Legend. Moses Matovu is a singer-songwriter, saxophonist, flutist and band leader. He started his music journey from a church choir and his passion and talent have enabled him grace the stage for almost five decades, Bamuturaki Musinguzi writes.
The story of the Ugandan live band music industry is incomplete without mentioning the passion, resilience, commitment, influence and contribution of Moses Matovu – the multitalented artiste who has graced the stage for almost five decades, leading the country’s top band; Afrigo.
The soft-spoken gentleman of a dark skin complexion standing at five feet tall is a historian of the Ugandan band music industry.
He is a widower and has 11 children and grandchildren.
Matovu was born on June 19, 1949 to the late Abdallah Bukenya bin Adam and Solome Nakitto in Kawempe, Kampala. He spent most of his childhood with his mother.
He began singing as chorister in the Namirembe Cathedral Choir at the age of four.
He attended Namirembe Primary School and Kibuli Secondary School for his Junior One and Junior Two.
He began his professional music career with the Thunderbirds Band in 1967 as a vocalist.
He later joined the Police Band in 1968 and Cranes Band in 1969. Internal squabbles led to the disintegration of the Cranes Band in 1975.
On August 31, 1975, Matovu, Tony Ssenkebejje, Jef Sewava, Charles Ssekyanzi and Jessy Gitta formed Afrigo Band in Kampala.
The band’s material is heavily influenced by Congolese rumba and borrows from Ugandan traditional rhythms and folk music.
The band that sings in local languages and Kiswahili, but mainly in Luganda, has since released 23 albums that include Afrigo Batuuse I, Jim, Genda Osome, Vincent, Mp’Eddembe, The Best of Afrigo, Julie, Afrigo Batuuse II” (Volume 8), Omutanda Gyali and Katonda Tumusinzenga.
Their great hits include Afrigo Batuuse I and II, Emmere Esiridde, Mundeke, Speed, Twali Twagalana, Amazzi Genyama, Jim, Rose Guma, Nnemeddwa, Mp’Eddembe, Obangaina, Vincent, Olumbe Lwo’bwaavu, Olimujja Wa, Bwosika Ekitajja, Nantongo, Omusujja, Nkoye, Bwenkanya, Suzana, Zalwango, Nfunda N’omubi, Obangaina, Minzani and Maria, among others.
Matovu has composed hits such as Nantongo, Silina Anantwaala, Teri Mubi, Emiziro, Ekkizi Ekadde, Sofia, Genda Osome and Afrigo Batuuse 1, among others.
Afrigo Band launched its 23rd album titled Teri Mubi at Hotel Africana in Kampala on October 11.
They played their old material and all the 11 songs like Teri Mubi, Hamu jambo, Emiziro, Gira Oyige, Kitokota, Olulimi lwanga and Yantamiiza, among others.
Matovu says Teri Mubi has new and old songs like Emiziro that he composed and recorded with the Cranes Band in 1970.
“By then I was young and musically I did not have much of what I have today. So I just wanted to re-arrange that song and bring it to other people who did not know it. If I did not tell you that I recorded it in 1970 you might say it is new. But it is new in such a way that we arranged the instrumental side of it with tempo, percussion, singing and saxophone blowing and keys, because originally we had no saxophones, pianos, and drums. We just used maracas and congas in 1970,” he tells Sunday Monitor.
The message in Teri Mubi composed by Matovu is the fact that one cannot say that a woman is bad looking or ugly.
The same woman you may say is ugly is beautiful for another man.
Afrigo Band worked with Vincent Othieno, who plays bass and guitars, to produce Teri Mubi.
Jose Chameleone features on Teri Mubi. Eddie Ganja, Joe Koda and John Bashengezi play additional guitars.
The drums are by Olaula Ajibade while Vohn Higgibotham does the keyboards.
Othieno is a Ugandan based in the USA. He recorded Afrigo’s album ‘Music Parade Vol. 8’ in 1982 and has since worked with the band producing several of their albums.
He has also worked with the Ugandan group Mixed Talents.
Matovu describes Othieno as a very good producer. “He is a good musician, he can play bass and guitar, he is a good arranger, and he has a good ear, knowledgeable and experienced.”
Teri Mubi is available on Tidal and other streaming platforms. A CD is going for Shs30,000 ($8.14) at the band’s studio in Kampala.
It took the band four years preparing Teri Mubi. As to what it takes to produce this kind of work, Matovu, said: “It depends on what you want. As an old musician I don’t rush with my things. You know music is very funny. When you finish to record something and it’s being played you might think that it is the best. But when you give it time and maybe come back tomorrow you can hear some mistakes. You feel there is something missing but it depends on your experience, what you know and want.”
When asked what he would have been if he was not in music today, Matovu, a singer-songwriter, saxophonist, flutist and bandleader, said: “Actually I don’t know because I started music when I was very young. I started music when I was 18 years.”
“I think I take it as my first job and this is the only work I am doing. Music is part of my life – every time I am listening to music, thinking about music and admiring good musicians,” he added.
On how he got interest in music, Matovu said: “My mother’s relatives are Christians and my dad was a Muslim. Most of my childhood I stayed with my mum and her family in Bakuli in Kampala and I went to church. I was in Namirembe Cathedral Choir when I was in Namirembe Primary School. My mum and her family were good singers, so maybe I picked the interest and talent of singing from there.”
As to what it has been like leading Uganda’s legendary Afrigo Band since its formation 44 years ago, Matovu, says: “Actually I am used to that because it is like a football team when you are used to winning you have to work for it. It does not just come like that you have to work for it. And it is hard work.”
