Friday, December 21, 2018

Music | The 2018 Ugandan Music Review

It must have been the most competitive 12 months the industry has faced in a long time. Forget the brawls and cat fights of yesteryear. This was the year of real hard hustle, or "work", like that now famous slogan coined by comedian MC Kapale.

The dawn of the year had seen us lose the precocious singing and writing talent that was Mowzey Radio, the departed singer breathing his last on February 1, 2018 in a bar brawl that could have been avoided.

It was a year that had started on a relatively slow note, with many of the songs released in 2017 dominating the show. One of these was Rema Namakula’s Banyabo, straight out of the last batch of songs written by the departed Mowzey. It was a year that did not exactly pan out the way everybody had anticipated.

2018 was the year of the underdog. It was the year that saw many a second-tier musician make their mark. Spice Diana, Ykee Benda, Lydia Jazmine and the deejaying duo of Roger and Slick Stuart, among others. Many of these can no longer be categorized as upcoming artistes.

The usual suspects, nonetheless, decided they would not be left out by the wave of hard hustle that would otherwise have consigned them to the background.

Jose Chameleone

He was almost back to his old self, releasing and collaborating in a string of songs that saw him end the year with no less than five songs. He started the year with Kirabe, a reggae love ballad that would possibly score a 6/10 on a personal musical scale.

He then released Champion, and onto the world, the real Chameleone had arrived. Not known for his keenness on music videos until 2013/2014, Champion turned out the best Chameleone video we had seen. It wasn’t to be his peak, with the lanky singer going on to do more projects with Pallaso, Papa Cidy and Kalifa Aganaga, among others.

Kalifa Aganaga

One wouldn’t be far-fetched for accusing him to be one that delights in adversity. Two of his biggest songs – Sister and Crocodile – were direct diss-tracks aimed at fellow players in the industry.

In Sister, he throws thinly-veiled jibes at Rema’s Namakula’s perceived petulance in “Siri Muyembe”, a song in which the latter appeared to have grown frustrated at Kenzo’s dragged formalization of their relationship. She was said to have been tired of being known as his live-in bae.

But it was on Crocodile that Kalifa went bare knuckles. “Ssebo mbuzi gwe Di-da-da omuyimbi wa demo. Wesoma ng’oyasama nga bwe nakusaba collabo [...]”, he goes, clearly showing no love lost between the two.

Aganaga’s other songs, rather inevitably, would be with Kenzo (Katono) and Chameleone (Kiboko) as he continued in his quest for relevance. Both turned out hits, but it was the latter that would eventually take the biscuit.

Previously known for releasing a song or two a year, the Industrial Fine Art and Design graduate was in overdrive in 2018. One would be safe to crown her as the most hardworking artiste of the year.

She had started the year on a rather interesting note; that gaffe in a media interview, making her cannon fodder for headline-hungry bloggers. She had scored aggregate 32 in History, Art and Luganda at A-level, she said, an error of interpretation that she would realize too little too late.

The result? No news is good news, says one old adage. Spice Diana was in the news, and she had to play to the advantage. The result was an Afro-beat collabo with Weasel, the aptly titled 32. It would spell the beginning of good tidings for the 24-year old.

Next up on her sleeves was a string of songs, many of them getting considerable air play. Bwebityo, Ndi Mu Love, Twebereremu, Ssente Zakameeza and what I would consider her best song of 2018, Best Friend, featuring King Saha.

The former Leone Island protegee started the year being his usual self. Serenading ballads, the odd hit here and seemed to take on the year as it came.

By March, he was turning the airwaves on their heads with Biri Biri and On My Way. The two songs appeared to have been his acme, only for him to set footsteps on his musical moon.

Mowzey Radio had passed on, and Weasel needed a musical shoulder to lean on. When he did the original version for Tokyayitaba, it was missing some flavor.

In stepped Saha and the opening vocals could easily be mistaken for Radio’s. Saha had been almost so anonymous that not many people realized it was him on the intro.

Saha decided it was time to come out of his shell. We would soon see the duo collaborate on Mpa Love, a song in which their chemistry brilliantly came to the fore. It remains my best Saha song of 2018, closely followed by Very Well (With Roja and Slick Stuart) and Best Friend (featuring Spice Diana).

The reward for their effort was a Coke Studio stint. King Saha did not just want to be known as this singer who tried his best to ape Mowzey Radio. He does have the song-writing talent, as evidenced in Ndi Mu Love, the song he wrote for Spice Diana.

Bebe Cool

Self-proclaimed Big Size, Munene Munene. Bba wa Zuena. He started the year breathing fire. 2018 was going to be bigger than all his previous years, he roared. When he did "Want it", the industry held its breath. He had promised this was going to be his worst song, and more was in stock.

