The dusk of 1999 had had Juliana Kanyomozi and Iryn Namubiru team up to form the pioneer millennial Ugandan girl group that they called I-jay, gliding under the parental tutelage of Hope Mukasa and Steve Jean’s Fenon Records. Like the rest of the groups that sprang after them, J-Jay could not run for long, eventually trading the partnership for solo careers.
Juliana and Iryn were only the picks of the Fr. Damian Grimes generation of Namasagali products and their cronies who would go on to change the face of the entertainment industry. The other notable alumni of this entertainment colossus of yesteryear include Benon Mugumbya, Peter Miles, Ronnie Mulindwa, Vampino (Elvis Kirya).
In 2004, The Obsessions, a female-dominated group that initially started out as dancers, then took the industry by storm, reveling in a unique style of performances that combined music and dance. Their breakthrough was spurred by Nod Your Head, a hit single that had youthful crowds eating out of their palms.
In their ensemble was Ronnie Mulindwa, Michael Kasaija, Natasha Sinayobe, Cleopatra Koheirwe, Sharon O, Brenda Nambi, Jackie Tumusiime and Hellen Lukoma. They would later be joined by a host of others such as Sheba Karungi, Daisy Muber, and Fatuma Gulam.
Closely following their footsteps were the Dream Girls, another girl-group that had been started in 2003 and would go on to win a Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Award the following year.
They had songs such as Genda Okole, Nsaanuka, Weekend and Jiggy; the most prominent members of which were Leila Kayondo, Renah Nalumansi and Anita Tushabe. The sudden departure of Leila and Renah in 2007 spelled the group’s demise.
In 2004, the Coca Cola Popstar winning trio of Jackie Chandiru, Cinderella Sanyu (Cindy) and Lillian Mbabazi were brought together to form Blu*3; yet another girl group that enjoyed initial success until Cindy’s acrimonious departure in 2008.
The demise might have taken longer, but the countdown had started. Blue*3 was known for the pop songs: Hitaji, Burn, Frisky, Tomalaako (featuring Ragga Dee), Nsanyuka Naawe, Ndibeera Nawe, Nkoye and the blockbuster collabo with Goodlyfe: “Where You are”.
Four years later, another girl group had sprung up. At their ephemeral peak, Viva Starts once had, in its ranks, Jacky “Swing Swaga” Katushabe, Sarah “America” Nangendo, Sauda “Toto” Nakato, Racheal Nakasaga and Sara “China” Baku. With a couple of hits to their name, Chilli Girls had a promising start to their career until Universal Entertainment, the company that had signed them, closed shop in 2011.
Universal Entertainment had been businessman Rao Mohan’s brainchild. His sudden loss of interest in music and the related challenges he faced meant that the string of girl groups he had taken on could not carry on. The girl-group under his management was called “The Cyclones” and had, in their ranks, singers Esther Akankwasa, Lisa Namubiru and Pie B (Prossy Bulyaba).
More and more girl groups would continue to rise and fall in similar fashion, the most prominent of which included former Obsessions deserters HB Toxic (Hellen Lukoma and Brenda Nambi), Wafagio (who first rebranded to Krystal Babes before they folded).
While all this happened, something else had been cooking. A couple of years before the curtain came down on the 90s, two ambitious upstarts had endured two separate 12-hour bus trips to the cold streets of Nairobi as they sought for career breakthroughs.
Moses Katumba Ssali – or Bebe Banton – as he preferred to be called then, was one of them. As anyone would probably have guessed, Bebe had been inspired by the Jamaican dancehall artiste Buju Banton.
It was in Nairobi that he would meet Joseph Mayanja, going on to form a situational friendship that would them return as Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone respectively. Bebe Cool went on to team up with Bobi Wine to form Firebase Crew while Jose Chameleone started Leone Island, riding the crest of a successful Bageya album in 2000 to build a fanbase.
For a long time, the trio ruled the industry in a trident of dominance that saw them constantly referred to as the “Big Three.” until the emergence of Chameleone’s former protegees in Radio and Weasel, in 2008.
The Big Three would go on inspire a whole generation of singers, dabbling in varied music styles that spanned across and beyond the continent; the most predominant of which came to be called Kidandali, typified by a signature danceable beat and oft-shallow lyrical content. Perhaps the local equivalent of bubble-gum music. The rest of the styles were usually fusions of existing styles – Kwaito, Soukous, ragga, reggae, zouk and flashes of Rumba.
