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60 greatest hits for Uganda @60

Left to right: Bobi Wine, Joanita Kawalya, Navio and Bebe Cool receive an award at the Hipipo Music Awards.
Ms Kawalya’s hit song Jim wange featuring Afrigo Afrigo Band, will go down as one of Uganda’s greatest albums; not because of the timing, but because of the richness of the collection. Photo / File

As Uganda toasts to 60 years of self rule, Jacobs Seaman Odongo revisits 60 songs that captured the fascination of music aficionados across the past six decades.

1. Alone – Philly Lutaaya
Lutaaya was alone and frightened, dying of Aids in 1989 when he gave the deadly disease, a human face. He performed it once at Nakivubo Stadium, two months before he died on December 15, 1989. Lutaaya’s despairing lament about lack of love, the loneliness in the face of the disease, the stigma… is broken up by the grainy piercing voice of Swedish singer Kristine, reaching out with love. Then the chorus joins the two voices to make an anthem, with a choir joining in.
Alone calls on the people to stand up and fight Aids and related stigma, to embrace those afflicted with the disease, and to remember that today it is me, tomorrow is you. Poignant!

2. Eyauni emaali – Patrick Atude
Journalist Caroline Ariba went deep to bring the story behind this folk song. “Eyayayaya, okwe ejok awurida!” (Wow, it is really good to have children!). A childless couple admires wedding gifts to the neighbour. This is no doubt the only song in Uganda that is played at every occasion and usually compels everyone to their feet with ululation punctuating the air. Maybe only a funeral is an exception, but a DJ would be forgiven for bringing life to death with Emaali.

3. Mama Mia – Jose Chameleone
Arguably Jose Chameleone’s magnum opus, for it officially announced his arrival on the Ugandan music scene. Mainly written and sang in Swahili, the song speaks of a man whose spouse has abandoned the rigours of a struggling life for a string of wealthier suitors.

4. Walumbe Zaaya – Paul Kafeero
O death, you heartless monster, screams Kafeero in this 1994 hit. What kind of calamity are you that doesn’t spare every living thing. Why go for the weak, the young, the old and the frail.? Why have no mercy? Walumbe Zaaya was the song that earned Kafeero his nickname “Golden Boy of Africa”, having won Gold at the 1994 Cairo music festival.

5. Born in Africa – Philly Lutaaya
A celebration of Africa and African freedom. Such a funky easy reggae feel that makes the African feel he was truly born to just live life as it comes.

6. Ekimuli kya roza – Fred Maiso
It was almost impossible for a concert in the 90s to run to a close without Fred Maiso belting our Kimuli kya Rosa. The man from Pallisa sings about an object of affection he likens to a rose flower because her looks, attraction, smell, the eyes, the legs… everything is top notch.

7. Jim wange – Joanita Kawalya.
Featuring Afrigo Afrigo Band’s 1994 album, Omutanda gyali, will go down as one of Uganda’s greatest albums; not because of the timing, but because of the richness of the collection. On it was Jim wange that praises the charming of a male character personified by Jim. For many years, it was the love anthem for many a female intentional about their affection for the male gender!

8. Dipo nazigala – Paul Kafeero
Literally translated to “I closed the depot or I gave up drinking”, Paul Kafeero released this song after a huge disappointment because he could not secure band equipment for a booked performance. He had missed his appointment because he had taken one too many.
Kafeero decided to treat his disappointment into a song—an award-winning hit for the 2004 (Pearl of Africa Music) PAM Awards (Best Kadongo Kamu).

9. Zukuka – Philly Lutaaya
Philly Lutaaya goes religious here, and he is equally penitent. Get on up, go to Him. Hurry so he can save you and relieve you of the burden of sin. Does God discriminate? Philly says everybody is welcome in the eyes of the Almighty.

