2014 may have been designated as the year of the horse. However, one Ugandan songstress could easily lay claim to it and not for equestrian reasons. It will be 10 years this year since an unassuming youngster walked into the Coca Cola Popstars audition room at the then Kampala International Conference Centre and wowed the judges with her full throttle rendition of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful. The worry though at the time was whether, for a competition that was out to scout for a pop trio, Lilian Mbabazi wouldn’t eclipse her other two singing mates vocally. The judges took a chance on her regardless and booked her into the next stage where 15 hopefuls each from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda tussled it out for a slot amongst the trios from their respective countries. At the Mombasa boot camp, Lilian proved she can work in a group and by mid year, following a gruelling grooming stint in South Africa, she was unveiled in 2004 alongside Jackie Chandiru and Cinderella Sanyu as Blu*3, the Coca Cola Popstar trio from Uganda.
The prediction at the time though was that by 2005, the Ugandan [all female] trio would have disintegrated ahead of the Kenya and Tanzanian trios, which went for a two female, one male composition. Surprisingly, Sema and Wakilisha didn’t last a year while Blu*3 soldiered on mostly because of their workhorse producer Steve Jean, who was the glue that kept the group together. If he was the one keeping the lid on the Blu*3 catfights, the cracks only began to show after he went out of the picture. By 2008, the reconstituted Blu3 had seen the asterix and Cindy go, the latter replaced by the ravishing but vocally incompetent Mya Baganda Namuleme). It wasn’t long before the original members Lilian and Jackie started itching for the solo limelight their contemporary Cindy was already enjoying leaving Mya in a vocal lurch.
Lilian’s Blu*3 contemporaries may rule the bubble gum pop roost but there was wisdom in her opting for the organic music route that sees her play alongside the solid Sundowners Band. Her legion of devoted fans mostly comprise fun-loving” “corporates” looking for an excuse to party on Thursday nights at her regular gigs at Big Mikes on Acacia Avenue. Her biggest endorsement to date is from the brand that thrust her onto the musical landscape a decade ago. Lilian was one of three artistes chosen to represent Uganda at Coke Studio Africa, a televised series formatted along live studio-recorded music performances by various artists. At its heart is musical fusion and some pairings saw the likes of Tanzania’s Lady Jay Dee duet with Mali’s World Music icon Salif Keita. Uganda’s other two reps were Qwela Band, riding on their profile as a legacy live outfit and Joel Sebunjo, the prodigy that has earned himself the pips of being one of few East African that can finger Kora strings. Lilian not only enchanted the continent with a tweaked rendition of her titular “puppy love” hit Danger. She was accorded co-hosting honours during the New Year’s Edition of Coke Studio Africa. With such a ringing endorsement, there is no better way to celebrate her musical decade than lay claim to 2014. A Blu3 reunion may not be definite but word is a solo concert is in the works. And on that one, we can count on Lilian not having to ride on the repertoire of fading pop star Christina Aguilera. All hail the year of Lilian Mbabazi!
Text: MOSES SERUGO (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)