The 63-year-old William Dagu, is a friendly man often seen greeting everyone he passes by on the streets of Masaka Town.
The ageing former soldier lives in Kijjabwemi Trading Centre, in Kimaanya-Kyabakuza Division, with his wife.
Dagu, commonly known as Kamanyola was the name of his once famous disco business more than 30 years ago. He introduced the first disco in Masaka Sub region in the early 1980s after the 1979 war that toppled President Idi Amin Dada.
Kamanyola was born on January 1, 1956 to Peter Pirella, a Ugandan of Indian origin who came to Africa to work as a head teacher in the neigbouring Tanzania, but later relocated to Masaka Town where he set up a tailoring business right where Equity Bank Masaka Branch sits today, on Edward Avenue.
Pirella assumed the Kiganda name, Mubi Azaalwa and also married a Muganda Catholic nun, Tereza Nalubega. The two begot two boys and three daughters of whom only Kamanyola and his sister Theopista Numusisi are still alive.
Kamanyola went to Aga Khan Primary School and Bwala Primary School, before joining St Henry’s College Kitovu, which he left to pursue a course in accounts at Bridge Tutorial College, Masaka in 1973. By then, he was 19-years-old and needed a job. So, he joined Idi Amin’s Uganda Army.
After the initial training, he was posted to Masaka Mechanised Battalion, where he nearly shot Idi Amin. “I was made commander of the Quarter Guard and one morning, we saw a Citroen car approaching the gate. We gave a signal to which we expected an appropriate response if it was not an enemy car. No expected response from the car came. So I ordered my soldiers to shoot the tyres of the car. To our surprise and horror, Idi Amin came out of the car. I was later arrested but about a month later, I was taken to Nakasero to meet Amin. To my astonishment, the president praised me as a good soldier, who did the right thing by ordering for the shooting of his car tyres since it did not give the expected response. He promoted me to the rank of Second Lieutenant.”
From the army to business
While in the army, Kamanyola discovered that his girlfriend had married another man. Out of frustration, he left the army and went to live in Tanzania. While there, he joined the Uganda National Liberation Front that fought Amin. After Amin’s overthrow, he settled in Masaka from where he started his disco business.
“I first saw this business in Mombasa, Kenya, where I had gone to visit in the early 1970s when I was a young soldier in the Uganda Army. I decided to buy the equipment in installments, storing them at home on Victoria Road in Masaka Town where my mother had a retail shop,” he narrates.
Good old days
“In those days, we charged Shs350 to operate at wedding parties and from these earnings, I was able to buy a piece of land measuring nearly two acres at just Shs15,000.
Mr Simon Lubega, a resident of Kinoni Town on Masaka-Mbarara Highway still recalls the great excitement and joy at his wedding party at which Kamanyola Disco provided the music. Kamanyola was the talk of the entire Masaka Sub-region back then.
Kamanyola, who was an NRM sympathiser during president Apolo Milton Obote’s regime still carries photographs of himself and Gen Salim Saleh, the coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation and brother to President Museveni and claims the two were good friends back then. He also claims it was his Kamanyola Disco that provided the music when then Ssabataka, currently Kabaka of Buganda Kingdom Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, visited the NRA fighters.
Losing the business
So when National Resistance Army (NRA) invaded and surrounded Masaka in 1986, to show his allegiance, he played music and danced with some NRA faithfuls, much to the annoyance of Obote’s soldiers in the barracks. To shut them up, they threw a bomb that destroyed most of his equipment. This was the beginning of the end of his business.
Today, Kamanyola Disco is no more and he claims that all its equipment was bombed and destroyed that day as the NRA prepared to take over Masaka Mechanized Battalion, currently known as Amoured Brigade.
“Even if I lost my business, I am grateful to God that I am still alive,” he says.
“Most of the people who like me, were in the disco
business in the 1980s, are now dead. It was an occupation that made it so easy for us to attract women wherever we went to play music, at wedding parties, graduation parties, last funeral rites functions, and other festivities. Most of my colleagues contracted HIV/Aids and died. I was just lucky!” he says.
Kamanyola now has nothing much to his name but these good old memories that he tells with so much nostalgia.