Shades of this influence remain apparent, to this day. It’s the reason the industry still has genres like dancehall being done in a mishmash of lingua, both local and adulterated mimicry of Jamaican patois. It’s the reason we’ve had lyrics like “Bolobi ndenge nini bana Congo” (Chameleone, in Beyi Kali) or “Natomoni miso na ngai na likolo namoni te” (David Lutalo, in Ujuwe).
It’s the reason we have patois ambassadors like Peter Miles (Peter Kanyike), Beenie Gunter (Crescent Baguma), Bebe Cool, Ziza Bafana (Moses Kasendwa), Raba Daba (Faisal Seguya) and Weasel (Douglas Seguya).
Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone acquired cult status, overshadowing established industry veterans while mentoring budding artistes in the process.
Immediate mentees of the time included artistes like Master Parrot (David Sifayo), Toolman (Fredrick Kibalama), Buchaman (Mark Bugembe), Kid Fox (Stephen Kiggundu), Sweet Kid (Moses Sserwadda), Black Boy, Red Banton (Tony Lubega), Weatherman (RIP), and a few others.
Each of the three had a unique impact on the industry. Jose Chameleone literally forced the industry to recognize the importance of lyrical finesse and depth; what with his regular rhyming song-theming that had his music make inroads in the industry.
His finesse remains apparent in more than a dozen albums to his name so far: Bageya (2000), Mama Mia (2001), Njo Karibu and The Golden Voice (2003), Mambo Bado (2004), Kipepeo (2005), Shida za Dunia (2006), Katupakase (2007), Bayuda (2009), Vumilia (2010), Valu Valu (2012), Badilisha (2013), Tubonge (2014), Wale wale (2015), Sili Mujjawo (2016), Sweet Banana (2017) and Champion (2018).
After a second-consecutive PAM Awards Artiste of the Year award (that came with five million prize money), he was said to have remarked that he now saw the prize money was beginning to look like an annual paycheque.
Bebe Cool fostered the rise to prominence of songwriters at a time when everybody thought an artiste was only worth their salt if they wrote their music. Through him, we got to know people like Chizzo, Black Skin, St. Andrew, Nince Henry and scores of others.
His biggest influence in this respect, so far, remains “Love You Every day”, the 2015 Magnus Opus that had featured musical input of no less than four songwriters. He gave upcoming producers like Rinex and Eno Beats the platform they needed to rise to prominence.
This was the generation that gave birth to Showbiz in Uganda. While Bebe Cool became the mind games expert, Bobi played the academic and edutainment card.
They set the foundation for the latest crop of musicians – musicians who commanded some respect in society. Artistes who had gone to school and chosen music. Bobi Wine’s Music Dance and Drama (MDD) played a role in this. He was the guy who inspired every graduate to follow their passion.
At 26, he’d already acquired some valuable property in Magere. For a while, the media couldn’t have enough of it while Bebe Cool, now a sworn rival, continued to be taunted for not owning property worth his stature. Showbiz had fully taken root in the entertainment industry.
Erstwhile low on Showbiz, the world soon came to know that Jose Chameleone had accumulated some wealth of his own. Every single acquisition an artiste owned became their status symbol. Artistes acquired cars and held veiled pressers to showcase their might. The latter part of the 2000s would see the industry’s influence transcend entertainment and into other spheres.
Artistes joined politics, directly or otherwise, starting with the contingent of Artistes who were hired by the ruling party of the time to drum up support in the run to the 2016 General elections; in a campaign-drive code-named: “Tubonga Nawe”.
This would be the springboard for Bobi Wine, barely 12 months later, as the 35-year-old trounced a hoard of competitors – both state and otherwise – to claim the Kyadondo East Parliamentary seat in 2017.
He joined fellow artistes Judith Babirye (Buikwe, Woman) and Kato Lubwama (Rubaga South). Today, the industry sees more artistes expressing political interests in the respective home areas; artistes that include, among others, Jose Chameleone (Mayorship, Kampala City), Geoffrey Lutaaya (Kakuto), Khalifa Aganaga (Rubaga South), Dr. Hilderman (Mawokota), Ronald Mayinja (Gomba East) and Mathias Walukagga (Masaka Municipality).