Bebe Cool recently brewed a social media storm when he called upon Ugandan music lovers to shun DJs who give preference to foreign music. Sucked into this debate were two prominent figures –James Onen aka Fatboy, a former radio PD and current morning show co-host at Sanyu Fm, and DJ Beekay, a former Sanyu FM employee, now plying his trade at the Vision group-owned X Fm.
While Bebe Cool’s opinion has been twisted by a number of people to draw their own conclusions, some have rallied behind him for a common cause. Jose Chameleone, erstwhile foe had just aired similar sentiments at his own successful concert at Lugogo Cricket Oval a few days before.
I will save the lurid details of this public spat for another day, and instead share my view on the debate. And on why Ugandan music is not making as reasonable inroads on the continent as it should.
If the music is good, any reputable DJ will play it. The biggest problem is that Ugandan artistes have limited themselves to Ugandan producers --for both Audio and video. Many a Nigerian artiste will go the extra mile to produce quality stuff. They know they have tough competition out there, despite the fact that they live in a country so populous that any product will still find it's market's niche.
There is a reason most of the music will be produced in Nigeria, but the corresponding videos shot in other countries. Jude Okoye only started working on P-square’s videos after he had considerably honed his skills. Tough Sunday, a South African based video production house charges from $8,000 - $15,000 per video for their services. But they still get market because of the quality of their work.
Now, compare that with an average Ugandan artiste who will have a budget of $3,000 for a video shoot. Are you going to expect the same quality? Will such a video get to compete with anything from Tough Sunday, Godfather Productions, Ahoy films or even Jude Okoye?
Any music connoisseur will tell you that the video plays a big role in promoting a song. The better and unique a music video is, the more airplay it’s likely to get. There’s no doubt that Nigeria constitutes of the biggest market share of the available music channels on the continent, but any good quality video will always find its way to the top.
It’s the same reason the Goodlyfe duo of Mowzey Radio and Weasel, Navio and Keko have had their songs enjoy considerable play on continental music channels. They invest heavily in most of their videos. With the exception of Deddac films, very few video producers have had their videos feature on MTV, Trace or Channel O.
Many of these artistes are not versatile. Some often do music for themselves instead of trying to gauge the audience's expectations. Many of them either lack proper guidance or advice, or are too arrogant to accept any advice of sorts. Someone will remind you about how they have been in the industry long enough to know what is good for their career and audience.
One would have to take the example of Somali-born US based rapper, K’naan. Having initially written an entire rap album about the plight of his fellow citizens and the effect the war had had on the people, his advisors reviewed the same and advised him to something that would appeal to the mass market. Much as he loved his work, he had to heed to the advice. The end result? A couple of successful singles, one of which was the runaway hit collabo: "Is anybody Out There" (with Nelly Furtado).
He has since done a number of others in a similar pattern, and is steadily staying afloat. Needless to say, those songs turned out much bigger hits than his Somalia chronicles, some of which never actually made it out of studio.
Rihanna’s hit single, “Man Down“, cost a whopping $1,078,000 before it could hit the airwaves. This included a $15,000 writing fee, $20,000 for production, $10,000 for mastering, $15,000 for vocal production as well as $1,000,000 for song roll-out. About 40 songwriters had camped for her entire album.
Now, compare this with your average local artiste who will elect to sit in his living room and craft what he thinks is going to rule the airwaves. Naturally, he will head straight to studio without having a second opinion on the lyrics. Most of these songs are not even mastered, resulting into a very poor quality final product.
Of the $1,000,000 song roll-out cost in Rihanna’s case above, a considerable chunk goes towards marketing the song. There’s a cost to fly the artiste around, and the other is for Radio. Popularly known as Payola, this is a practice of having to “treat the radio guys nice” as Ray Daniels, a manager of a song-writing team of two brothers says.
Illegal as it may be, it’s one of the unavoidable costs artistes must incur to have their stamp on the market. Certainly, and as one would expect, no radio person is going to come out and admit this. Many of our local artistes somehow expect to out a song that eventually finds its way to the airwaves.
Most of the work from our artistes always tends to sound similar -- the beats, bridges and tempo. They always all flock to the hottest producer of the moment. When Leone Island studio had just opened shop (with that signature whistle, I must add), every upcoming artiste wanted to have their song done from there.
In 2005/6, Kiwuuwa was the man everyone wanted to work with. Songs like Tonywa Novuga (Roni Banton), Family Affair, Mukwano Nsonyiwa (Bebe Cool), Anfukuula (Grace Nakimera), Mundongo (Dennis Rackla), Tukumatira (Buchaman) and many others from Dream Studio ruled the airwaves.
Thankfully, Nigerian influence hadn't set in. So, it was easy for a DJ to play Anfukuula & Kibaluma, and follow it up with Omwana Wabandi (Bobi Wine) & Tukumatira (Buchaman) without sending the crowd to sleep.
The audience would happily dance along. Jamaican music was not too much to suffocate what was being locally produced. Of-course, Leone Island and Firebase (With an emerging Paddy Kayiwa) remained with the odd hit, largely due to the clout they had built over time.
Late 2006-8, saw the rise of Washington Ebangit. The trend continued. Today, there’s quite a number of reputable producers, although hit songs from a single produce tend to shine at about the same time. Paddyman [Basiima Ogenze, Tubonge, Valu Valu, Byansi Byakuleka (Chameleone), Eddy Kenzo (Most of his songs), almost every song by Aziz Azion, Tuff B, Nasalawo – Bebe Cool and a couple of songs by Bobi Wine including my personal favourite, Promise].
We also have Nash Wonder (Aziz Wonder, Sheebah Karungi, and Goodlyfe); Crouch - Gong Records (Nince Henry) as well as Roni Banton’s Monster Studios [Witty Witty, Jackie Chandiru, AK-47] among others. When one producer has a couple of songs all produced at about the same time, it becomes difficult to play one after the other. Ultimately, some songs will suffer at the expense of bigger hits.
Lyrical content and style
Lastly, the lyrical content matters. Certain lyrics may make the song fade pretty fast, especially if they sound rather uncoordinated, immature or make no meaning. Most local artistes churn out bubble-gum music, which only ends up doing a lot of sloganeering and having a very short lifespan or impact. Most of these are songs a DJ won’t play 2 years later and get the crowd’s attention.
The language too, plays a crucial role. When our Nigerian brothers are doing their thing, they certainly know none of their East African fans will understand a word of Igbo or Yoruba. So they’ll blend in a mix of their own Pidgin English and a few catchwords that will make the crowd figure out the meaning of the song.
Most importantly, they make the song’s refrain (What many know as Chorus) predominantly English. That enables them to be in sync with their audiences wherever they may be performing – whether in their native Nigeria or across the continent.
It’s this kind of blend that has made them get recognized by internationally acclaimed artistes like Akon, Jay-Z, Rick Ross and others. But how does a local artiste do a complete song in Luganda and expect it to become a big hit on an English radio station? It certainly wouldn’t even make it big in the whole country. It only remains a regional hit. That’s one area where they certainly lose it.
Looking at some of the music done by our local artistes, the lyrics are more mature than that from our Nigerian brothers. But whatever the Nigerians lack in lyrical maturity, they make up for it in the dance style, the video costume or a catchy refrain and excellent production.
There is a glaring lack of ingenuity in the final product from our local artistes. Some songs appear rushed out of studio. The DJs only try to bring a different dimension and style by playing Nigerian and Jamaican music. The packaging remains the biggest problem.