Alas, his year turned out different. It was, largely, an underwhelming year by his standards, only salvaged by "Wasibuka Wa" and I do, the collabo with the pair of cuties that is Charlotte Rurinda and Fatuma Umuhoza – or Charly na Nina as we’ve grown to know them. In the end, most of the songs in between could not match the play power that came with "Want it".

Bobi Wine

Revelling in his new-found status as the Honorable member of parliament for Kyadondo East, every song he released was always going to be viewed with utmost scrutiny.

Nsaba Twogere, done with Nubian Li – his long-term lieutenant – did not generate as much debate. He would go on to be stomped over by Jjajja’s SFC in that infamous Arua 33 for conniving with 32 others to hurl one rock at the presidential convoy (yeah, his year was that magical).

But he had done Kyarenga, a song that overshadowed almost everything else non-political that he would try. His planned concert at Namboole Stadium was finally cancelled after an endless ping-pong game with the Stadium’s management, and he had to go back to the drawing board, eventually settling for Busaabala.

It was at the Busaabala concert that he did a teaser of Engule, another song that was bound to generate a wave of political scrutiny. Kyarenga remains the single most popular song of 2018.

She was her vintage self, releasing hit song after another. You don’t join Jeff Kiwa’s team no sleep and rest on your laurels. He got her the songwriters and producers she needed, and the result was the string of hit songs that ensured her star would continue to shine throughout 2018.

With Mummy Yo, Tomorrow, Omwoyo, Beera Nange among others, Sheebah had got the ammunition for her redbull-fuelled stage performance. 2018 was one year that Sheebah will look back at with utmost satisfaction. In the end, she had to crown it with Omwoyo, a concert that was successful not in one, but several other venues, including some as far-flung as Mbarara.

The single most crushed-on female celebrity in 2018 (you wanna prove otherwise? Ask Ortega Ian). You would have to give it to her somewhat cryptic personality. From You and Me, the song that threatened to hog all the headlines in 2018 to Hit and Run, Jazmine was on a roll.

Show after another, she continued to grace many a function – corporate or otherwise. She’s one of those artistes one will no longer categorize as upcoming.

One cheeky commentator had her ranked as both female and male artiste of the year, owing to her Tomboyish outlook. He wasnt far from the truth. In Omukwano Gwo, Chips Na Ketchup, Tubikole (featuring Fik Fameica), Love Doctor and Mapozi, Vinka comfortably had earned her place in 2018’s pantheon of star performers.

This, by no small measure, was down to her management at Swangz Avenue, and the creative genius that was Yesse Oman Rafiki, the guy who penned just about every song of hers.

The only downside to her sweat is that she did not stage a concert. She, most definitely, deserved one, and there was no way it was going to flop.

That she often chooses to release music when she wants doesn’t mean her efforts for the year will go unrecognized. Bits and pieces, her magnificent album was an absolute peach. It was the waiting well deserved for an artiste that Don Mohamed Kimbugwe prefers to describe as sui generis.

The album featured several songs and writers, and also saw the brief return of Sylver Kyagulanyi to song-writing. His genius was certainly not lost on us on Zaabu, one of the songs he wrote, and my personal favorite off the Bits and Pieces album.

New entrant on the industry, and one that would go on to leave a mark. One of the most versatile industry players, his profile reads: producer (as Andre on the beat), songwriter (as Andrew Ojambo) and recording artiste, as Daddy Andre.

He co-wrote Romance (with Tonix), did a string of collabos (Now, featuring Spice Diana), Kyoyoya (featuring John Blaq) and produced a truckload of songs. His efforts were best pronounced on You and Me, the magnus opus that featured Lydia Jazmine.

On production, his 2018 exploits could only be rivalled by Nessim Mukuza.

A Pass

Better known as the guy who makes more bad headlines than good ones, he remains more known for his histrionics and that faked infatuation with Flavia Tumusiime than the actual shift he put into music.

Not many will know him as the guy who penned Bebe Cool’s Nsirikamu and Midnight Drum, a song that will possibly outlast the entire collection of music released in 2018.

Featuring Apass, Fik Fameica, Rouge and Dj Maphorisa, Midnight Drum is the kind of song that will transcend audiences and may be used for a variety of uses – jingles (it’s said to have been the brainchild of Club Pilsner), nightclub anthem, gym background music or a movie soundtrack.

Of course, we all know Di Dadada, one of his other projects, and a top 10 contender for 2018’s hottest songs.