10. Nkuweki – Iryn Namubiru
What gift would an infatuated lover offer in exchange for their present bliss, asks Iryn Namubiru. She wants the world to know that she’s found love. While she doesn’t want to hold back, she almost sounds helpless as she confesses undying love for her suitor. Does she imagine a possible breakup? Iryn is realistic about life’s tides; but admits she would be utterly devastated. Plead more, she does, and hopes that her love will reciprocate the gesture.

11. Diana – Juliana Kanyomozi
Released as part of the Philly Lutaaya memorial album in 2007, Diana was arguably the highlight of the album. It’s a romantic plea by a man who yearns for a lady’s affection. Juliana’s rendition was a pleasant surprise. In the end, no song off that album got more airplay than Diana.

12. Basiima ogenze – Jose Chameleone
For all the heroics we do, the world will only appreciate us more when we are long gone. In this 2010 hit, Chameleone wants to be loved more when he is still alive. He lists fallen Kadongo Kamu star Paul Kafeero and former SC Villa and Uganda Cranes striker Magid Musisi as some of departed stars whose praises people only sang when they were no more.

13. Tuleke twelire – Tshaka Mayanja
Sang in Luganda, this folklore tells of a time of food scarcity. Birds raided millet fields. A Nnalongo sends out her twin daughters Nakato and Babirye to go chase away the birds from the field. The birds then sing to the twins, beseeching them to let them eat some of the millet (Obulo).
According to Tshaka Mayanja, this song was written and arranged in an hour in 1993 as a filler for the album, Bloodshed In Africa. The filler took the album.

14. Merry Christmas – Philly Lutaaya
Off Lutaya’s 1987 Christmas album, this remains a timeless classic.

15. Namagembe – Madoxx Ssematimba
Recorded in 1998 and officially released in 2000, Madoxx’s Tukolagane album was a true testament to the age-old adage, hard work pays. The star song of the compilation was Namagembe, a song that praises and pleads for a girl’s affection.
He says he’s been patient for long and preaches extreme care in case anyone else is trying to confuse her. The girl is warned of naysayers, pessimists and detractors.

16. Dole y’omwana – Fred Ssebata
Classic euphemism. On the surface, Dole y’omwana is a song about a child’s doll. Scratch deeper and you’ll notice the subtle innuendos about a husband’s apparent laxity that has gradually seen him forget his marital obligations.

17. Wipolo – Pr George Okudi
“Wipolo bot lubanga mulokole bed iye?” Did you find them dancing in the house of the Lord? Yes I found them dancing in the house of the Lord. You haven’t listened to classic Ugandan music if you don’t know Wipolo. Okudi nailed Kora Award with this hit.

18. Obangaina – Rachel Magoola ft Afrigo.
Perhaps the closest to an apt translation for this would be “Where do you always go to?” In the song, Rachel Magoola sings about an absentee husband who has abandoned his family for a romantic obsession. The man has slipped into a behavioural trance and spends all his time with his new love. Obangaina highlights the dire impact an unbridled intimacy can have on a family.

19. Land of Anaka – Geoffrey Oryema
Land of Anaka is a melancholic, obviously highly biographical as well as politically inspired song about the mess the Acholi in northern Uganda were in. When the singer’s father, Erinayo Oryema, a minister, was killed in 1977, he was smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a car. The title of his first album – Exile (1990) – thus has more than a personal touch. It was his story.

20. Yesu Beera Nange – Judith Babirye
In 2006, Judith Babirye’s Yesu Beera Nange penetrated both the secular and gospel music markets. That year, Babirye won the PAM Award for Best Gospel Single (which she snubbed) and was also nominated in the inaugural Victoria Gospel Music Awards.

21. Nkooye Okwegomba – Philly Lutaaya
Despair. Frustration. Anguish. Three words that describe the sentiments here. This is what happens when nothing seems to be going your way. This is what Philly sings about in Nkooye okwegomba. There is no end in sight, and his plight distresses him. Why do his peers continue to flourish, yet all he wishes for are life’s basics and peace of mind, he wonders? In an apparent show of resignation, he prays to God and leaves the rest to Him.