Advice to other bands
Afrigo Band has existed for 44 years as a successful business enterprise, for a band to become successful, Matovu says principles are key.
“You have to be with principles and to understand what business you are doing, what a band could need and do. It is not very different from other businesses all you need is to be focused on what you are going to do, what you need and what you should do first. And also listen to others for advice. And achieving you goal is the most important.”
Afrigo Band has played in Denmark, Sweden, China, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania and continues to tour the US and England. They perform every Saturday at Club Obbligato in Kampala.
The band also holds weekly gigs and Matovu admits that this routine affects the band’s creativity because they have to hold daily rehearsals.
“We are doing that for survival. We have to perform because we can’t sustain ourselves without performance. The band has been here for long but it has not been easy. Uganda was not stable until this government came to power. It has not been very smooth but we have persisted.”
“To have a band, it is not just about performers or musicians, you have to look at the side of equipment. This equipment is very expensive in order to have a good sound – because music is sound. We did not want to go to banks to get loans; we were just doing it by ourselves. Our dream now is to have a school teaching music so that we can add on to our legacy,” the legend adds.
“I am 70-years-old now and if all goes well I would like to be a music tutor later,” Matovu says.
He observes that the current live music scene is improving in Uganda.
“There are so many musicians around and they are doing well with their music. But the problem is with our audience, you see some people do not know much about music and this is reflected in their judgment. They do not know how to value a good musician. They generalise. If you have one hit song they think that you are great and you know everything and yet there are some areas that are lacking.”
“They can call you to a party and you fail to entertain the gathering because you don’t have the material to play for 30 minutes. So you have to work hard. You know having a hit that is a challenge to yourself. So after that what is coming next? It is like scoring goals. When they give you a penalty and you score it and you miss one in the next game you will not tell them that leave me alone I scored the other goal. So, it is a challenge to yourself,” he adds.
Matovu, who was once chairman of the Uganda Musicians Union, observes lack of government recognition is suffocating the union.
“The union is there but we don’t have hope because we are not being recognised by the government. Things are also not easy because it also needs money. We have tried to reorganise but where there is nothing coming people don’t want to come in. I am talking about money. If they see the Uganda Musicians Union is having some money may be coming in from abroad in the form of donations or grants they will come in.”
Challenges in the industry
Asked to compare the Ugandan music industry of the 60s, 70s and today, Matovu, says: “There are two sides to this question. Side A it was better then. Side B is we have got so much money today. Why? The population then was about 6 million but now it is more than 40 million. If you can sell your CD or LP genuinely and out of 40 million people if two or five million bought your album that is a lot of money. But because of piracy, we can’t realise the income from selling our music. As I said we are here for survival.”
Matovu, who has served for two terms as chairman of the Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS) in the past singles out piracy and the poor registration, enforcement and collection of royalties as the major challenges facing the Ugandan music industry.
“Piracy is the biggest problem we are having in this country. People don’t want to comply to pay for royalties, especially FM radios, television stations and music users. They just want pirate music. The pirates also think what they are doing is right. The government should come in or direct that radio and television stations that do not comply with paying royalties they will not get operational licences.”
“Actually out of 200 radio and television stations there are about 30 that are paying royalties. Even music users like restaurants and bars have to pay for royalties. Instead of musicians going to the President and asking him for cash they would be convincing him to enforce the collection of royalties,” he says.
“Piracy is too much because it is not good on our side. Can you imagine I have taken four years producing that CD (Teri Mubi) and a pirate will make copies and sell each for as little as Shs3,000 to Shs5,000 ($0.8 to 1.3). He makes money. But we don’t encourage that. If you want to sell my product you just come to me and we sit down and we make a contract so that we both make money,” Matovu says.
Matovu acknowledges that Uganda has not created its own distinctive sound as the Congolese have done with their popular rumba style.
He says that some people just join the industry yet they do not understand it. “Most people who come here want money through music. But they do not make money like that through music, football or whatever. So, for us who have been in the music business, we don’t have to tell everyone to do the right things.” “And also each government comes with a different approach. Amin’s regime did not want Western music; they just wanted Lingala music from Zaire then. So, if you wanted to survive you could only play that style. But as a musician, you can try to have your style but it takes time.
Matovu observes that although Uganda has not produced a critical mass of instrumentalist like himself the situation is changing.
“Things have now changed. Recently we did not have bands but now they are back because many people are tired of the business of miming on CD. People want to live music. And we have very many upcoming musicians who can play different instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, guitar, trombone, piano, drums and bass.”
Matovu says it is not costly managing a band but rather it is about valuing the trade and talent.
“Actually it does not mean to say that when you have a band you have to be with 20 people. It is just a matter of interest and respect for that. You have to value the drummer, the guitarist, bass player, the pianist, the singer. But if you don’t value that you will not understand what a band means.”
Asked about retiring from music, Matovu says “Yes I have to [retire] but I will not force it because there are older musicians than me but they are still performing. It needs planning, you can’t just stop abruptly. As I have told you I want to become a music tutor.”
Afrigo band’s great hits include Afrigo Batuuse I and II, Emmere Esiridde, Mundeke, Speed, Twali Twagalana, Amazzi Genyama, Jim, Rose Guma, Nnemeddwa, Mp’Eddembe, Obangaina, Vincent, Olumbe Lwo’bwaavu, Olimujja Wa, Bwosika Ekitajja, Nantongo, Omusujja, Nkoye, Bwenkanya, Suzana, Zalwango, Nfunda N’omubi, Obangaina, Minzani and Maria, among others.