A Johnny-come-lately of sorts who, until June had a couple of songs to his name. The one thing 21-year old John Kasadha has on his hands is the time. He is the guy who features on Sweet Love (with Vinka), Kyoyoya (with Daddy Andre) and a string of singles including, but not limited to Romantic and arguably his biggest song of 2018, Tukwatagane.

I had first mistaken him for another Daddy Andre when I first heard him sing, and his collabo with the latter was one I silently hoped for. It may not have quite the product I expected, but it was nonetheless decent. John Blaq is one for the future, and certainly one of the artistes to watch out for in 2019.

Eddy Kenzo

He'll always be a hit in Francophone Africa. He has since mastered their market and their love for the visual aspect of music.

It partly explains his penchant for colorful and well choreographed videos. Pull Up, that duet with Harmonize was a big coup.

Then he did Love Don't Care and many an observer believed it was his response to Rema's Siri Muyembe.

He then went for Mbakooye, a song laden with political undertones so strong that one would imagine he was trying to tap in on the wave of mass populism that had catapulted Bobi Wine to international fame.

But in The Heat, he has this song that will probably have a longer shelf life than many of his other 2018 projects.

It may not be the richest lyrically, but it comes with such arrangement that makes it unique, and Kenzo played it safe enough to keep it simple and basic.

His other highlights for the year included Dancehall (featuring Cindy) and Katono (festuring Kalifa Aganaga), among others.


He had a hugely successful 2018, crowned by that successful Turn The Replay concert at Lugogo Cricket Oval.

He was the only gospel artiste to break into the secular playlist. Turn the Replay prominently featured on many Radio and TV playlists and was arguably one of the best 20 songs of the year.

He had a couple of decent projects, including Tompitako, Watching You and Hosanna. 2019 Prospects? He should continue to soar, going by his exploits in 2018.

Fik Fameica

John Luke Tambiti's greatest artiste of 2018. Described as humble and down to earth, Fik Fameica’s entry onto the music scene was as emphatic as they come. In Gwe Abisobola, he had brought out the best of Byaxy in 2017. But this was 2018, and the music fans, being the fickle souls that we’ve always been, demanded for more.

Fameica did not disappoint, going on to release songs like Property, Mafia and Born to Win, among others, with many of them going on to enjoy massive airplay.

Barely a couple of years old in the industry, he’s already courted enough controversy to last him another year; that reported fight with Chameleone at Mowzey Radio’s funeral and the constant rumors romantically linking him to Sheilah Gashumba being the most prominent.

Will 2019 turn out as successful for one of the industry’s youngest player? Only time will tell.

The Rest:

Ykee Benda continued to hold his ground with a string of bangers, and that high-budget video for Onabaayo deserves honorable mention. Winnie Nwagi did not exactly fade into Oblivion. In Matala, Munange and Fire Dancer, she put in quite a shift, though she did not quite scale her heights of yesteryear.

But somehow, one gets the feeling that the guys at Swangz probably had other priorities for the year.

Irene Ntale did not go to sleep, as did Gravity Omutujju, the latter going on to stage his famous Embuzi Zakutudde concert at Lugogo Cricket Oval.

Even in the face of his annus horribilis, Weasel still stood tall. Tokyayitaba, his breathtaking tribute to Mowzey Radio was as well received as 32 and Mpa Love, his other projects with Spice Diana and King Saha respectively.

His other projects included Good over evil, Kyuma (featuring Spice Diana), Data Cable (featuring Liam Voice) and Mary Jane (featuring Mowzey, recorded before the latter’s demise).

Tonix had a big year with Romance, but he certainly could do better. He’s threatened to come out bigger than the sneak-peak we saw in 2018, and we hope that Vibration Music eventually comes out of its shell to propel him to greater heights in 2019.

Lastly, Solome Basuuta. She belongs to the class of musicians who have a penchant for therapeutic music. Along with Mo Roots (Moureen Rutabingwa) and Lillian Mbabazi, they ought to be locked up in one place, so they can stay away from whatever distracts them from churning out more of what they are capable of doing (will you do the honors, Agnes Ndaaba? You are the biggest Solome Basuuta fan I know

A listen to Freedom (the mashup), Nz’ani, Nsuubira or Can we stay will make you appreciate the gem that is Solome Basuuta. Will she give us more of this in 2019? Only she will be in position to tell.

So, we’ve rummaged through the year and rated the standout performers in different categories. We’ve rated audio producers, video producers, songwriters and recording artistes of 2018.

Top 5 for each category. It’s something we want to come out refined. We need someone to pay for our OTT, data and our transport to the village (yeah, we are taking a Christmas break). We’ll aptly structure it for your audience, we promise. Who’s paying? Hit my inbox.