To Top

Hear are the unsung singers



Little recognition. We live in a society that gets lost in the rush of hit songs and the names behind it. We growl and squawk about the lack of talent in Uganda, little do we know that behind the scenes lie talented artistes that do not get the credit. These artistes have failed to breakthrough to the majority music fans in Uganda.  But if you heard them sing or play their instruments, you would get carried away by the melodious quality that makes their music. Problem is no one usually gives them a chance, writes Ian Ortega

Her song, Inside, Outside featuring Big Trill would sit comfortably in the playlist of any Western radio station. The pop song sounds foreign (international, if you like) and maybe in there lies the problem. The Ugandan audience is so used to bubble gum hit of the moment songs that are usually poorly produced, but who cares about production values if the song has some sexual innuendo like Emmesse?

Vocal ability is rarely taken into consideration for a good Ugandan musician and that is how some pretenders are stealing the shine from real talented musicians like Evon. She has other songs like Big Blue Boots and Honesty featuring Pl@y, but people don’t listen much to them unless one cares to go to her page.

Who knows Michael Kiwanuka, and we are not talking about the guy who serves you beer at Sabrinas Pub. We are talking about that dude who looks like a cross between Sanyu FM’s James Fat Boy Onen and a guy with an unkempt Afro who hasn’t paid rent for the last four months and is about to be kicked out by the landlord. This Michael Kiwanuka, based in UK has an impressive music CV. He may be a British citizen but by virtue of his Ugandan roots and name, he tops this list.

He is recognised on the international scene and deserves to be called, Uganda’s biggest musical export, if we are to tag onto his fame. He is signed to Polydor Records. Though most Ugandans know nothing about him, he is a household name in the UK. The soul singer has been compared to the likes of British stars Otis Redding, Van Morrison and the Temptations. In January 2012 he won the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. Kiwanuka supported Adele on her Adele Live 2011 tour, as well at her iTunes Festival 2011 gig. But which Ugandan not living in the UK has heard a Michael Kiwanuka song? Grammy Award winner Adele might know Kiwanuka by name but give Ugandans Bebe Cool’s Cocodiosis any day.

Have you heard of that name? I doubt you have. Kinobe is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer whose abilities in traditional African music quickly garnered him acclaim on the world stage. Like the saying goes, a prophet is always rejected in his homeland and so it has been for Kinobe in Uganda. His music possesses a radiant beauty, a blissfulness that reflects Kinobe’s wide-openness and his quest for a universal musical language, but like street speak goes, Ugandans don’t want to know.

Whoever heard Esther Nabaasa perform Colours of the Wind during Tusker project fame (TPF) season II in 2008 agrees that in that moment, she sung it better than the song’s Vanessa Williams.  She went ahead to win the contest, that came with Shs120m prize money. She quit her Telecommunication Engineering degree at Makerere University to focus on music. Her win came with a recording contract and she recorded her first album, Rock In A  Country Soul,  at Gallo Records South Africa.

Little was heard of the album on the local scene. Nabaasa takes extra effort in producing songs that listening to something from her makes one doubt that it’s a Ugandan. She is also a songwriter of repute having been one of the people that penned Yoga Yoga, a tribute song as Uganda marked her Golden Jubilee. Nevertheless, Nabaasa is yet to attain nationwide musical fame. Put her on one stage with Rema (of Oli Wange and Cease and Sekkle fame) at a well attended concert and see who fans will throw mineral water bottles at.

Richie is a song writer, RnB, Reggae and Soul sensation. He burst on to the music scene when he won the MTV My Video contest for Uganda-a competition that was searching for the best new talent in numerous African countries.  He happens to be Richard Kawesa’s namesake.  If there is a Ugandan artiste that does RnB music to perfection, then Richie is that artiste.

He is one of the voices on Yoga Yoga, Uganda’s Golden Jubilee song. Richie was signed to Talent Africa and even did a song, Missing You, with Navio to help him get into the mainstream music market, but the hit song, that is an instant propeller into musical stardom in Uganda is still eluding him.

Like his fellow winner of TPF, Ntale has not broken out yet to appease the gods that are, the Ugandan fans. Davis’s win closely followed on Maurice Kirya’s 2010 win of the Radio France International New Artiste Discovery award. Coincidentally, Davis once performed in Maurice’s band, before deciding to try out for the 2009 TPF.

