1986 is a year that many a Ugandan remembers for varied reasons – politics, entertainment, sports or otherwise. In football, Diego Maradona’s crafty handball eclipsed the month-long aesthetic advent of the Mexican wave to hand the sport’s most coveted prize to Argentina.
In East Africa, a third-world country had a brand-new decorated guerilla at its helm in Yoweri Museveni; a man who the world initially saw as the mascot of new leadership on the continent.
A year that began in political turmoil ended with one of the greatest music albums Ugandans will see in a long time: a Christmas-themed music album that had classic songs such as Merry Christmas, Zuukuka, Tumusinze, Ssekukkulu, Gloria, Anindiridde and Katujaguze. Behind the creative genius was a certain Philly Bongoley Lutaaya.
Ever the one to stand out, he’d go on to adopt a unique spelling for his name, preferring a shorter version of his Ngonge clan name (Lutaaya) with a single “a”, while the extra “y” to Bongole made his new name sound similar to Tabu Ley; one of his musical influences.
Lutaya followed up his massive success with another a 1987 album – Born in Africa; an album that had a 29-year old Nigerian-born Swedish musician – Dr. Alban (Alban Uzoma Nwapa) – eating out of his palm and producing a song of his own by the same.
Lutaaya’s Born in Africa album was co-produced by Sten Sandahl, the then director of the Swedish National Concert Institute; a music-supporting state foundation that ran the record label Caprice Records.
On the album were the classics: Nkooye Okwegomba, The Voices Cry Out, Tulo Tulo, Naalikwagadde, Philly Empisazo, Entebbe Wala – all household songs – and the little-known En Festi Rinkeby (Swedish for a Partyin Rinkeby).
It was an album that would have latter-day renowned musicians take turns to record renditions of different songs on the same: Jose Chameleone, Juliana Kanyomozi, Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, Nubian Lee, and Iryn Namubiru among others. Initially received with skepticism, Lutaaya’s bold disclosure of his HIV status would precede his demise on December 15, 1989.
1988 saw the continued eminence of seasoned musicians in Dan Mugula salongo, Christopher Ssebaduka, Freda Sonko, Livingstone Kasozi, Fred Masagazi, Peter Baligidde, Abuman Mukungu, Gerald Mukasa, Sauda Nakakaawa, Matia Luyima, Herman Basudde, Frank Mbalire, and Livingstone Kasozi.
With a career that started in 1968, Dan Mugula’s best songs span half a century, the most recent of which was Abagagga Bantgumye (2017). His influence on the industry would go on to inspire generations that joined the industry decades later, with Mesach Ssemakula recording a remix of Ntongo, a classic song that Mugula originally recorded in 1970.
1989 was the year of Afrigo Band. This was the year in which they released what would turn out to be one of the greatest music albums; the 1989 Volume 8 album (Afrigo Batuuse).
On it was Afrigo Batuuse, a signature song whose creative genius was a certain Deo Mukungu, himself mentored by a trumpet-loving father who initially did not want his son to face the same challenges that had dogged his career. In the end, passion prevailed overprotection, and the result was the music legend whose workmanship spawned the release of one of the greatest music albums ever to grace our ears.
Afrigo Batuuse was the album that had big hits such as Speed Controlle, Mundeke, Twali Twagalana, Emmere Esiridde, and Saawa Yakusanyuka. Today, Moses Matovu remains one of the few last men standing from a dream music lineup that featured a collection of legends in Godfrey Mwambala, Tony Sengo, Charles Sekyanzi, Kabuye Ssemboga, Fred Kigozi, Albert Atibu (Amigo Wawawa) and Paul Sserumaga.
The dawn of the 1990s heralded the arrival of new entrants onto the music scene. An emerging Paul Kafeero began to stamp his authority in Kadongo Kamu, his Kulabako Guitar Singers going on to tussle it out with established veterans such as Fred Ssebatta and his Matendo band.
The height of their battle for supremacy would later see them adopt stage names that each camp considered fancy; with Kafeero adding “Prince” to his name after Fred Sesebatta had adopted Lord Fred Ssebatta as his official stage name.
This was the decade that served us with yet another immense music talent in Umar Katumba and his band Emmitoes, his signature baritone shining bright in songs like "Twalina Omukwano," "Drums of Africa" and "Fa Kukyolina.
Katumba would go on to work with other budding and established talents of the day like Carol Nakimera, an accomplished singer and composer in her own right whose 1985 hit song “Omusujja” remains the signature theme music for popular local FM station Radio Two (Akaboozi) FM’s morning sports program: Omusujja Gwemizanyo (“sports fever”).
After a protracted deliberation, Nakimera eventually produced an album whose copyrights she unknowingly sold to unscrupulous producers for peanuts. The bout of the resulting frustration eventually saw her quit music for poultry farming.
Joining Carol Nakimera in the jostle for a pie of the entertainment fanbase was a string of young musicians in Kezia Nambi, Fred Maiso, Kads Band, Rasta Rob, and Menton Summer among others. This was the decade that saw a fresh-faced Ragga Dee (Daniel Kazibwe Kyeyune) announce his arrival as the new kid on the block, having started out in the late 80s.
He later started a band outfit that he called Da Hommies, together with Jenkins Mukasa and MC Molar Messe. The trio were later joined by Iryn Namubiru in 1995. Ragga Dee did not enjoy the fruits of his sweat until his 1994 ground-breaking hit, Bamusakata, hit the airwaves. His five years of toil were beginning to pay off.
Deserved honorable mention must be made; of yet another timeless artiste in Elly Wamala, aptly Nicknamed “Evergreen” for his music and style never faded. He holds the record for the first Kadongo Kamu song ever recorded on vinyl – the ageless Nabutono – recorded in the 1950s.
A collection of his music was subsequently redone by a string of millennial musicians that included, among others, Viola (1974); redone by musicians Geosteady (Geoffrey Kigozi) and Dennis Bitone. Originally recorded in 1998, Ebinyumu Ebyaffe was later redone by rapper Don MC (Donald Rugambwa Rutaisire).
Wamala’s other notable works included Welcome Pope Paul (1969) and Akaana Ka Kawalya (1974); the minuscule pick from the 60+ songs that he recorded over a 50-year career.