Ugandan Music: Balancing Local Roots with Global Appeal 2

Ugandan Music

Understanding the 5 Eras of Ugandan Music (Part 2)

Global Beats or Ugandan Roots? Part 1 left us with a dilemma. Now, Part 2 delves into the contemporary eras – Ziza Bafana, Fik Fameica, and Lockdown. But before we dig in, have you been following? Get ready for surprises, debates, and a vibrant music scene searching for its unique voice in the 21st century!

  1. The Ziza Bafana Era: In a way of usurping the Goodlyfe era, dancehall music made a comeback, courtesy of Ziza Bafana and others, bringing back an era of non-stop partying where we just grooved to hard-hitting beats and never minded about lyrics or the hard-hitting patois punch lines in them. Too many lines like ‘pomini pomini’ never made any meaning, including to yours truly, but they were heart throbbing! In haste R&B-leaning artists added a pinch of Acrobat flair to their tracks to survive extinction, and hip-hop artists got confused and as a result, started blurring genre lines. Come in Gravity Omutujju: dude was daring enough to infuse dancehall vibes into Hip Hop, much to other Hip Hop artistes’ surprise and dislike but to the fans’ pleasure. As a matter of fact, this risky move has, over time, earned him the crown of the crowd’s favorite performer to this day. This era was cemented by an all-star record ‘Fe Tuliko’ by DJ Shiru, and this practice was becoming one way of endorsing a new generation. This era witnessed the ultimate and complete evolution and solidification of Eddy Kenzo as Uganda’s global representative. He clinched the BET Award, graced countless international stages, and secured several additional accolades. He now holds a place among the most decorated Ugandan artists in history.

This era gave us Khalifah Aganaga, Geosteady, King Saha, Fefe Bussi, Spice Diana, etc, and was broadly influenced by DJ Shiru, producer Dr Fizol, Avie Studios, and Jahlive audio & video studios. However, their rapid ascent was followed by a gradual decline (a decline which started in this period but was only noticeable some years later); this left a significant vacuum. Why? Because this generation had weakened the previous one and yet itself had run feeble. Ugandan audiences started craving good music, and when they couldn’t get it the Big 3 were there to save the day.

 

  1. The Fik Fameica Era: Hip-hop hit a very bad iceberg in this generation and it is safe to say this was the last nail in its coffin. Hip-hop was downgraded from the US template to the template of the streets of Kampala, and the streets of Kampala were in love with dancehall, so hip-hop had to become dancehall to appeal. Fik Fameica was the guy who would do this. And he did it so well that Hip-Hop kinda ‘died’. The younger generation gravitated towards catchy tunes and rhyming lines over the lyrical depth that the GNL Zambas had groomed. Fik Fameica blended Gravity’s dancehall style with Nigerian influences, setting off a chain reaction that put Ugandan music on the death row, having killed originality. In some way, Nigerian music genres began to infiltrate the Ugandan market and we welcomed them with open arms, forgetting the Congolese problem that the Big 3 had dealt with, and we invited another visitor that shall forever be dreadful to the Ugandan music industry. Too late, Nigerian artistes had started trickling in to do major concerts and to harvest large cheques that should have gone into our artistes’ pockets. The influence of Nigerian sound has remained a permanent fixture in the Ugandan music scene to this day.

This era gave us Beanie Gunter, Dr. Brain, Da Agent, Ceasorous, Lil Pazo, Suspekt Leizor, Rickman, Grenade Official, Topic Kasente, Latinum, and was crowned by an all-star record: ‘ Guno Mulembe Gwaffe’. Producers Artin and TON were responsible for this era. It’s believed most of these artistes have lost the glucose!

Many young music consumers in the current generation gravitate towards Fik Fameica as do their dressing style and fashion, and this might be hard to reverse. Despite the continued presence of the Big 3 during this period, their influence seemed less prominent. Artists from the preceding generation, such as Gravity, gained momentum in this era through collaborative efforts. Essentially, artists from the earlier generation joined forces to prevent being overshadowed by the newer one.

 

  1. The Lockdown Era: Ah, the COVID-19 lockdown! A blessing in disguise for some. This era has seen the emergence of two distinct groups of artists: the soothing melodious maestros on one side, and the gritty, no-nonsense ghetto hustlers whom major industry players had never given an opportunity. Liam Voice, Anknown, Victor Ruz, and Vyroota wow audiences with their raw talent, while Alien Skin, Fik Gaza, Tommy Dee, and Fixon Magna have captivated fans with their relentless ghetto drive.

The paradox with this current era is that the truly talented individuals often appear to progress at a slower pace and maintain a low non-celebrity profile, while the less gifted ones seem to rise quickly and gain significant attention despite their “lack of talent”. Consequently, Ugandans don’t experience the same level of satisfaction as they did during the Big 3 era, which keeps the Big 3 relevant even though they have mostly stepped back from the spotlight. However, there are a few artists in this era who fall somewhere in between these two extremes, such as Zex Bilangilangi and Daxx Vybes.

One positive aspect of this current generation is their embrace of distributing music to digital streaming platforms, which has led to the emergence of many independent artists and little need for gatekeepers like managers.

The unyielding, indifferent artists from the hardcore ghetto scene have been relentless in pushing their craft through uncontrolled media like TikTok and YouTube, eventually catching the attention of mainstream media. While not necessarily the most talented, there’s something about their raw character that evokes nostalgia for the Big 3 era, and fans have embraced them wholeheartedly. Now, they stand as the stars of the current music scene. These artists, while not possessing extraordinary talent, are marked by their unwavering consistency and hardcore approach, drawing comparisons to the era of Tupac Shakur. They have challenged the norms of the music industry, defying all gatekeepers, and seem to operate by their own set of rules, yet they still manage to succeed. Among them are, and have been, Alien Skin, Fik Gaza, Tommy Dee, Fixon Magna, Arimpa, Kid Dee, Record Elah Butida, Omutume Planet, and Eezy.

Between the Big 3 and the Goodlife eras, notable female artists like Juliana and Iryn Namubiru emerged. During the transition from the Goodlyfe era to the Ziza Bafana era, Team No Sleep spearheaded a music revolution, birthing prominent artists such as Sheebah, Pallaso, AK47, Kabako, Bakri, and others; hats off to manager Jeff Kiwa. Between the Goodlyfe and Fik Fameica eras, the Swangz Avenue label played an important role in professionalizing music artists, paving the way for talents like Irene Ntale, Vinka, Winnie Nwagi, and Azawi to thrive. In the Fik Fameica era, several promising figures emerged, initially showing intentions of individually dominating the industry but eventually fading into the background alongside other established artists. Examples include Ykee Benda, John Blaq, and Fresh Kid, with Alien Skin currently experiencing a similar phenomenon. However, the emergence of another artist with Alien Skin’s charisma, consistency, and streetwise demeanor could potentially shift the dynamics once again, as history suggests.

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Mwesigwa Joshua
Mwesigwa Joshua Buxton is an artiste, humor columnist, strategist writer and journalist who draws inspiration from the works of Barbara Kimenye, Timothy Bukumunhe, and Tom Rush. He focuses on writing on entertainment. His background includes collaboration with the Eastern Voice FM newsroom.
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