I arrive at CBS FM, a few minutes to 7am. Abu Kawenja is on air with his breakfast show, Bwakedde Mpulira.
CBS’ programmes manager Abby Mukiibi and his co-presenter on Kaliisoliiso, actor Wycliffe Luyombya, are waiting in the former’s office. The Bulange-based radio station has for the last 20 years hosted the sports segment, Kaliisoliiso, from 7.30am to 8am every weekday.
The programme has become so influential putting a comic spin on all issues topical that sports is just a small part of it now. For example, it is December 6 and The Observer is rebranding into a strong weekly newspaper.
Mukiibi, Kawenja and Luyombya are hosting two of us from The Observer to talk about the new product, and to kill the nerves I start mentally writing the Kaliisoliiso crew into a story project.
Luyombya joined the crew last year after veteran presenter, Kato Lubwama, joined parliament as the Lubaga South legislator. Mukiibi and Luyombya read the day’s newspapers, making notes, occasionally exchanging funny barbs with The Observer operations director, Hassan Badru Zziwa.
“I get here at 5:45am. I have done so for the last 20 years. If I arrive at 6 or 6:15, the rest of the day is disorganized,” 48-year-old Mukiibi responds to a question about reporting time.
Luyombya arrives at 6am. Kawenja is in even earlier, going on air at 6am. The clock ticks down; in studio, Wamala Balunabba delivers the news bulletin at the top of the hour.
Kawenja, who recently made his maiden pilgrimage to Mecca, wanders into the office during the short break and jokes ensue over why Mukiibi and Zziwa are not eager to become ‘hajjis’.
OFF TO STUDIO WE GO
Kawenja leaves after the bulletin and preparations for the day’s Kaliisoliiso gain speed. At 7:21am Mukiibi pulls out a small bell, two batons and a bunch of LPs and leads us to the studio, where Kawenja has been joined by long-serving David Kamba, the studio assistant and Kaliisoliiso’s unsung hero.
Mukiibi decides on Jimmy Katumba with the Ebonies’ Muyita Malaika, from the group’s 1980s heydays. I am surprised at how authentic everything is; the Wali Luddawa (music to remember) segment is played off an actual record player and LP.
At 7:27am, the song plays and I nostalgically remember my late uncle Musoke and his wife dancing romantically to this song decades ago, on their wedding anniversary. They owned a small, red Datsun and as the memories swamp me, I appreciate what this part of the show represents, even better.
As the song continues, the presenters reminisce how fun it always is to host KCCA boss Jennifer Musisi, and what a buoyant person she really is. The song ends and Mukiibi and Luyombya stand behind their microphones and I retreat to a corner seat.
Mukiibi talks about Walkmans, wearing shorts at his old school, Makerere College, and placing a hankie over the collar to keep his shirt clean. Luyombya remembers how carrying around an Oxford geometry set was equivalent to owning an iPad today.
I have not witnessed any rehearsals; the jokes just flow, unprompted.
“It’s very spontaneous because when you work with someone for long, you know them well,” Mukiibi later explains. He has worked with both Kawenja and Luyombya for years, especially on stage for the latter.
Mukiibi pulls out a big drum and sounds it with the batons, before launching into birthday greetings and on-air ‘mentions’.
At 7:50am after my two minutes on air, they give the sports update, presented with so much comedy that even the trio is still laughing and slapping the studio walls in hilarity, during the commercial break.
“Kaliisoliiso is our flagship show. It has always commanded the highest listenership ratings at that time for the last 20 years,” Mukiibi says. “I get terrible migraine attacks, but I have done it with a cold cloth pressed to my head; we come in mourning loved ones but still entertain our fans.”
“When Kato left, I was so worried, but then I remembered Wycliffe. We are so natural together. He just nudges me with an elbow and I know what he wants,” Mukiibi says.
The presenters, all of them with theatre backgrounds, have changed the face and sound of radio over the years, successfully merging theatre with broadcast media.