22. Amazzi Genyama – Afrigo
Euphemism at its height. Amazzi genyama, loosely translated to beef’s broth, was nothing close to broth. What kind of meat would cause death, one would ask? Released at the height of the devastating effects of HIV/Aids, Amazzi genyama is another cautionary tale, albeit one that is told in perfect allegory. In the song, Moses Matovu talks of long lost friends, peers who lost their battles to HIV.

23. Nabikoowa – Juliana
It’s always her voice for everyone, then her manners. But also it is her message. Here, Juliana sings about a man thrown out by a lover for taking her for granted when she is still young by cavorting with other women. The lover stamps her foot and crosses her hands and says it’s too late to win her back after a series of heartbreaks.

24. Ebinyumu byaffe – Elly Wamala
What a way to reminisce over a life well lived than delight in the pleasures of yesteryear! Ebinyumu byaffe is that classic that brings all these experiences to life. It speaks of movie nights, the music bands that entertained revellers and the fads of the day. He is quick to add, however, that they did all this with a perfect balance of hard work and relaxation. Ebinyumu byaffe paints the perfect picture of ultimate nostalgia.

25. Nilifurahi – Fiona Mukasa
There was a time no Pentecostal went without Fiona Mukasa’s songs. Elly Wamala’s little girl digs deep within her heart in Nilifurahi, showing adoration of God in Swahili, English and Luganda. She’s happy when she’s told it’s time to go back to Father’s home, because Father in heaven, there is none like. Nilifurahi drove anyone into speaking in tongues.

26. Tulo tulo – Philly Lutaaya
Sleep, O sleep. Catch the baby or else you’ll be a witch. Or a night runner. I need the baby asleep so I can go and enjoy the night life! In this remix of a folklore lullaby, Philly has lost friends, many of whom died without enjoying the buffet of pleasures that life offers. He wonders why death would selectively take people he called his bosom friends, wouldn’t fancy living the world a partially fulfilled man. In Tulo tulo, Philly is a man in full flow.

27. Alojja Omukwano (Olupapula Si Mupiira) – Fred Sonko.
If you want permanent marriage, you’ve got to let go of worldly pleasures, preaches Fred Sonko. Love is not a rubber ball that will bounce back upon being kicked; and he who craves for love shouldn’t speak much lest he risks trading in falsehoods. This is a song that preaches patience and preparedness.

28. Sitya loss – Eddy Kenzo
Oh, 2014! The year of Eddy Kenzo. Reason? BET award winner for Viewer’s Choice Award. Sitya loss’ biggest advert was the song video’s beautiful choreography that caught many a viewer’s attention and made him a musical household in East and francophone West Africa. Kenzo says life is precious but short; it must be lived and danced to while it lasts.

29. Yoo leng – Romeo Odong
The perfect mix of colour, dance and culture. Many people simply know the song as Pililili. Watched the video? Check it out, and feast your eyes on what should be the perfect blend of cultural dance from Uganda. Yoo leng means the road (to heaven) is clear and it’s a gospel tune former Speaker Jacob Oulanyah is said to have taken with him to his deathbed.

30. Likambo ya falanga – Philly Lutaaya
Money, problems. If one of them is the poison, the other is supposed to be the antidote. Such has been the importance attached to money that it’s been sang about in just about every language and touted as the perfect panacea to happiness. Likambo ya falanga is Lingala for “Money issues”. In the song, Philly says money is so scarce yet so valuable that everyone has since devised a formula for finding this elusive treasure. It may have broken friendships and caused many problems among the young and the old, but money remains the proverbial necessary evil.

31. Ani yali amanyi – Elly Wamala
Ani Yali Amanyi, okujjako Omukama Katonda? (Whoever knew, except God almighty?) Elly Wamala looks back at how far he has come. He can only be grateful for the gift of life. He remembers the times he grappled with sickness, and wonders how he managed to recover, having been on the cusp of death. He remembers his history of abject poverty, and how a coffee miracle turned his fortunes around. Life is a mystery, Wamala seems to suggest. There, surely, must be some supernatural being who superintends over this mystery called life.

