Singer Catherine Kusasira lives by the motto; live a life with a worthwhile story to tell. Looking at where she started and where she is now, Kusasira has done a great job following her philosophy. She is not a stranger to grief, strife and controversies. Early this week it was reported that Maj Gen (Rtd) Kasirye Ggwanga allegedly shot at her car. In fact she seems to thrive on challenges, turning them into fodder for her music, writes James Kabengwa
In her own words, the confident singer believes she has come from nothing, fought so hard to make something of her life. The singer is well known as a former Eagles Production band member and one of the Golden Band founders. But before establishing her career as a singer, Kusasira was a nowhere child; an orphan who lived everywhere but belonged nowhere. She was born in 1982 to Kakumba Kalabyo and Justine Naiga. Although her family prided itself on its strong Christian values, her parents divorced when she was only three years old.
“My mother left the home which disrupted the family structure. I was sent to live with my grandmother in Kasero, Buloba. What I remember mostly about my grandmother is that she was very involved in Church of Uganda activities and she was a staunch believer. She took her beliefs very seriously and made sure everyone living under her roof did too,” Kusasira comments on her early childhood. In 1993, the family was hit by a double tragedy with the death of the singer’s father and grandmother.
“I remember someone delivering the bad news of my father’s death while we were in the garden. My grandmother was overcome by grief but no one really paid much attention to her. That night, she died in her sleep. I did not know what to do, so I set off on foot to Nakulabye to tell my step mother what had happened,” Kusasira recounts.
Kusasira arrived in Nakulabye at about 2am and after delivering her tragic news, her stepmother told her there was nothing she could do for her and told her to go tell her other relatives in Nansana. Without waiting for morning, Kusasira continued her journey to Nansana.
With the death of her father and grandfather, the family further disintegrated; the four siblings were shared among relatives. Kusasira ended up living with her uncle, Sam Luwandagga, and his family in Namungoona where life was tough.
“As children, we were expected to contribute to our school fees so we used to make bricks and tie and dye material to get money for fees at Blessed Martyrs Primary School where I went to school up to Primary Four,” she shares. Apart from financial strife, the couple experienced a lot of domestic tension and misunderstandings that often affected the household negatively.
“There was this one night Luwandagga chased us away from home and locked us outside. I had nowhere to go so I ended up spending the night in the kitchen. There was nothing much in the kitchens of those days apart from the cooking utensils and the hearth, so there was no need for doors or windows. But I bravely made it through the night,” she recounts with a faraway smile.
During these difficult times, Kusasira was strengthened by her faith. She became active in the church cleaning up, singing in the choir and helping with the Sunday collection. This endeared her to the congregation who, after learning of her difficulties, started contributing to her school fees.
Alas when her Confirmation Day came, there was nothing much the congregation could do to make it special.
“As was the custom those days in church of Uganda, every girl getting confirmed was expected to come dressed in a white dress. We did not have money to buy a white dress, so my mother found this material which I think used to be a white bed sheet but was now between cream and beige in colour and made for me a dress. Much as I tried to focus on the meaning of the ceremony, I still felt self-conscious and sad standing next to my peers looking like angels in their white outfits,” Kusasira relates.
Beginning to sing
In 1996, Phillip Mukasa, a police officer who was also the chief mobiliser at Kitala Church of Uganda and the choir leader Gerald Mukasa spotted her talent and started paying her school fees at St Peter’s Kitala Secondary School after transferring from Dynamic SS in Lubaga.
In 2000, Kusasira joined St Balikuddembe Secondary School Mitala Maria, where Mukasa continued to meet her school fees expenses. “But when he got married, his wife thought we were in love and conflicts developed leading to the police officer, abandoning me. Communication was cut off,” Kusasira says.
Kusasira says she was inspired by Sophie and Sam Gombya and Herbert Kyewalyanga who were school music trainers. She joined the Geo- Sam Band where she earned Shs5,000 as payment per performance. In 2000 while a student at St Balikuddembe Secondary School Mitala Maria, Eagles Production had a performance in Buwama town, and she escaped to attend the concert.
