Unsung heroes. Vocalists will always appear vivid in the eyes of the audience, literally shadowing the background artistes, who equally contribute both the music making process and live performance. Instrumentalist Edmund Ganja, alias Eddy Ganja, who has been a lead guitarist of Afrigo Band since 1978, is yet another unsung hero whose name has had a monumental contribution to Uganda’s music industry.
Who is Eddy Ganja?
My name is Edmund Ganja but most people call me Eddy Ganja. I am a guitarist, vocalist and composer, who does individual works but also attached Uganda’s oldest music outfit, Afrigo Band.
Music has been part of me since childhood and I always hoped to be a musician and perhaps put a mark on Uganda’s music industry.
My dream came to fruition in 1969 when I met an amazing guitarist, Eddy Lukooda , then a fellow student at Kololo SS, who offered to teach me how to play the guitar.
Unfortunately, Lukooda did not live long to see me play as he died in 1978.
I later joined Crane Band, then Uganda’s most popular teenage bands that had its residence on Salaama Road, where I was also a neighbour.
Fortunately, much as it was not that easy to be part of Crane Band, I was luckily welcomed and embraced by Tony Senkebejje, Sammy Kawuma, Bosco Bomozi, Clide Mayanja among others who were moved by my commitment to learn and be a better artiste.
Much as I did not get an opportunity to immediately perform with the band, I frequently attended their rehearsal sessions with my acoustic guitar, which prompted Tony Senkebejje to sing with me and sometimes allow me on stage.
In 1969 when Crane Band split up and he left, he offered to equip me with more guitar techniques and later the remaining band members requested me to fill up Tony’s position as a rhythm guitarist.
At the band, I composed and recorded my first single dubbed I Got A Feeling and later Anifah, all under the Cranes label. In 1974, the band split up again but I remained a band member.
When singer Philly Lutaaya came back from Congo where he had spent five years, he joined us at Crane Band as a member. We worked with Lutaaya for some time until we left in 1974 and formed the River Nile Band with Alex Mukulu, a sister band to the Rwenzori Band, which was owned by the late Fred Kanyike.
In 1976, I went back to Crane Band where I recorded songs such as Anifah and Monica by Fred Sebulime, Maserina by Davis Kiyingi. In 1977 the band split up and I took a break.
I then joined Afrigo in 1975 and this is where I have been a member until today.
Besides performing in Afrigo, I have composed and sang a song dubbed Baseketelera Nga Nze, which was one of the band’s greatest songs back in the day.
Many musicians ended up in exile back in the day, did you go to exile?
Personally I did not go to exile when most creatives fled to seek asylum. Maybe because I did not have politically-inspired lyrics in my songs but the issue is that I knew how to stay away from trouble during Uganda’s dark days.
I live a simple quiet life and I usually take no chances whenever I sense trouble.
You worked with Philly Lutaaya, how was it and what did it feel like?
Lutaaya was among the few Ugandans who took music seriously and treated the profession with respect. Working with Lutaaya was great because he was very courageous and hardworking.
For long you have been behind the stage as an instrumentalist, what does it mean to be an instrumentalist?
Being an instrumentalist is one of the greatest things that I have had in my life. An instrumentalist is called the band because you lead every concept of the band’s work.
All people should understand is that the backline is everything the artiste or audience needs in the way of gear to put on a good show.
Being an instrumentalist has helped me get fully involved in the process of making music in Uganda and abroad. It has also contributed to my other skills such as writing, vocals and production. It is not a mistake that I have been on stage for the last 45 years.
There is a sound of Hugh Masekela in Eddy Ganja, talk to us about your recent music release, The Darkest Night?
Masekela? Is it because you feel some jazz? Yes, you cannot separate vocals from jazz and I am a vocalist. Besides that, for all my life I have been listening to many great artistes, including Masekela, that is why I felt like we still need that unique sound to be represented and distributed to the world.
Meanwhile, as an artiste I have lost many brothers and sisters and I felt like their sounds should not go to dust, I have to keep them alive.
The Darkest Night is my latest single, an English song with lyrics that evoke emotions, following a tragedy that befell me mid last year.
The song is a tribute that takes me back to the days when my wife Rosette Nabirye fell terminally il, and I felt helpless as I painfully watched her die.
The song came from a place of hurt and intended to help me start a new journey of dealing with the heartache and accept a new reality.
It is hard losing a loved one. I live with a vivid memory of what happened during the darkest night of my life and I find solace in singing about her.
I looked for a smooth way to tribute a song to my wife and that is how I got those great melodies that make me heal.
All this happened during lockdown; it was a dark day, the roads were closed, my life was left in total darkness with no option but prayer for her to heal. Unfortunately, she never made it. That is how I got the title of my single.
Sorry about your wife, how are you coping with the loss?
That is part of life and it is a pain that I have to personally endure. Sadly though, it is a pain that will never go away, but I have had support from my families, friends as well as my band members which gives me hope that all will be well by God’s grace.
Should we expect a body of work, say an album or EP?
I am yet to retire and my fans and music lovers should expect a lot more from me. I have written a lot of music and I am currently working on a number of songs with South African based production houses.
Why did you choose to work with South African producers instead of Ugandan creatives?
It was an opportunity that came after I remained in South Africa for my operation (prostate artery embolisation). I got a chance to meet with some Lucky Dube band members who welcomed me so warmly.
We then went to one of the greatest South African recording studios (Downtown Recording Studios) where Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Chaka Chaka, Huge Masekela, Chico Twala and Miriam Makeba recorded their albums. We sat down and I told them my darkest night story, which thereafter turned into a song.
Do you rate Ugandan production houses?
Well, they do their best according to the state of our recording industry.
What is your view on the Ugandan music industry?
The Ugandan music industry is good but needs to be supported to grow. We have great artistes but, they need to be supported.
What plans do you have for the future?
My plans are to continue what I do best as a father, Afrigo band member and also continue composing and releasing my music as a solo artiste.
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