32. Ssirikusuula – Frank Mbalire
A song about an infatuated man who pledges lifelong commitment to the love of his life. He’ll wear her like he would do a coat. She will always be as close as a wrist watch.

33. Ntongo – Dan Mugula
Another love song, about a man’s obsession with a girl called Ntongo. Ntongo is an affectionate form Nantongo, a Ganda name from the Mamba clan. Mugula is pleased for a chance to become Ntongo’s husband. He longs for a formal introduction to his family, so the two can live happily ever after.

34. Dagala – Mowzey Radio
Lyrical depth. Witty wordplay. Sweet melody. This was classic Mowzey Radio. Release at the dawn of his career in 2007. It was just the beginning of a rollercoaster career that was cut short by a brutal accident 13 years later, in 2018. If you are looking for a love song with poetic artistry, Dagala is your answer. Timeless.

35. Speed – Afrigo Band
Speed ye walumbe. Speed namuzisa. N’olwekyo kitange ssebo. Speed controlle. N’olwekyo mukwano. Endiima gy’ovuga gireke. Tutuuke mirembe. Speed is death; please slow down, preaches Moses Matovu and Afrigo band. No innuendos, no euphemisms. Names are mentioned, of people whose lives have been claimed by apparent reckless driving. This, perhaps, should have been a campaign awareness anthem for road traffic safety.

36. Alululu – Fred Masagazi
A love confession about a man who is trying to reassure a girl about his commitment. He is aware of lurking competition, but he still believes he is the right man for her.

37. Kawonawo – Grace Nakimera
The story of a survivor who can be anyone, most so Grace Nakimera herself. Survivor as in struggling to make it in life. After knocking on many doors for her music journey, even going to Rwanda, the church… Nakimera tells the story of a hustler.

38. Empisa zo – Philly Lutaaya
While not many relationships are near perfect, some always border on the extreme. In this song, Philly preaches penitence to an errant lover. Financial frugality is key, as are all other aspects of personal discipline. A distressed woman, obviously fed up of her man’s unbecoming ways, feels her sacrifices have not been reciprocated. So she vows to seek alternatives if the man won’t change his ways.

39. Oh Mama Wange – Amigo Wawawa
Albert Atibu, the musician better known as Amigo Wawawa, is certainly one of the biggest exports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amigo was born in Kindu in the former Zaire, but his father migrated to Uganda when he was only nine years old. In Oh Mama Wange, Amigo says he’s tired of helping people, because even those he has helped in the past remain unappreciative. He would rather help a cow because at least it gives milk.

40. Hakuna Matata – Swahili Nation
After his success with Run4Fun in Sweden, Charlie King Todwong teamed up with Ken and Cool James to form Swahili Nation. The title means no worries and has a lover yearning for a lost love as well as an urging for reconciliation, to forget the things that led them apart, to learn from the mistakes, and to forge ahead.

41. Sigwe ansiimira – Mesach Semakula
Sigwe Ansiimira (You do not make choices for me). Jilted love is what Mesach sings about in Sigwe Ansiimira. A rejected woman thinks the man who rejected her picked the wrong one. The man is not amused by her criticism, and makes it clear – she has no business deciding his choice of lover.

42. Nantongo – Afrigo Band
You ever want adulation for your woman? Just name her Nantongo and play for her this song, reminding her that you have gone to South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi but you have seen none like Nantongo, for whom the entire Kampala moans…

43. Omulenzi Omutoro – Kezia Nambi
Nambi Kezia sings about a failed love attempt due to language barrier. She only spoke Luganda, while the object of her affection only knew Rutooro.

44. Bundu – Shanks Vivie’ D ft Steve Jean Bundu.
This is a perhaps one of the earliest hiphop songs of the 90s era. In the song, Shanks and Steve worry about an emerging trend of lazybones who would rather cook up excuses than break a sweat. Any youth worth their salt ought to toil or else their future is doomed.

