KAMPALA, UGANDA – Afrigo Band stands as the testament to the evolution of Ugandan music.
James Wasula, executive director of Afrigo Band, says when the band was formed in 1975, Ugandan music was not popular with the local audience.
“This was a time when Western music was quite popular, and there was no infrastructure for music recording productions,” Wasula says.
For example, there were no local recording studios.
“The few Ugandans, like the late Fred Masagazi, who managed to produce some music, had to go all the way to Nairobi and do all the recordings and come back with a finished disc,” Wasula says.
Initially, Moses Matovu, Afrigo Band’s leader and founder, wanted the band to sing original compositions, Wasula says. But other band members, taking into account the popularity of Congolese music at the time in Uganda, overruled him.
The band sang the songs of popular Congolese singers, such as Franco Luambo Makiadi, who goes by “Franco.” Before Makiadi's death in 1989, he attended one of the band's shows in Kampala, Uganda's capital, where they played mostly his songs and only two of its own compositions during a five-hour concert.
Makiadi complimented the band on their excellent performance but asked why he did not hear more of their own compositions, Wasula says. Wasula told Makiadi that the band played the music the audience loved.
“‘A musician is a leader and not a follower,’” Wasula says Makiadi told him. “‘If you keep playing other people’s music, what legacy will you leave behind?’”
Wasula calls that moment a turning point for Afrigo Band. The following week, the band members voted to start singing their own compositions. At first, fans hated the new sounds but later grew to love the band’s music.
Afrigo Band continues to inspire a new generation of musicians to play live music and sing original compositions in Uganda. The Ugandan music industry has also grown thanks to technological advancements coupled with international exposure and recognition. But stakeholders say that a lack of support from the government and universities hinders the development of music here. The government urges artists to register with the Uganda Performing Right Society for protection and promotion.
“‘Kadongo kamu,’ or ‘one-guitar music,’ was a popular style of narrative song from central Uganda that dates back from the courts of the kings of Buganda,” Wasula says.
Wasula says that musicians accompanied their stories only with the “endongo,” the bowl lyre of the Baganda people.
“Kadongo kamu performers – especially in the past – would devote 15 to 20 minutes to the telling of a particular epic, stretching and embellishing them as narrative twists caught the attention of their listeners,” he says.
Wasula says these artists started recording their music in the 1950s but had to travel to Nairobi to do their recordings because of the lack of studios in Uganda. The opening of the state owned Radio Uganda, now UBC Radio, in 1954 meant that music recorded by Ugandan musicians, mostly rumba, could be heard around the world.