My solemn prayer for 2016 is for the emergence of a band that can craft a Ugandan sound for export. That is a big ask of a nation that boasts being the most diverse globally in terms of ethnic representation. The UN did name Uganda thus owing to our 65+ ethnic groupings, each with its own signature cuisine and songs amongst other attributes.
But my New Year prayer request may turn out to be a tall order, what with most of the notable Kampala live music opting to settle for being extensions of the US music industry. The bulk of their repertoire comprises passable renditions of the American Top 40 playlist, a dictate of the venues at which the bands play. Apparently, the mostly weary corporates who are the principal audiences these city and suburbia hangouts need the alien songs as a salve to unwind from the office grind.
And so the career stagnation continues as legions of fine musicians are reduced to playing to a busy schedule of just aping songs to gleeful expatriates. Which is rather strange considering that the latter ought to cringe at being denied a taste of authentic Ugandan sonic ethno delights instead. The artistes though are quick to play the “bread and butter” card. After all gigging almost on the daily alongside the steady wedding bookings is no different from your corporate job in which the air-conditioned office is swapped for the stage. Yet the musicians hold a vital ace, one they can play to go one better and bite into the very pie that’s made Angelique Kidjo and Youssou N’Dour global cultural institutions.
We did have Soul Beat Africa once, an ensemble outfit that boasted sharing the same stage with some of the most notable World Music names around in a time past. That was before fractious band dynamics and egos splintered the group into solo acts that have not quite regained their clout as the famed and feted ethno-pop lads from Uganda on the global music stage.
The recourse for those bold enough to want to break out of the music-ape comfort bubble is to look to the likes of Sarah Ndagire. For a long time an Afrigo Band dancing girl, she went on to aspire for greater solo artiste heights and is now making a name for herself and The Pearl on the UK ethno-pop circuit as a bankable chanteuse. In the grander scheme of things, it may bode well for our musicians if they positioned themselves as low-hanging cultural exports. This may work better for them than having to ape Usher Raymond with a bad rendition of “Good Kisser”.
Text: Moses Serugo