Tell me where Nigerian music is today and I will tell you why Nigeria will rule Africa in the next coming decade(s). Tell me where Ugandan Music is today and I will tell you why our music culture will not be even found in the entertainment museums of Africa in the next coming decade(s).
This week, I take a break away from politics and address the social/entertainment life of Uganda. A disease slowly eroding away our local talents and culture to the music dust bins of Africa yet almost everyone looks to be smiling not knowing the dangers ahead.
Recently, Bebe cool attacked DJ Beekay of Xfm and later a section of DJs who play more of Nigerian Music and often ignore local music because “it is of low quality”. Many laughed him off but I later started developing keen a interest in what he was saying. And now I ask myself what if he was right, are we ready to face the consequences?
Nigerian music has taken over Africa and the catchy tunes from the West African nation seem to be cutting across all ages whether educated or not. This comes at a time when Ugandan artists struggle with their “poor quality” music to be received by the local masses on radio and the few who have penetrated into the international market, have a long way to go before they catch up with our Nigerian ‘brodas’.
But why does Nigerian Music tick?
A simple chat with Nendel Kwashi, a classmate at UCU Law school and a daughter of the Arch Bishop of Nigeria reveals to me that back home, Nigeria with more than 500 languages has a national policy aimed at promoting and exporting her diverse cultures to the rest of Africa through Arts, Music, Dance and Drama(entertainment). This is done with emphasis on originality in only purely Nigerian fields via their pidgin English dialect.
Ugandans who have even never read his books will openly tell you how Chinua Achebe is the Father of African literature
First came the literature. Anyone who studied literature right from O level to University will testify how Nigeria according to the African Writers Series tops in prose, poetry and novels. Consequently, we developed the first interest in Nigerian lifestyle way back in the pre colonial days.
Today it is easier to hear a public figures associating themselves with a quote from Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka or Elechi Amadi’s pieces than the local ones and will be considered ‘intellectuals’. Even if you randomly sample them again and ask which Ugandans wrote Upon This Mountain, Songs of Lawino or Black Mamba, if they wont first hesitate to tell you the answer, they will consult Google or WhatsApp.
Enter Nollywood aka where witchcraft comes to broad day life. Most Ugandans below 40 (UB40) will tell you that the first time they became interested in movies, was when they begun watching films from Nigeria which were more appealing to them for having an original African identity.
They are quick to tell you their favorite movies, actors and actresses from Patience Ozokwor, Genevieve Nnaji, Ramsey Noah , Omotola Jalade, Jimmy Ike etc and if not fail, will hesitate to tell you a full real name of any one character from The Ebonies or Bakayimbira Drama Actors!(some even don’t know who these are)
Here now comes the music and dance. It being fused with contemporary beats to attract youth, is just a clear manifestation of another stage towards the consolidation of her indirect influence in Africa. Music and dance is one way the West has managed to remain relevant in their former colonies across the world. Nigeria looked to have taken notes since the times of her first president Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1963.
The first clear victim of this ‘cancer’ is Kenya. Gone are the days of Kalamashaka who through their hits Tafsiri Hii (1997), Niwakati(2001) and Kilio Cha Haki(2002), inspired and introduced hiphop of Kenyan origin to the masses. This led to the rise of ambitious groups and solo artists like Necessary Noize, Nonini, the late E-Sir and Gidi Gidi Maji Maji in early 2000 who were ambassadors then but today they seem to be nowhere. Why?
Kenyan singing duo Necessary Noize has been overpowered by new groups like Camp Mulla
This is because the kenyan kaputa beat of Bongo style was/is being gradually washed away by a more ambitious Nigerian music agenda. When Nigeria invaded Kenya in 2010, it was a whole choreographed move involving West African artists, promoters, producers and video directors who not only used their larger than life presence to breakthrough into Kenya but also their catchy pidgin English dialect as distinct new identity to a niche above their competition.
Consequently, today Chocolate Music Factory (with origin from Nigeria) is responsible for the breakthrough of Camp Mulla, Victoria Kimani, Mad Traxx and Atemi in Africa and beyond straight from Uhuru Kenyatta’s land. But do their music reflect Kenya’s beats? I leave that to you.
Thus Nigeria never followed the rest of the nations across Africa and decided to go her own way. The simple reason why Nigerian entertainment products appeal to different places across the continent is because of its originality.
There music is unique and not copy and paste like we do here. Even if D’Banj, a nigerian is signed on Mercury Records-USA, listening to his song Oliver twist you will know it is by a Nigerian due to the accent and hip hop fused with Nigerian background.
Originality is the major reason why Nigerians are going global
Perhaps what could be wrong with our music?
A lot of artists today don’t understand the Ugandan sounds from the past and only look to what they hear now. So there music research is based on X, Capital, Sanyu and Radiocity FMs playlists which are honestly full of songs which are more pro Nigerian and Western than Ugandan. It is therefore not shocking to hear some songs by local artists mimicking Nigerian pidgin english dialects not knowing that they are instead promoting Nigerian music.
More so, many artists today don’t appreciate music from their forefathers. Philly Bongole Lutaya, Menton Summer, Emperor Orlando, Halima Namakula, The Bataka Squad, Hip hop Canvas, Ragge Dee(before 2005), Frida Sonko, Elly Wamala and Afrigo Band(the list continues) introduced local music mixed with our cultures but it seems many artists today abandoned the trend, didn’t fuse it with contemporary beats and just jumped on the already foreign urban local playlist menu because they want a quick breakthrough leaving our music of ugandan origin at cross roads.