45. Nen awene – Tempra Omona
Popular song, released circa 2002. Not many of us understood the lyrics. We simply loved the melody, and happily grooved along. Nen awene means when do I see you. That’s a common concern for those dating.

46. Sirika Baby – Emperor Orlando ft Menton Summer Folklore.
This has always been a cheap way to get instant hits and Sirika Baby, a lullaby, did just that to raise the status of Emperor Orlando and his buddy Menton Summer who were big on dancehall in the 90s with hits like Kanemu and Tuzilye. Picked by a fast-rising cosmetic that produced Sirika Baby jelly, it remains one of those songs that knows no generational gap.

47. Bamuleete – Frank Mbalire
Another song about love. Peterson longs for Sarah, the slender girl who has eluded him for a long time. He’s since lost appetite and has insomnia. He won’t eat until he sees Sarah.

48. Ebisaanyi – Kabuye Ssembogga
Ebisaanyi is about a man chasing a girl who plays hard to get, sending the wrong signals to every emissary he sends. The waiting has been so long that he feels as irritated as a man who has been attacked by caterpillars (ebisaanyi).

49. Oswadde Nyo (Sikulimba).
Afrigo Band Better known by its opening repeated line, “Sikulimba”, Oswadde nyo is a dance themed song that has a man trying to get over a past rejection. It’s a psychological game, perhaps one that is meant to make the man feel better. While Moses Matovu rhetorically asks “Olimujja wa omusajja asinga nze” (where will you find a better man than me), he hasn’t necessarily scanned all the corners of the world for better men. He’s only seeking catharsis, a feel good vibe that will heal his rejection wounds.

50. Makambo – Geoffrey Oryema
“See problems! So many problems that my own relatives now gossip about me”. Geoffrey Oryema seems to be distressed when he sings Makambo. Not Oryema’s richest composition, lyrically, the song makes up for this with excellent arrangement. The gentle guitar, his poignant tone and the song’s flow perfectly captures the sombre mood he may have intended to portray.

51. Omutanda Gyaali – Afrigo
Omutanda gyaali was released in celebration of Kabaka Mutebi’s coronation in 1993, highlighting the immense respect that Afrigo Band had for the monarchy. Afrigo waxes lyrical about the kingdom’s rich history and makes a clarion call to each of Ganda clan to stand tall and be proud of their culture, calling upon them to celebrate the kingdom’s restored glory. Even non-Ganda would allow.

52. Hitaji – Blu3
The song that launched Blu3. Nobody really ever cared what Hitaji (need) means or what they sing about. When lovers have come from afar, they are not willing to let gossip about their partner get in their way.

53. Ekitobero – Sammy Kasule
Sammy Kasule must have enjoyed food to belt it all out in a song about that special dish only a mother can prepare, a cocktail.

54. Tugende e’Kampala – Philly Lutaaya
Nostalgia is what you get here as the east or west adage comes out full swing. Kampala is home where you invite everyone.

55. Malibongwe – Limit X
The gospel tune Malibongwe calls you to come closer to God.

56. Ginkese – Qute Kaye
The Afrobeat hit that put Qute Kaye on the map talks about the pain of being betrayed by a trusted friend.

57. Bus Dunia – Herman Basudde
Prophetic this as Basudde perished in a Bus Dunia! He talks about the world being full of problems that are too obvious to all and sundry, yet ignored for good measure like a reckless bus driver.

58. Nfunda n’omubi – Afrigo
The lyrics say it all: “Nfunda n’omubi nga azaala nga alima nga ayaniriza n’abagenyi” (I would rather have an ugly wife who can produce children, till the garden and welcomes visitors to our home).

59. Sikiliza – Bebe Cool ft Yvette
Bebe Cool and Yvette combine well to tell that life is good, too good to be compromised.

60. Tereza – Christopher Ssebadduka
Tereza owebbina eddene. That sums it up. Ssebadduka is wowed by a girl’s outer beauty that he can’t stop thinking about her. He fancies her big behind, the curvature of her breasts facial beauty.

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