This funny man, who speaks Luganda, Kiswahili, Lusoga, Runyoro, Lugisu, Ateso, Lugbara and Runyankore, is no stranger to stage and the big screen. He loves impersonating people in different accents, especially those from northern Uganda, something that has endeared him more to his fans.
“I love speaking in many accents, because I know many languages. I grew up in Walukuba housing estate in Jinja and was exposed to different tribes. It is a rare talent that I enjoy,” Mukiibi, whose idol is Christopher Mukiibi (of The Theatricals), says.
His theatre journey started in 1988 in his uncle Omugave Ndugwa’s outfit, the Black Pearls, where he also started long business relationships with Lubwama and Mariam Ndagire, among others.
In 1995, Mukiibi, Ndagire and Michael Mabira started Afri Talent as Music, Dance and Drama students at Makerere University. Would he make different career choices given a second chance? No.
“I love what I am. So many people want me to join politics, but I hate politics.”
Mukiibi has reason to love what he does; it has put him in the same spotlight with Hollywood stars including Kerry Washington and Forest Whittaker (Last King of Scotland, 2006) and Idris Elba (Sometimes in April, 2005), among others, not mentioning the more than 50 plays he has acted in and/or directed.
Born to Haji Erias Simwogerere (RIP) and Hajati Madina Simwogerere (RIP), Mukiibi is married to Stella Namatovu and has four children.
Kawenja’s name is another that has featured in the various hilarious jingles and music adaptations that open Kaliisoliiso for as long as the show has existed.
Corely an actor who started out in 1994 with The Theatricals, he has since evolved into being the owner of Adzido Performers, on top of owning the Radio, Television and Film Training Institute, “which consumes most of my off-radio time”.
Kawenja has a soft spot for education, thanks to the polygamous family he was raised in that put much value on school. Even with Adzido Performers, their focus is more on high school entertainment and one of their plays, Bemba Musota, has been on the Luganda literature curriculum for A-level, for the last 15 years.
Where Mukiibi looks up to the late Andrew Patrick Luwandagga as his radio inspiration, for Kawenja it is Neil Beriskell, Radio One’s former programmes manager.
“He was my trainer/mentor. The knowledge and skills I acquired from Neil have categorised my presentation style as top drawer,” he says.
Having grown up in the city centre (present-day Jumbo plaza), Kawenja and his many siblings knew the city like the backs of their hands, something that came in handy for the theatre-loving Kawenja.
No wonder, Charles James Senkubuge, with whom he acted in Bakayimbira Dramactors, greatly influenced his stage confidence and improvisation skills; skills that work perfectly for him even on Kaliisoliiso, as I can testify.
Kawenja, whose parents Mohamed Nalumoso and Aisha Nakitto are both deceased, is married to Rahma Nabukenya Kawenja and has six children – “so far”, he is quick to add.
Of the trio, Luyombya is the most laidback off-air, which makes his transformation on-air a bigger joy to witness. Born to Wilson Kabali and Dorothy Kikidde (RIP), Luyombya is married to Sarah Charmie Luyombya and has five children.
The latest addition to Kaliisoliiso, Luyombya has stepped effortlessly into Kato Lubwama’s big shoes that it is hard to remember what the show was like without him!
It helps that he had already interacted with Mukiibi and Kawenja in their theatre lives.
“I started acting way back in school, but as a career, I started out in 1999 with Bakayimbira Dramactors. I was in high school, then,” Luyombya says.
He has also acted in several local films, but finds time for his other life as a creative director and senior producer at West Records, where they specialise in radio and TV adverts.
He runs West Records with Edward Ssendikaddiwa and Silver Musubika.
Luyombya is passionate about his farming projects and is now also back in school, studying for his bachelor’s degree at Ndejje University. He looks up to Mukiibi, Senkubuge and Patriko Mujuuka.