You may have seen the skits by comedians cracking their jokes exclusively in Lusoga.
They have a big presence on YouTube, Facebook and increasingly in WhatsApp groups. Playing on both positive and unfortunate stereotypes associated with eastern Uganda’s Basoga tribe, this comedy outfit based in Jinja has become quite the hit, nationwide.
These hilarious youth call themselves the Swengere Family. You will not find them at every comedy show in Kampala, yet their online works have catapulted them into fame with short, punchy, signature jokes.
Last week The Observer traced them to Jinja town where all the members stay and work. In Jinja, their base is at Tourist Bay hotel, a few metres from the source of the Nile river.
Here, The Observer meets two of them, Alton Kasolo, 39, and Hussein Muyonjo, 33, on a Saturday planning for their next shoot due to take place on Monday.
They look younger than they appear on TV, and if one expected any celeb swag, these are clearly village homeboys. Kasolo said the whole idea started in 2013 when some of the current members of Swengere Family were still working with Baba FM.
“A newly-promoted station manager at Baba FM wanted to do something creative in order to attract listenership; so, we had to look for creative people and that’s how we started Swengere Family,” he said.
After careful auditions, the group settled with Alton Kasolo who acts as Kasolo, Hussein Muyonjo, alias Swengere the lead actor, Zakia Namulondo aka Mama Kalibala, Mudukaci Mukasa alias Kalibala, Mbode and Winnie.
“We hit the studio and within a week, we had recorded 10 skits and Swengere was the talk of the town. The program manager at Baba FM later lost interest, but the members decided to stick to the family, and here we are,” Kasolo said.
Muyonjo said at one point, they recorded just dance moves without a word and posted on YouTube and people still liked it.
“At the time, we did not think of the money. We were just doing it for fun but with time, the money started coming. We don’t have to be in Kampala to make the money,” he said with a broad smile.
Swengere Family has recorded over 1,500 clips, but for the group, their first ones will always stand out.
All their skits are in Lusoga because, according to Swengere, Lusoga is a unique language; “it’s a language which when one speaks it, other tribes find it funny and most of the time people laugh at anyone speaking in Lusoga”.
“We could not beat Baganda at their language. Everybody speaks Luganda; we wanted to be unique,” he said.
Kasolo interjected: “We are trying to promote Lusoga also; we did not want to be copycats, a common thing with Ugandan comedians. We wanted something different.”
Swengere told The Observer making money was the last thing on their minds when they set out, but with increased demand for their brand of comedy, they acquired a manager and turned their passion into business.
He said after gaining a following on YouTube and Facebook, broadcast media houses gained interest and wanted exclusive rights to their productions. Currently their skits are aired on Bukedde TV.
“Most TV stations wanted our works for free; when we talked of money, they shunned us. It was Bukedde TV that proved serious. We have an arrangement where they air the skits first before we upload on YouTube,” Kasolo said.
They also get a decent pay from YouTube since their hits have greatly increased. All the cast members hold day jobs and only meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the evenings for filming.
Swengere is the manager, Social Media and Creative Arts at Busoga One FM; Kasolo is the programmes director at Busoga One; Mama Kalibala works with Baba FM; Kalibala is a commercial farmer who recently resigned from broadcasting.
“We are also bambowa – Busoga royal guards – and also run the kingdom’s press unit; so, you can see we don’t only depend on comedy. We are also family men,” Swengere said. “This is our home. We wanted to prove to people that good things can come from Jinja; our home, our poor background.”
Kasolo said they have never contemplated moving to Kampala, because “there is also money in Jinja”.
The outfit has plans to move from comedy skits to doing short movies and series and they say they have a project that will be aired on DStv’s Pearl Magic once complete.
“The project is in waiting. DStv has booked 60 episodes and they will be aired for six months,” Kasolo said.
Also, Kasolo said he is going to contest for the Jinja Municipality West parliamentary seat currently held by Moses Balyeku, while Mama Kalibala wants Jinja’s Woman MP seat and Kalibala is eying Buikwe. Yes, a time is coming when they will not be a joking subject.