To Margaret Atwood a Canadian poet and writer, a voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used.
Simon Peter Ndawula, known to many as Omulangira Ndawusi, has been using his voice for a livelihood for about 30 years.
Initially, he was a rapper in high school, at Namilyango College School. With a friend, Shanks Vi Vi Dee, they entertained fellow students with raps and dance. They were doing rap turns (freestyle), benchmarking and idolising the likes of Jodeci, Boyz II Men and Will Smith.
The duo went under the stage name Krik Bros. One of the highlights of their earlier showcases was appearing on Uganda Television (UTV) as headliners at a Miss Tourism social fete.
They used the appearance on national television to boost their potential by competing with other youth groups and fellow rappers such as the late MC Afrik. At the time, Ndawusi says it was talent over money.
A seed of self-actualisation was blossoming, in a more natural manner. Like destiny would have it, Shanks’ star later shone brighter as he sought to carve out a career as a singer in the early 1990s. However, the two held each other’s hands every step of the way.
Life after school
On completion of a course in clearing and forwarding in 1991, Ndawusi worked with Bemuga Forwarders Limited, and was based in Busia. After six months on the job, he could not go on.
His love for music and the innocent impulse to be part of the entertainment scene, even as it did not commercially reward him, was his preferred choice, and he went on to look for a career therein.
When Shanks was offered an opening as a presenter on Capital Radio in 1994, he called on Ndawusi to manoeuvre his way into voicing adverts.
It is there that Peter Sematimba spotted the lad and took him under his wing at Semat Production which later on took over management of Central Broadcasting Service (CBS), Buganda Kingdom’s official radio station.
At the time, around 1996, Frequency Modulation (FM) radio stations majorly broadcast in English. Sematimba introduced local dialect, Luganda, radio in Uganda, at CBS, an idea that was initially greeted with cynicism.
However, as the kingdom radio won hearts, so did it grow listenership owing to its broadcast in Luganda, a widely spoken language in Uganda. This earned Sematimba the props, and for Ndawusi, a niche.
Unlike the average radio presenter and voice-over advert makers, who made adverts in English, Ndawusi was willing to stand out, uniquely, making adverts in Luganda.
Some of his first adverts were directed at driving social causes such as the fight against malaria. Sematimba supported him. Semat Production operated the biggest advert studio, with a comfortable share of adverts that run on all FM radio stations.
For 22 years, his voice has been his money-spinner. From earning Shs20,000, per advert he made in 1996, his earnings have grown over time. Today, he voices an advert any amount between Shs300,000 and Shs2m. In the early 2000s, he started building a career beyond radio adverts. Music groups such as Kads Band contacted him to voice their adverts then Abitex Promotions, for an average of Shs100,000.
Earns more money
Today he earns more. “For an advert that has big musical names, I will charge Shs1m. For an advert that has artistes with hits but not necessarilly big, I will charge Shs500,000. I am lenient to music promoters from upcountry. I can go for as low as Shs300,000,” he explains. Andrew Kalibbala, Radio Simba’s one-time production manager mentored him in production. When he was moving on, Aga Ssekalala Junior, the owner of the radio station was comfortable promoting Ndawusi to take on the role. Today, the radio presenter is arguably Uganda’s top voice-over radio personality who has earned from putting his voice, and energy, to hundreds of adverts. You will identify Ndawusi for above-the-average sound level, belts of advertisement that can be rightly interpreted as dramatic ‘screams’.
In studio with Ndawusi An experience of him at work in the production office of Radio Simba, where he has cemented an 18-year-old radio journey, is a revealing one.
He is loud and his body language is in sync with the energy with which he voices an advert. His eyes bulge, hands gesture with vigour and his belly shakes like melting jelly.
For all the effort invested in the passion, the senior radio presenter, who is also a promotions and production manager, is chasing a worthy dream.
He has set up a school, the Ndawusi Communication School of Media which trains students in radio, television and videography.
“The school has trained a number of radio presenters, many of them from upcountry. We are currently renting space on which it sits but I have since acquired land and Iam putting up a home for it in Buloba. I have invested close to Shs655m in it,” he explains.
His vision for the school is to create a voice data base from which he can also supply content to different radio station. He would like to record and produce programmes for radio stations in an arrangement where a station will no longer need to have a radio presenter in studio. He explains, “I’ll be able to produce a whole show for a radio station, in real time. All a station owner will have to do is segment for adverts during the show. I’ll provide the radio, like the latest hits, news and ingredients using professionally trained presenters.” Ndawusi draws inspiration of executing the idea from American radio presenter Rick Dees, of the American Top 40s fame.His tips for those who would like to tread in similar footsteps is to be persistent and befriend those in the know so that they can mentor them at no fee. He is a mentor and keeps sharing his gift in voicing, a gift that keeps giving.