They were once the life of a Kampala party or concert, but gave it all up to try their luck in foreign lands.
Whereas some are still active, others have neatly slunk into the kyeyo (odd jobs) fabric in different parts of the world.
Singers Menton Krono (USA), Prossy Kankunda (South Africa), Kid Fox (Japan), Toolman Kibalama (Germany), Boys in September (Sweden), Karim Ssaava (USA), Winnie Munyenga (USA), Sylvia Namugenyi (USA), Henry Katamba (UK) and Mega Dee (USA), among others, have all left the Kampala celebrity scene. Abu-Baker Mulumba talked to a few of them about what they are up to musically and in life generally.
GEN MEGA DEE SOLDIERS ON
In his latest single Awo Navaawo, Amos Kigenyi aka General Mega Dee talks with excessive pride of now relaxing in Hollywood. He has assembled a 15-track album of which six songs (Nali Wandanga, Gwe Musawo, Kadhumbula, Bawuna Kungeya and Kawudha Mukwano) are already done. He has also released three videos.
“I am doing very well, and music is going on well the American way,” says Mega Dee, who has also just completed his healthcare studies.
Since relocating to the USA a few years ago following back-to-back concert flops in Kampala, Mega Dee has been doing a couple of gigs around the USA. To Ugandans based in California where he stays, he is like their main entertainer, doing his thing at all sorts of parties, weddings, birthdays, etc.
But it has not been easy, as people are less supportive. He complains that fans here want to pay him peanuts and others even expect him to sing for free. The self-proclaimed singing general says he is in touch with promoters in Uganda and, if need be, he will one day return and resume from where he stopped.
“If I want, I can go back and compete with those artistes there, but currently I am still chasing my dreams; there is not much I need in Uganda,” he told me when I caught up with him in California.
YVETTE SSEGUYA GOES DUTCH
If you have been around the social scene long enough, then you know Yvette Sseguya for her song, Aneekutte, a loose Luganda interpretation of Brandy and Monica’s The Boy Is Mine.
Now based in Holland, Sseguya’s story has similarities to that of Mega Dee. When she went to Holland, she gave music a break to first settle down. Now a mother of two, Sseguya has managed to go back to the studio in the last two years and is optimistic of going high again and rocking the music world, Uganda inclusive.
Her only worry is that Ugandans lack musical identity; most of them sound like Nigerians.
“I don’t think there is any Nigerian radio playing a Ugandan song…,” says Sseguya who confesses of being in love with Peter Miles, APass and Jamal’s music.
The former crooner with KADS band and sister to Iryn Namubiru says the reason she left Uganda was because she was tired of singing for a “thank you” and she hopes that is not the case anymore.
Her musical comeback is now motivated by being a mother; she wants to show her children that she was and still can be a great singer and that, even if they are born in Holland, they are African and ought to embrace their African roots.
Sseguya says she prefers singing to other communities such as the Rwandans, but not Ugandans, because the latter don’t pay.
“I don’t even attend shows for other people who come here; not even when Iryn [her elder sister] comes. I am money-hungry; to go for a show, I have to be paid. I can’t stand for long for free,” she says.
Namubiru was always on Sseguya’s neck, begging her to continue singing, but the latter says: “I was trying to be a mother as well as a musician”.
But now she is heeding her big sister’s call and is telling Ugandans to watch out.
“Nobody can stop me. Even after so many years, when I went to studio I still sounded the same. Just watch the space,” sahe says.
AS FOR GNL ZAMBA…
GNL Zamba was once the voice and face of LugaFlo in Uganda. Now tussling it out with the rest of us in the land of Donald Trump, he has decided to juggle music with acting.
The Kikankane singer is eyeing becoming big in the Hollywood film industry. By the end of this year, he will have featured in two movies and a TV show by Paramount Pictures, that has already been approved to start airing on Netflix.
Musically, GNL is doing quite well with two shows a week at Stars on Brand in Glendale, California. He also moves to all states and by the time I interviewed him, he was performing at the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC. He also performs once a month in Las Vegas with Other World Movement band.
“My fans in Uganda are on social media platforms asking me to come back, and if all goes well, I will be with them this November with a big show,” says GNL, whose Baboon Forest now has a Los Angeles chapter.
