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Uganda: There was a music industry

In the past, politicians came to the musicians…

Typical UG: If somebody landed in Uganda today, they would be mistaken to think there’s no music industry. They will come across the defining story of Gulu, the new Holy Land, where the best of our times go to make their pilgrimage.

But there was an industry!

Remember the East African Bashment Crew (EABC)? Remember when Bebe Cool played on an international level. Forget him stepping on tables, remember him performing at the Nelson Mandela concert. Remember him carrying George Okudi at the Kora Awards. Or do you not remember him hyping Gaetano.

Remember the Big Three, later to become the Big Four. Each of them stood for something. Leone Island had its family, and its group of artistes under its roof.

Jose Chameleone was this god father. If you wanted to enter the industry, you had to work under a giant for some time, learn the art, the patience, and the consistency to produce great music. Bobi Wine had created magic in Kamwokya. Firebase with its government was shaking up the industry. Remember Nubian Li? Remember Buchaman?

What about bebe cool? 

The Gagamel family? These music groups even had meetings. Then, Goodlyfe came around, it was the disruptor. And from then, it was nonstop great music, great competition, there was never a day when a musician became comfortable in the industry. This competition gave birth to the Battles of Champions. We could settle scores musically, with great live performances. Then Gulu happened? Or Covid-19 happened.

Perhaps none of these happened. All these happened to a music industry that was already on its deathbed. Today, if God forbid you lost a Kenneth Mugabi, an Azawi, a Zulitums or an Andereya, there wouldn’t be an industry to speak of. They are the last we have left, holding the last remains of this lifeless industry.

Don’t forget the days when Maurice Kirya had his Sound Cup, when musicians-built cultures, not just sang songs. Those were the days when to be woke, meant committing time and resources to attending Maurice Kirya’s concert. And they didn’t come quite often. He had invented the ‘mwoyo’ genre.

Let’s rewind further to the days of the Obsession. A group that brought us to a life of possibilities. To music, they added theatre. You could never forget their plays. Obsession was a true obsession. But then what happened? How did ambition get sucked out of Uganda’s music artists? How did Gulu become heaven, the Sugar candy mountain?

In the past, politicians came to the musicians. Now, musicians come to the politicians. We never thought that there would be a day when Mecca would move to look for the Muslims. Perhaps this interface of music and politics meant that the industry would never survive this friendship. It gained something, only to lose everything.

Remember Iryn Namubiru with Nkuweeki and Juliana Kanyomozi with Kibaluma? Remember this music rivalry? Even on the social scene, the death of Don Ivan also signaled the death of the true Ugandan socialites. Now, TikTok has come to define the new Ugandan socialite. The average Ugandan socialite is broke, lacks taste, class, and all awesome things that should be attached to a socialite. The average life expectancy of a Ugandan socialite is two months. Within a month, the bubble always bursts.

What happened to the arts and culture? National Theatre was that place you went to find a new artistic impression. It’s where the artists on the fringes would introduce themselves to the mainstream world. Again, that too is no more!

Ugandan musicians were rare to find

Now, you get tired of seeing them. All the sense of wonderment is no more. You don’t need to fight to have a photo with Bebe Cool. You know you can meet him on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and even on the day after. You know you can outspend a Ugandan musician. You know that he’s living on borrowed funds. In the past, just having Jose Chameleone meant that you had climbed a certain mountain of achievement. Not anymore, if you hold a key to Gulu, all of them will come to you.

Take out Swangz Avenue, and we could as well cremate the industry. There’s no more ambition, no struggle for the international scene. Nothing about musicians thinking of creating record labels.

Every musician is trying to exit the industry as fast as they can. The culture of a Babaluku investing in growing more talent, the culture of the End of the Weak rap contests, all that is gone to the drain.   The industry is simply a new platform for people to pursue other selfish ambitions. Yet, there was once an industry there was a time when music was music, when everyone competed to take music to another level. We can only hope that the industry recovers!

Twitter: ortegatalks

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