Of recent, gospel singer and preacher, Wilson Bugembe, has been working on projects together with secular artistes, which has seen him feature in several music concerts popularly known as ‘bivulu’.Today, you can hardly find a poster announcing a major entertainment event without his name. At the 2008 Bell Pearl of Africa Music awards, Bugembe did not only sing but went also accepted the award for Best Gospel Single (Komawo Eka) and Best Gospel Artiste.
However, the singer’s association with secular music is not going down well with some born again Christians. In the award winning Komawo Eka, Bugembe teams up with Bobi Wine, Mesach Ssemakula, Geoffrey Lutaaya, Amarula Family, etc., to call the ‘lost sheep’ back to God.
His critics say the singer is digging his own grave, something similar to what happened to Pastor George Okudi.
Okudi who in 2003 became the first singing pastor to scoop the PAM awards accolade for Best Gospel Artiste, made Uganda proud by bringing home the only Kora award for Best Male Artiste in Africa and Best East African Artiste. But this also marked his ‘death’.
Following allegations of marital infidelity, his church closed and Okudi now lives in the United States. “It’s unfortunate that a person who comes from a humble background and one of the few and rare species of Christian musicians is being slowly but surely swayed away in the footsteps of the man [Okudi] who disappeared,” says Louis Kermu of Campus Alliance to Wipe out AIDS (CAWA).
Comfort Asiimwe of Makerere Community Church says Bugembe is “likely to follow the trend of other artistes who have dined with the secular world.”
“In most cases when you win big prizes, there is pride that develops… When [Bugembe] performs on very big stages, he may forget to be low and yet that is how God exalts him,” she says.
Having lost his parents to AIDS, Bugembe, a former street child was adopted by a Good Samaritan, the late Mbogo, who paid for his education until he began singing.
Bugembe began singing as a student at Highway College. His maiden album, Yellow, is a story about his personal life experience.
His second album, Bibuzaabuza, was well received by the Christian community before Mukama Njagala Kumanya catapulted him beyond Christian circles in 2007. Last year, the danceable Komawo Eka ruled the airwaves.
“I think he is not called to minister in those places. I think he is supposed to pick people from the streets where God picked him,” Asiimwe observes.
However, Bugembe believes that his recent moves are God’s agenda for him.
“Komawo Eka is calling people to come home. You can’t call people who are home to come home,” he says, before adding: “If someone has fallen in the lake and you want to save them, you have got to get there. You can’t stay on dry land and pretend you are saving them. The reason God saved us is that he came to us. He had a reason. My message is intended for non-believers and not believers,” Bugembe said.
On going to secular concerts, Bugembe says he is doing it for this particular project, Komawo Eka.
“Before the song, I wasn’t going to secular concerts. There are many ways to kill a rat. You can’t say by preaching alone because some people never go to church. Komawo Eka goes to bars, night clubs, etc. My mission is to bring church closer to you. I bring church to your bedroom,” he says. Asked whether he will continue with the mission this year, Bugembe says: “I pray God gives me another song that preaches. The Bible says Christians are the salt of the world. I have to go there when I am carrying a taste.”
But George Okello, a Makerere University student, says it is not right for a pastor to do what Bugembe is doing today.
“He is supposed to be exemplary. How will his believers see him as a man of God yet he goes to secular concerts? The Bible warns us of mixing with the secular world. There is a better way to preach… I see that as the beginning of his downfall,” Okello says.
Some of Bugembe’s critics think the need for money has compromised his beliefs. Gospel concerts in Uganda are poorly attended, thus attracting little revenue. Perhaps the reason he is treading where the gold lies.
Asiimwe warns: “If he is not careful, he will be swayed by money because it is a characteristic of people from humble backgrounds; when they land into money, they forget their background; I believe there are good places where he can earn money.”
The equally popular Gospel artiste Judith Babirye (Beera Nange fame) has turned down a PAM Award before and refuses to perform at secular events.