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The decade that defined UG’s music industry

2010-2019: They say the 90s were good, and sure they were but for the Ugandan music industry, it was probably the last decade that gave us what will be defined as our music goldies. Lawrence Ogwal and Isaac Ssejjombwe look at the entertainment industry in the past decade.

If there ever was a decade in Uganda’s music industry, a decade when so much happened in so short a time, a decade when hits could not stand the heat of other hits, that decade will be 2010 to 2019. In those 10 years, artistes and their music were tested by a far greater scale, many did not survive the narrow gates to the next decade.

But this decade could not have been without the decades that came before. Ugandans had entered the millennium with a couple of records; Maddox Ssematimba and Chance Nalubega had pretty much owned the share of the times. It had been Namagembe, Abakyakala and Obangaina. Rasta Rob, had sealed it on the radio stations, a star in his own right before the likes of Alex Ndawula and Christine Mawadri.

Then came the early 2000s, the year when Congolese music was to be chased out of Uganda. It was the start of Chameleone, a rewriting of Uganda’s music style from Kadongo kamu to Kidandali. It would be the start of Ugandan showbiz on a full doze of steroids; Bebe Cool, Chameleone, Bobi Wine. As Bebe Cool stepped on tables, Chameleone played the sympathy card. As Chameleone hooked up a Dorotia, Bebe and Bobi would release hit beef songs much to his chagrin.

Then comes 2010

The country thus came into 2010, with lines clearly set, there was a firebase, there was a Gagamel and at the extreme end, a Leone Island. The Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Awards had provided a more objective rate card for the industry. When the curtain went down for these awards in 2011, it was because music had saturated the country, it was now almost impossible to pick the best without someone crying foul. 2010 would also mean the collapse of the Big Three in the industry. The entry of Radio and Weasel in 2008 had broken boundaries. It was also the first time the country had taken an experiment on auto-tune — Nakudata in 2008 would set a new pace for the future.

2010: Goodlyfe takes over

In 2010, Goodlyfe rubber-stamped their potential. They had broken out two years earlier and were dropping hit after hit. On the other end, Aziz Azion pleaded for his lover in Nkumira Omukwano. As usual, Bebe Cool had surfed the wave of Zuena’s return to give the world Kasepiki, not to forget Chameleone in Basiima Ogenze and Hilderman in Amelia. That year, Eddy Kenzo would go on to win the PAM award for best new artiste for the song Stamina.

2011: The End of PAM Awards

In 2011, PAM Awards would do its last appearance, and this would be crowned by Iryn Namubiru. It was a humble year for the Goodlyfe who had only Talk and Talk to talk about as Angela Kalule ticked up the clock with Katikitiki. But it was Cindy, who had broken away from girl group Blu*3, who stole the show. She broke out like a bird that had been caged and set us on fire with Ayokyayoka as she proved she was the One and Only thing to give us Total Satisfaction. Meanwhile, the MC Kats of the time, aka JK Kazoora, had made a name out of exchanging his fake watch with rich celebrities but his bubble bust on Sean Kingston

2012: The Year of Rema

2012 was the year Rema took it all. Little did she know that at the end of the decade, there would be a doctor to light up her Fire Tonight. It was Bebe Cool’s biggest gift to the industry. He had proven to be a great mentor, but a sour one too when Rema exited Gagamel. The battle of the best was between Jamal and Maurice Kirya. It was the era of Kirya, and the girls could hear of nothing else. Alternatives to the kidandali style would also take shape in events such as Bayimba Festival that would later probably inspire the future of Nyege Nyege.

2013: Pressure is on

Keko had just signed a deal with Sony, thanks to her hit song This is How We Do It, so there was probably pressure to impress and for artistes to prove their worth – I mean, who did not want to go international? Radio and Weasel continued to do their best ruling the airwaves, and it paid off as they got themselves a BET nomination that year, becoming the first Ugandans to get nominated in the awards.

2014: Kenzo becomes big deal 

It was in this year that Eddy Kenzo blew up. He had struggled for sustainability after Stamina but he kept going. He was a big deal in West Africa. “When I released Sitya Loss in 2014, it was a result of travelling to West Africa where I mastered their sound and blended it with our Ugandan sound and that is how I came out with a unique sound that is loved all over Africa though my biggest fanbase away from home is in West Africa,” Eddy Kenzo said. It was this same year that gave us an overdose of Irene Ntale, a whole peek into Desire Luzinda’s gifts (bitone)…and of course from those lemons came Ekitone. We also saw King Saha break out of his shell with Mulirwana and Gundeze.

2015: Enter Tubonga Naawe

This will perhaps go down in history as the year when artistes let politics invade their music. For it was in this year that almost 80 per cent of players in the entertainment industry got together and dined with the President at Speke Resort Munyonyo. In this space was Chameleone, Juliana, Bebe Cool, Radio and Weasel and most of the big names at the time. They would vent their grievances to the President and walk away with Shs400m. And to seal the deal, they recorded a song, Tubonga Naawe, in praise of the President and his NRM party. Today, some regret participating in the project, but that will not go away soon. This year, Kenzo brought a BET award home.