He says he wants to make a way for musicians who want to go international.
“I still do LugaFlo, which is now building into something international,” says the CEO of Baboon Forest Uganda.
PRISCILLA KALIBBALA - WHO?
Priscilla Kalibbala (USA) is now doing a degree in nursing and has not touched the microphone ever since she relocated to the USA after her wedding to Michael Kimbugwe in 2012.
Now a mother of two, Kalibbala admits it is very difficult mixing studies, family and music.
“I am still a musician and I will always be, but for now my mind is focused on studies and family,” said Kalibbala.
GEORGE MULINDWA TAKES AMERICA
George Mulindwa, formerly of the New Generation African band, has tried to keep the candle burning with songs including Kkiriza, Sophia, Lwaki, I Wanna Take You Home, Kerekere and, I Miss You, among others.
Based in Boston, USA, Mulindwa says Ugandan radio DJs have started appreciating good music unlike in the previous years.
“Radios like CBS, Simba and Capital FM play my music more than once a day, says Mulindwa, who plies his trade with HLF (Hot Like Fife) owned by Kelley B and based in the Caribbean.
He sold at least 800 CDs of his Sophia album while on tour with HLF.
His genre is reggae and he uses renowned producers such as Tim Kizito of Bantu Music studio, Kann Records, Lead Rockie and Vincent Otheino to perfect his music. In Uganda, he entrusted Mesach Ssemakula with the promotion of his music.
“Ever since I left Uganda, I have been encouraged by Ssemakula that I still have a big following back home. He has supported me financially, morally and he is the reason why I am still in music,” says Mulindwa who has a duet (Abantu Bazibu) with Ssemakula, elaborating their journey of life.
Mulindwa, who is also into movies [he has been shooting short movies in the Caribbean], has hopes of coming back to Uganda one day and lead the industry after completing his studio.
BANA MUTIBWA GOES DEUTSCH
Bana Mutibwa, a LugaFlo artiste based in Germany, continued with his music even when he left Uganda, but is no longer as active as he was when he was in Uganda.
“While here, I have released tracks such as Tetubonga Naawe, Enkyukakyuka and Revolutionary Bars, among others.
However, since I am living in a country where they do not speak Luganda, it is low chances that music opportunities come at the same level as they do when one is back home,” says Mutibwa, whose Tetubonga Naawe was a direct attack on musicians who did Tubonga Naawe, praising President Yoweri Museveni in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaigns.
He says even though he is now based in Germany, his target audience is Ugandans all over the world, mainly those back home. Mutibwa says life in a first world country demands much more than being dependent on music alone.
“When I moved here, I decided to go back to school since I had dropped out in Uganda to pursue a music career. At the moment, I am not quite certain, since I had an active fulltime music career for almost 10 years in Uganda. I needed to get a little bit out of my comfort zone and embark on something more challenging. So, that is what I am doing at the moment,” says Mutibwa, who is pursuing an IB diploma.
UNDERSTANDING THEIR TOUGH DECISION
According to Marvyn Champion, Bebe Cool’s manager who is now based in California, there is no musician who can leave his country if things are going well musically.
Those still doing well musically only come on vacation or to perform and go back, but whoever leaves for good is an indication that things have started going wrong musically and financially.
“Music is not like starting a guerrilla war where the commander can sit in his house and command the war; with music, you have to be on the ground. This [doing music in the diaspora] makes it very difficult to keep in touch with your audience. Adapting to the new place musically is not easy as basics like promotions might be done differently,” says Champion, who is also a manager at Swangz Avenue.
Promoter Martin Olweny, reacting to singers saying Ugandans don’t pay well, says: “It’s not that people don’t want to pay for shows, but those who used to invest in [concerts] seem not to be interested anymore.”
He also blames social media, where people get much of the entertainment, free.
“To attract Ugandans to a show, you must be super good; otherwise, people would rather be on Facebook than attending a boring show,” says Olweny.
For now, former Kampala music A-listers such as GNL Zamba and Kalibbala are content to leave the spotlight to Sheebah Karungi, Mun G and Winnie Nwagi, hoping when they finally get a slice of that American dream, there will still be room for them at the top.