Through a live stream video few months ago, Eddy Kenzo said that there is one thing he appreciates about the current government, “It has created a peaceful environment for music performers to conduct their business.” In a number of African countries he has traveled to, he said, “Going for a show in some countries is like going for war. To ensure safety of an artiste, there has to be a huge space between the stage and the audience. The separation is always wide to protect the performer from being harmed.”
Kenzo openly says he doesn’t support the current government, but ticks it on the issue of security. Kenzo is currently one of the biggest musicians in the land. He has a BET Award to his name, and a catalogue of other prestigious ones. His music sells far and wide. He is arguably the hottest export Uganda has. He fuses a number of music genres to produce songs that endear him across nations. At a young age, Kenzo’s name can be associated with the word rich. He owns a swanky home in Seguku, Kampala, a number of posh rides, and many other assets all exploited from his music career.
A musician who plied the same trade as Kenzo 60 years ago must look at the Sitya Loss singer with much envy and wistfulness. Back then, it was hard for a musician to climb high on the ladders of success. First, because of the turbulence in the country. It was only until President Museveni and his kadogos took power that peace was established. Unlike then, singers are able to hold shows across the country trans-night. Ugandans like to dance, and when they dance they never want to stop until the cocks crow. The anthem is Parte after Parte.
Uganda did not have a vibrant music industry until after 1980 or circa. The common form of entertainment was brass band largely commanded by the police and army. Thanks to brass band, other music ensembles such as Cranes Band and later Afrigo Band came into existence.
Afrigo Band grew so popular then, competing for the ears with stars like Philly Bongole Lutaya, Elly Wamala and others. Yet they were and still are hailed as talented musicians, they didn’t achieve as much as youngsters like Kenzo or other musicians of these times; Chameleone, Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine and others.
Musicians today enjoy an upper hand to succeed; get money, exposure and international recognition. Back then, there were few studios someone would find to record a song but even those that were in existence did not produce good quality. Thanks to advancement in technology, musicians are now able to record music that can compete on world stages.
Freedom of Speech
Music has always been a tool of expression. Artistes communicate the positives and negatives in society. Through music, whatever is going on in society is mirrored for all to see. Before 1986, musicians who sang songs that hit the government were not spared. Some were arrested while others were killed.
Today musicians relatively have the freedom to sing on whatever subject they wish. Bobi Wine is one artiste who has benefited from the freedom of speech. Many of his songs are seen as jabs at the government but his music is played or has always been. Bobi currently has a foot in politics with roots from music. His songs have been helped him sail, but largely it is the freedom of expression he and many other musicians have enjoyed under the current regime.
While Kadongo Kamu was a hot item in the days of yore, it was overpowered by Congolese music. And later Jamaican. More music styles from other countries keep coming. Currently there is a great portion of Nigerian style in the industry.
Musicians come from abroad to come and hold big shows here, yet some people say allowing other artistes to come and showcase here threatens the industry, many actually say it is beneficial. Local musicians have been influenced by Jamaican and Nigerian music. Our industry grows at the backbone of these foreign styles. The laws in Uganda favor other styles from outside to thrive. In countries like Nigeria, only 1% of non-local music can be allowed to play.
Some musicians benefit directly from political campaigns. All through Museveni’s reign, he has always employed musicians to compose campaign songs and others to entertain crowds through the campaign trail. This means campaigns are always harvest time for musicians at least during this era.
A musician in Uganda is able to sing at four different venues in different districts on the same day. This is thanks to the infrastructural development occasioned by the government. Roads have been constructed to ease transport for citizens.
Apart from DJ Michael and BigEye who got brown envelopes, most musicians have benefited from the government, albeit indirectly.
Artistes Invade Politics
Since the 2016 elections, there has been a sizeable number of artistes riding on fame gained from music to join politics. Today’s parliament is composed of many musicians from Judith Babirye, Kato Lubwama, Peter Ssematimba, to Bobi Wine.
In the run up to the 2021 elections, Bobi has his eyes set on the Presidential seat while many more artistes like Geofrey Lutaya, Ronald Mayinja and Chameleone intend to contest in various political positions. The phenomenon of musicians invading the corridors of power directly is new and was never seen in the previous regimes. Musicians were easily suppressed. In fact, they were seen as failures (bayaye) and outcasts in society.
Musicians have come from being seen as bandits (bayaye) to role models. Companies and organizations turn to them to influence change in society. Musicians have been used as ambassadors to fight HIV Aids. Bebe Cool is currently the TB ambassador. He recently received close to $400,000 USD from Stop TB Partnership’s TB REACH initiative at a ceremony that took place in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam. Others also continue to enjoy ambassadorial roles in different organizations and sectors.
Looking back at the days of Paul Kafeero and his contemporaries, music has surely grown tremendously. And it is because of two things; the hard work by the artistes themselves, but largely the conducive environment created by the government.