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When music is Ugandan but sound is Nigerian

In the recent standoff between DJs and musicians, singer Jose Chameleone announced he would open up war on Nigerian music. How he would do that, was a question of time!

The singer has just released his new single, Wale Wale, which has left music critics wondering whether he has fired his first bullet or he has fulfilled the English saying that ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

The way the song opens, its flow and the intonation of some words is so Nigerian – that you may think one of the country’s most successful musicians has finally succumbed to the pressure – to do music the Nigerian way. Chameleone’s single comes at a time when there has been an equal share of songs that sound Nigerian.

Of them all, gospel singer Exodus’ Igwe left nothing to imagination. Even his costume was Nigerian. The other songs include: Omulangira Sunna’s Follow You, Goodlyfe’s Ole and Talk And Talk and Eddy Kenzo’s Sitya Loss, which sounds more like Fuse ODG’s Azonto. Also, Ray Signature’s Kasenyanku sounds copied from a track by Bracket, while Enswagali by Raf X Ludu has the same beat and flow like P Square’s Personally.

It is now common practice for local artistes to mimic Nigerian Pidgin English and many times produce songs with similar arrangement with that of Nigerian music. This has got music critics complaining that Ugandan music is losing its identity, if it was there anyway. Critics claim artistes seem to be struggling to sound Nigerian.

Veteran radio personality Omulangira Ndausi says this is a result of artistes struggling to make a mark on the international stage.

“They think that sounding Nigerian will do the trick; that it will kick Nigerian music out and propel them to the international stage,” says Ndausi.

Jonathan Rwego, an avid music fan, attributes this trend to the laziness of artistes, who want to make quick bucks without being creative.

“Many artists want a quick breakthrough in the industry, but do not want to work for it. They end up copying and pasting because they don’t have the creativity to come up with their own styles,” notes Rwego.

A one Bata writes on riftlyrics.com that Nigerian music sells because of its uniqueness, something that Ugandan musicians do not realise.

“Nigerian music appeals to different places across Africa because of its originality. Ugandan artistes are copying this unique Nigerian style into their songs, but what they don’t realize is that they are promoting Nigerian music,” Bata writes.

However, Joel Isabirye, a broadcast consultant, says musicians should not be solely blamed for the trend because they are simply dancing to the demands of the local population.

“Societies partly contribute to what becomes a musical culture, by supporting its practices or discouraging them. So, we should lessen the blame on artistes. They only respond to what they think their audience likes,” Isabirye says.

In recent interviews with The Observer, singers Mowzey Radio and Bebe Cool scoffed at the concept of the ‘ideal Ugandan sound’.

“…if Ugandans are sounding Nigerian, then how does Ugandan music sound?” Mowzey Radio asked.

Indeed, even Isabirye agrees with Mowzey Radio that Uganda’s music lacks that special identity, a problem that is highly entrenched.

“Ugandan musicians have been like this since popular music began in the 1940s. Most of the musicians then adopted and now still adopt international music styles that they thought and still think the local population love,” he says.

“Crane band, Rwenzori band, Elly Wamala and the Mascots, and Afrigo band all had rumba, soukous or Caribbean influences.”

In her dissertation titled: “Pearl of Africa music awards: Political construction of popular music in Uganda” submitted for her Master of Arts in Music at Makerere University, Anita Desire Asaasira, explains the different foreign forces that have influenced Uganda’s pop music over the years.

According to her research, where she quotes Dr Slyvia Tamusuza, Uganda’s pop music was constructed through intra-African musical influences that were facilitated by the construction of the Uganda railway that moved from Mombasa through Kampala to former Zaire (now DRC).

During its construction, Kenyan labourers used to play solo guitar music. It is on this basis that Uganda’s first popular music genre, Kadongokamu, was developed, copying the Kenyan labourers. The music was popular in Buganda – as a blend of local and foreign musical elements. However, the singing was with a Ggono vocal style, typical of Buganda’s court music and the Bakisimba drum beat.

It was narrative and used rich poetry. That is what defined popular music then!

In addition, there was also the influence of missionaries, who introduced Western musical instruments such as the pianos and brasses, which enhanced the development of band music. Band music from Congo was overwhelmingly dominant in the early 1950s with the importation of records by Mwenda Jean Bosco and Gesta Belo, among others.

Ugandan artistes listened and took notes. It is no surprise, therefore, that Afrigo band was established in the 1970s. With the opening of Radio Uganda (1953) and Uganda television (1963), American pop music rejuvenated Uganda’s band music in the 1980s.

Music from Michael Jackson and Madonna was popular in disco halls. There was also a following of reggae legend Bob Marley, by those who identified themselves as Rastafarians. Reggae music was further popularized by South Africa’s Lucky Dube, who did massive shows in Kampala.

Furthermore, the liberalization of the media resulted into the establishment of private radio and television stations since the 1990s. Because of exposure to different music styles from across the globe, musicians in Uganda have been able to incorporate different music styles. The history of Uganda’s popular music shows that there has been a high degree of hybridization with globally-successful popular music forms.

At one time, everyone wanted to sound like Jamaicans. And now it is Nigerians, an era that music analysts say would also phase out. Until Ugandan musicians realise that there is need for them to go back to their roots and appreciate the rich and diverse music that the country is endowed with, they will continue copying and sounding the same.

Even Asaasira, who says “It is unrealistic to expect artistes to make music without any external influences in the kind of world we are living in,” acknowledges that this should not deter artistes from being creative.

“We have resources that we haven’t touched at all. We could also use music from the Batooro, Bakonzo, Samia, and Gishu. We don’t only have to use music from Buganda.”


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