“While at the concert, I managed to get the telephone numbers of band members Mesarch Ssemakula and Geoffrey Lutaaya. When they advertised for singers I called and reminded them I had got their number from Buwama and I went to Happyland Theatre where auditions were held,” she says.
She was asked to mime a song called “Mumpe Ebyange” and Mariam Ndagire’s “Bamugamba” which Kusasira says she did marvelously and thus began her career. Now in her Senior Four vacation, Kusasira rented a room on Busabala Road with a close friend, Angela. None of her relatives knew where she was or even bothered to look for her.
In her more than 15 years in the industry, Kusasira has worked with different composers who gave her hit after hit. The choice of the composer depends on the message contained in the theme she wants to address. Her main composers include Syliver Kyagulanyi, Dr Tee, Fred Seruga, and Prince Edrine, among others.
As a new entrant on the scene, Kusasira reveals she received many offers of help with her music. Her on again/ off again husband singer Fred Seruga took the first shot. He composed and helped her record her first song; “Ekitiibwa Ky’abaami”. The song took the public by storm and made Kusasira a star in her own right. Then Ssemakula and Ronald Mayinja composed for her Junior and Sweet Wange I love you among others which made it to an album. Kusasira will never forget Promoter LYSN who refused to buy her first album “Ekitiibwa Ky’abaami”.
“You know what? He said he could not buy my album. Geoffrey Lutaaya pleaded that we are the same group but the promoter insisted unless Eagles Production changed and gave it to Irene Namatovu, he would not take it. And he stood by what he said,” Kusasira says.
Other producers were approached but eventually Dick Production took the album at a cost of Shs8m.
“My payment out of that was Shs200,000. At that point I was more interested in launching my career than the money,” the singer says.
Kusasira’s music has always antagonized men especially her hit Enkola ya taxi which men believe makes their women value them less. But the singer says all she does is voice what everyone is thinking but are afraid to say.
“Some of my songs are composed out of the stories women narrate to me but what I sing is not what I am. There is no way I would ever encourage another woman to abandon her home. It would be hypocritical of me, seeing as I am settled with my husband at home. People who know me well will tell you I am one of those people who counsels women to find ways to make their marriages work for better or worse,”Kusasira says.
She confides that President Museveni likes her because she showed resilience when there was no money.
“When artistes were hired in the presidential campaigns, many abandoned the trail because the payments were not forthcoming. It was only Phina Mugerwa , Bebe Cool and I who persisted and this impressed the president,” she says.
From the campaigns, she got easy access to the President to the level of being delegated to deliver condolences to bereaved families such as those of Yasin Kavuma and Mohammad Kirumira. Earlier, when fallen musician Mowzey Radio was bedridden, Kusasira reached out to the President and she secured Shs35m to help the fallen singer.
Kusasira is a proud mother of two: Junior Jjingo and Phinela Jorine Naggayi. She has programmed her schedule around them because she wants to teach them the same religious values she was taught as a child which will make them decent and productive people.
Her association with the President has made Kusasira a target of social media trolls who insult her no matter what she does.
“I am not a politician. Some people have advised me to get bodyguards but I cannot do that because as a believer I know you cannot hide away from death. God is my protector,”Kusasira says. Maybe, Kusasira will give the acquisition of bodyguards more consideration, following her experience with Gwanga and the reaction on socail media. One Facebook user commented that shooting at the singer’s car was wastage of a bullet and it should have been aimed at her.
Apart from the ire she provokes due to her political belief, the other major thing social media trolls love to talk about is the Kusasira’s plus sized figure. The singer says she does not mind about them because: “The big size is my trademark and I am proud of it. I would consider slimming down for either my career or my husband but it favours both. Why else would I do it?”
The music industry, Kusasira says is full of intrigue and hatred that can easily make someone lose track but she keeps herself above it all by focusing on the beauty and fulfilment she gets from the art. Her dream is a society where unity thrives. She says politics should not split us, “because they believe in this or the other political party at the end of the day we are Ugandans. We are one people.”