Further more, many artists enter the music industry as a result of bandwagon effect. They think they can ‘make money quick’ not even understanding what is the best way to win fans permanently. They are not mentored from childhood which places them in music as mediocres. The result is having more one hit wonders than full time artists.
This is different from Nigeria. Burna Boy and WizKid are the best examples of mentorship from childhood. Burna Boy grew up with his grand father Benson Idons who was the manager of his father, a member of the 1970’s band Fela. Wizkid was identified by Banky W and Naeto C who are also prominent artists in Nigeria today.
Burna Boy and WizKid are the new faces of Nigerian Music
From the age of 11, he (Wizkid) used to see them perform while being mentored at the same time. Today, no wonder at the ages of 23 and 25, Burna Boy and Wizkid respectively are no doubt the new faces of Afropop and AfroHiphop in Africa.
Am not saying mentorship is a must but it plays a big role in groaming the next big artists. Radio and Weasle being back up artists for Jose Chameleone when still members of Leone Island, made them realize the best direction, perfect their vocals, style and today, no wonder they are soon taking over Africa.
To the artists; Before you hit on Djs for refusing to play your songs, WHAT MUSIC OF PURELY UGANDAN ORIGIN ARE YOU EXPORTING? Djs are also vulnerable people who are driven under their tagline ‘catch 22’. they are torn between their own likes, the crowd likes and the so called big artists wishes. They face a huge dilemma even though they have Program Directors, the crowds most times take the lead through requests.
Many people are willing and curious to listen to new ideas being put across by the new people. Jamaica did the same with Reggae and Ragga in the last two decades of the 20th century. Congolese came up with rumba(lingala), the southern Africans came up with Zouk and the Francophone came up with Afropop and Afrobeat.
The era of Bebecool, Bobi wine and Chameleone came in 2000. they chased out Ferre Gola, Franco, Tabu Ley, Koffi Olomide, Awilo Longomba, Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube, Angelique Kidjo and Miri Makeba from Ugandan Radio entertainment airwaves. They introduced Afrobeat and Afropop to Uganda and later, we all begun appreciating their music and today, they remain an inspiration to many of us. But we still need real music of Ugandan origin to us.
Bobi Wine, Chameleon and Bebe Cool will forever remain heroes who championed the playing of local music from 2000
Maurice Kirya and perhaps Navio contribute a lot to music of purely Ugandan originality and identity(in my opinion). Maurice presents ‘mwooyo’ music which is literally soul and pop fused with Ugandan beats. You will never find it anywhere else in Africa giving him a ready market. It is the reason why his music sells even beyond Africa as it is a new form of music to the white man. Navio in the same line with ‘UgaFlow’ which is hip hop fused with Ugandan culture is what makes him tick. This puts him in the same league with D’Banj, Liquideep or Ice Prince.
Therefore if we have many more Ugandans jumping on that track, our music identity will break throught the barriers of Nigerian Music spheres. My heart longs for the then GNL Zamba of the Mwana Wa Baaba, Koi Koi and Soda Jinjale fame now being overpowered by Mun*G of the Kijja Kugwa, Tonkuba Naku yo, Kyaba too Much and Ki Ekiganye fame and I pray Maurice Kiirya and Navio never go ‘astray’.
Maurice Kiirya is one of the artists who sing music purely of Ugandan origin
To the Government; Taking music and entertainment as a priority by investing heavily in local talents can woo back our youth to the diminishing cultures of Uganda and our traditions. condoning Music, Dance and Drama(MDD) at O level at the same time condemning speaking vernacular at primary school levels is a total self destruction. Instead it should be the reverse. Children who perfect their cultures and languages while young live the rest of their lives knowing where they are coming from.
Therefore to me, MDD is supposed to be compulsory at primary level rather than ordinary level. since these youngsters have not ventured in the world. They should further be allowed to interact freely in their mother tongues perhaps they will learn more on their music and culture which they can’t find anywhere after primary.
I have never been a fan of celebrating Independence Day since it is just something on paper and not in reality. Perhaps re- branding this day as National Thanksgiving Day or National Cultures festival Day coupled with MDD sessions at all learning institutions will reflect our journey and a clear attachment to the diverse cultures of our motherland and maybe thats when youth will get more attached to the state through local music and entertainment.
To the Djs and Fellow Ugandans. I acknowledge that some of our music is not ‘catchy’ and is of ‘poor quality’. But if we don’t appreciate it, who will? We are forgetting that the more we like music from Nigeria, Jamaica and the rest of the world we are losing out as a nation in exporting our music and promoting our local talents.
No one will play/listen our music if we the people who are meant to be its ambassadors are not doing it. Nigerians will be willing to come and perform to us their music and before we realize it, it will be completely fused in our local dialects.
Beninese songbird Angelique Kidjo ‘Queen of African Music’ is listed by Forbes Magazine as the most influential and inspiring African female artist
To conclude this musical culture jurisprudential debate, am not saying Nigerian Music is bad but as a Ugandan who cares about our country, I long for the day when I will see Radio and Weasle nominated alongside three other Ugandan artists battling against a one Nigerian artist at the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards in New York and not vice verser. This will begin from identifying our music style and see it breakthrough Africa the same way the Nigerians have done. If we don’t, scroll back to the beginning of this article and answer yourself to that rhetoric question. After all “People with no culture are like the shadow of the moon”
DIG INTO THE PAST
SUPPORT EACH OTHER
that’s the solution
FOR THE LOVE OF LOCAL MUSIC