Ntale made history as the first contestant in the Tusker Project Fame Academy to bounce back from being rejected to winning the top award and Shs130m prize money. He made an appearance in the Locomotive all-star song before releasing a not so popular Sheka-Sheka song.  Right now we wonder whether this mellow voiced lad is still doing music or spending his millions that he won from Project Fame.

The talented Kora player may be known as Uganda’s  Youssou N’dour but he does not get the credit he deserves. He represents a generation with a pan-African attitude towards music. His sounds embody liberation, empowerment and originality. His genre can be described as folk / world music. Other than the Kora, Sebunjo’s main instrument is endongo, a traditional Ugandan eight -stringed bowlyre, but his instrument repertoire includes also the amadinda (xylophone), kalimba, akogo (thumb piano) and endingidi (tube fiddle).  Sebunjo is currently in France on a three months’ working visit, being the recipient of the prestigious Visa Pour la Creation award by the French government, through the Institut Francais, for his musical talent.

The award  identifies young professional musicians from Africa, who have shown exceptional ability, ideas and consistency in their careers. With several albums to his name, it’s a pity few Ugandans can mention any of his songs. This was testified by a fan who wrote on his Facebook wall.  “Hi Joel, I had never listened to your music till I attended the Blankets and Wine December concert. I loved your music and when I read in the papers recently that you studied at Makerere College, I was so proud of my school! Good music you play, I would like to know where I can buy your music in Kampala.”

Sarah Tshila made her breakthrough in 2005 as a member of the Bataka squad, a hip-hop group.  She started out as the female emcee in the group then later began to explore a solo career as an Afro-Fusion artiste. In 2007, the talented musician was named one of the 20 best unsigned artistes in the world by the BBC World Service in their talent search called The Next Big Thing. Her song Namboozo tells better, the story of her mastery as a world-fusion musician.  Sarah
Tshila has a degree in Software Engineering, she’s also  a poet, guitarist and painter.

UgPulse had this to say about Tshila. “It is hard to pin Tshila’s style down to a specific genre because it is a clever, eclectic mix of Afrocentric traditional Ugandan music, hip-hop, soulful ballads, neosoul, jazz, poetry infusion and R&B.”  Her songs rotate around a mélange of topics such as female emancipation, sexism, domestic abuse, eliminating the colonial mentality in Africa, heartbreak and true love. But ask many Ugandans about Tshila and if they don’t patronise the bars where she plays with her live band, they will wonder who you are talking about.

More in Features & Profiles

  • Some people deserve my diva attitude

    super model vibes: Stacie Aamito Lagum is headlining Kampala Fashion Week for the second time. The event runs from October 20...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 21, 2016
  • Hustler: Linda Pacy Katusiime

    TALKING DESIGNS: Linda Katusiime started her business by doing deliveries for friends and relatives. Bringing in items from Turkey, Germany, China...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 21, 2016
  • How to be Mr Safe Hands Denis Onyango

    CATCHING BALLS: He may not be able to save you from your financial woes, but shoot any ball in his direction...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 21, 2016
  • Zil escaped from class to sing

    Early dreams: He is only 25, but for him, it is already a story of grass to grace. Zil Nantamegwa started...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 21, 2016
  • Kalifah has never called anyone dad

    REINVENTING SELF: Since the flop of his concert, singer Kalifah Aganaga has been a little quiet. Last we heard, he had...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 15, 2016
  • People had hijacked my life – Faridah

        New beginnings: Social media was on Tuesday awash with photos of Faridah Nakazibwe’s wedding to boyfriend, Dr Omar Ssali...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 15, 2016
  • What Queen of Katwe means to them

    Katwe experience: Based on the vibrant story of Phiona Mutesi, whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 7, 2016
  • How to be… the no-nonsense Jennifer Musisi

    KCCA bosslady: She is probably the most popular woman in Kampala, and no – not for scandals or anything else, but...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 7, 2016
  • Meet a celeb : How Pablo wants to be remembered

    Rib-cracker: He is among the first Stand up comedians in Uganda. Today Kenneth Kimuli aka Pablo is a household name in...

    Christine NakalungiOctober 7, 2016