2016: Sheebah breaks chains

Sheebah had been around but it was until she asked us to touch a little bit of her that we really started to feel it. Although she had earlier asked us to Go Down Low it was, Nkwatako that gave us some unforgettable vibes for 2016. Sheebah, who had signed to Jeff Kiwa’s Team No Sleep, was finally getting her big break and she was on fire. With an equally hot video to match the song, Sheebah was the big star that year and it was no surprise that Runtown asked to do a remix of the song — very bad idea! Meanwile, as she got to the top, Sheebah took two boys with her – Ykee Benda and Chozen, for her input in Farmer and Wadawa, respectively. That year we got to know their names too.

2017: New Kids take over

Sheebah had unlocked the doors to his musical journey and boy did Ykee Benda grab the opportunity by the horns. This boy would not allow to only enjoy a few minutes of the fame. He had his chance and he exploited it, reminding us about his Kampalaness with Munakampala, singing of the Malaika in his life, Byonkola, and then eventually declaring that he could be our Superman. 2017 was Ykee’s year but he had threats coming his way; Fik Fameika had not come to play, neither did Vinka nor that Mbarara boy Latinum. That year, the big names took a back seat.

2018: Radio goes mute

This was perhaps the worst year from this decade. It was only February – just a month after we had ushered in the year yet music was being handed a huge blow. One of the best artistes and songwriters passed on following a careless bar brawl. Radio was one of the biggest deals in the industry and yet here he was…gone. There was a huge vacuum and we found consolation in King Saha’s sultry sounds and Vinka’s husky voice.

It was also in this year that Ugandans that attended Swagz’ 10-year anniversary got to show Bebe Cool how they truly feel about him and his political beliefs, pelting him with bottles as soon as he stepped on stage. And then came Ethics minister Fr Simon Lokodo and his want to ban Nyege Nyege — what?

The in-betweens

The 2008 wave that brought Radio and Weasel also brought together a group of young ambitious men willing to make it big in music. Among these were Omulangira Suuna, Aziz Azion, Jeff Kiwanuka and GNL Zamba. Jeff Kiwa ad influenced Radio and Weasel to leave Chameleone’s Leone Island thus played a big role in changing the Entertainment Industry. Jeff managed Chameleone for a while before moving on to managing Radio and Weasel under the Goodlyfe umbrella.

The music industry that was built on fall outs then saw Jeff Kiwa and Goodlyfe split paths. Jeff Kiwa started Team No Sleep (TNS). The group brought artistes like Pallaso, AK 47 (RIP), Roden Y and Sheebah Karungi among others. Pallaso would leave TNS after just a year as AK 47 passed on in 2015. Left with no option, Jeff pointed all his guns to Sheebah Karungi. The long forgotten Obsessions girl would take us on a journey of musical Ice-cream, a journey that has run to infinite. For the first time, the decade ended with female musicians at the top. It was a battle between Cindy, Vinka, Sheebah, Nina Roz, and Spice Diana to mention but a few. Gone were the sweet days of Irene Namubiru and Juliana.

Competition after competition

Competition, intense competition, that’s what defined this musical decade. An artiste would have a hit song today and by the end of the week, another hit song would have erased it. It meant that there was no rest, no sleep, one had to keep in studio. Any slight pause would mean a loss of position in the musical league.

As such, the industry became known for showbiz. If you couldn’t get a hit song, you had to get a hit story in the newspapers. It is a lesson that Bebe Cool had learned early enough and practised without fear, right from when he stepped on the table of the Buganda queen.

With competition also came politics. Art had entered the political chambers. When artistes sang Tubonga Naawe in 2016, it would result in a call for a boycott from sections of angered fans. Years later, it would also result in the emergence of Bobi Wine, a nearly spent force in the music industry, yet an iron man in the political arena.

This is also the time we witnessed musicians and comedians joining active politics; Judith Babirye being elected to Parliament as the Woman Member of Parliament for Buikwe District. Kato Lubwama representing Rubaga South while Bobi Wine became the MP for Kyadondo East and is now vying for the top job. Other hopefuls in the industry include Godfrey Lutaya hoping to represent Kakuto, Khalifa Aganaga for Rubaga South, Dr Hilderman for Mawokota, Ronald Mayinja for Gomba East and Mathias Walukagga for Masaka. The question for the next decade will be how thin the line between art and politics can get?

2019: Parte after Parte

For years he had been under the shadows, working under cover and humbly being the forgotten brother of Baboon Forest. Big Trill is good and he had done some good tracks but his only crime was rapping in English – not fodder for the Ugandan audience. Yet in 2019, he was the man of the year. He sealed off the decade. He made an anthem. An international anthem. Wizkid, Patoranking, Davido, Cardi B and hubby Offset, and all the Nyege Nyege goers from that year had massive respect for his Parte after Parte song. Who need say more about this year?


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