limited by the available production resources. Jose Chameleone, being a dancehall artist, was the first to experiment with blending the ragga sound with other genres like Soukous and Kadongo Kamu.

Jamaican dancehall had already undergone a significant transformation, moving away from the harsh 'ragga' sound characterized by simplistic riddims. A new wave of dancehall DJs, such as Vybz Kartel and Busy Signal, emerged, incorporating more complex riddims into their work. Artists such as Dr Hilderman also entered the scene, introducing fresh expressions like 'Double bed Mazongoto' and have continued to evolve. Uganda has seen the rise of new dance artists like Rabadaba, Sizza Man, and Fidempa, who bring a more contemporary interpretation to the genre.

Hip-hop culture has had a significant impact on the youth in Uganda, extending beyond just music. Inspired by American hip-hop, young fans in Uganda have fully embraced the culture, adopting its fashion, mannerisms, and even speech. In the late 1990s, Klear Cut and Bataka Squad emerged as two of the pioneering hip-hop groups in Uganda. Initially, hip-hop faced resistance and many music groups were compelled to alter their style. Despite this initial pushback, artists like Navio and Babaluku persisted in pursuing this genre. It wasn't until 2008, with the emergence of GNL Zamba, that hip-hop truly gained popularity in Uganda. The trend of hip-hop continues to grow in Uganda, with more and more artists embracing its style. While there may not be a significant difference between American and Ugandan hip-hop, Ugandan artists started performing in Luganda, giving rise to the term "Lugaflow" to describe the notion that hip-hop can still flow and entertain in languages other than English.

Currently, hip-hop remains a highly popular genre in mainstream media. Among the most influential hip-hop artists in the country today are Keko, an exceptional female artist, and Navio, who occasionally performs alongside their former bandmate, The Myth.

Gospel music has experienced significant growth in Uganda in recent years. It has evolved from praise and worship music performed in church choirs and bands, particularly in Pentecostal churches and the Born Again movement known locally as 'Balokole'. The number of gospel artists who have emerged in the country since the 1990s is now comparable to that of musicians in other popular genres.

In the early 2000s, the gospel music scene saw a rise in diverse styles, with groups like Sauti and First Love contributing to the urban sound popularized by Limit X. Additionally, artists such as George Okudi and Father Musaala gained recognition through their hits on radio stations both locally and internationally.

Gospel music began to make a significant impact on the music industry with the emergence of Judith Babirye around 2007. Judith Babirye, whose musical style was similar to Mukasa's, quickly gained popularity and her song "Beera Nange" became one of the top songs of the year when it was released. Pastor Wilson Bugembe, another musician, also gained a strong following and his songs became national hits, appealing to a wide range of listeners. Since then, several new artists from various genres have joined the gospel music scene.

Exodus comprises a talented group of young musicians who possess the ability to perform various genres, although their music is often categorized as gospel. Similarly, Judith Babirye and Pastor Wilson Bugembe are versatile artists who also explore genres like kidandali and soukous, but they are primarily associated with gospel music. The widespread appeal of Judith's song 'Yesu Beera Nange' (2005) and Exodus' popular 'Igwe' (2008) extends far beyond the confines of religious settings.

Jazz music is not widely popular in Uganda, and it has a limited following. However, there is a growing audience for this genre, thanks to the efforts of musician Isaiah Katumwa. He not only entertains but also educates Ugandans about the beauty of jazz music through his concerts. In Uganda, jazz music is primarily performed by full bands, with the Fusion Band being one of the most respected. They showcase their original compositions alongside popular Western tunes, giving them a unique jazz twist. The Fusion Band is often invited to perform at various functions and holds weekly shows at major hotels. In recent times, Uganda has also welcomed renowned jazz musicians from around the world, providing inspiration for local talent with a passion for jazz to thrive.

The final music genre in Uganda that encompasses the musical style of most artists is R&B. This genre allows for musical experimentation in any language and welcomes both emerging and renowned musicians in Uganda. Prominent musicians in this genre include Iryn Namubiru, Juliana Kanyomozi, Aziz Azion, Naava Grey, Rema Namakula, Chosen Becky and Maurice Kirya, among others. Some of these musicians straddle the line between soul and Afro-pop. Their music style resonates well with the Ugandan population, as most of it is performed in local languages. Many musicians have recently started incorporating Swahili, as well as a mix of Luganda and English, into their songs to reach a wider audience. Juliana's "Nabikowa," Iryn's "Nkuweki," and Grace Nakimera's "Nkwagala Kaffa" are some of the biggest hits in this genre to date. Maurice Kirya, known for his gospel and R&B fusion, gained popularity with his song "Boda Boda," which topped local airwaves due to its universal message that transcended regional and tribal affiliations.