Uganda’s Music Industry: Did They Miss Out On The Kasiwukira Effect?

Uganda Music

My father was a brilliant, charming, and happy man. He was a clergyman with a powerful influence. When he spoke, you had to listen because his voice was full of authority, wisdom, and humor. He was an exceptional speaker; he never stammered and captivated audiences better than anyone I’d heard. Some speakers might have a gift for oratory but lack humor, or vice versa. I admired and feared him in equal measure. I feared him because he was a strict disciplinarian, but my admiration for him was boundless. I followed him throughout his life, reading what he read and trying to understand the people and experiences that shaped him. I read all the literature that he left out in the open. He was my idol. In my child’s mind, I thought he was invincible. With his vast knowledge, he surely knew how to avoid the problems that plague ordinary people.

As I grew older, my relationship with my father became more complex. Over time, I understood why. Unlike any of my siblings, I had learned about him from a unique perspective. In this way, I unintentionally became his rival. Sadly, this great man passed away in 2017. He left me with a powerful mix of emotions: love and fear. These feelings linger even in his absence.

What prompted me to write about him was the very cause of his death, which I am uncomfortable disclosing. However, I will say that it started small but grew to have devastating consequences.

In my last article, I discussed how many Ugandan music industry players are aloof from the industry’s core. I don’t mean to imply that they haven’t made contributions or are uninterested. That’s not what I meant at all. What I’m trying to get at will become clear in this piece.

Yes, some people may not have grasped the significance of the eras I outlined in my previous post. I anticipated this, because it wasn’t meant to be completely understood at first glance. That’s why we’ll need to dissect it piece by piece.

The categorization of eras is a useful tool to portray the challenges the industry has faced and inherited over time. If these eras are not studied, there’s a serious risk that the problems will continue to be passed down, eventually leading to the industry’s demise, just like my father. I don’t want to bear any responsibility for the industry’s death due to my inaction.

There has been a persistent problem between eras that I will christen “the dogma of non-inheritance.” This is the very reason the eras exist in the first place, and why they are so distinct from each other, often marked by hostility. For instance, was basically because Leone Island was not prepared to groom another Chameleone. Chameleone wasn’t ready to be inherited, for I think he opined that he was the greatest player in Uganda and forever would be. Out of the troubling feelings that are associated with waiting for too long to sprout on the side of Weasel and the spirit of competition on the side of Radio, Goodlyfe Entertainment was born, and boom, an era was before our eyes!

Now, though I am not a person who loves the inheritance of sound and style, on which Goodlyfe Entertainment scored (they copied nothing of Chameleone’s Afrobeat and horse-voice style), I love it when despite the change in the two above, the sustainable fundamental business skills of the industry are inherited from senior to junior, consolidated, and improved. In this case, they were not. If they were, then they were not the correct ones.

I have a major bone to pick with Chameleone and his Big 3 counterparts for failing to learn from Kasiwukira. Does that name ring a bell? For the benefit of our younger generation, Kasiwukira was the man who used to buy artists’ recordings (in proper music terminology, a song is called a record. You’ll sound knowledgeable using this term with your peers) and their masters, and then sell them at retail prices, making a significant profit. He sold tapes throughout the country and even abroad, and he owned he rights to all these recordings.

If Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, and Chameleone had followed Kasiwukira’s model, we would have the 3 biggest record labels in East Africa: Leone Island Records, Gagamel Records, and Fire Base Records. Instead, we simply have informal crews. Isn’t that disappointing? What Kasiwukira was doing is the foundation and core concept upon which record labels are built, operated, and thrive. So, what should the Big 3 have done? Continue reading.

At the point when they discovered that Kasiwukira was making chunks of money off them, they should have sold whatever property they had accumulated and started doing what he was doing. By the effect of time, their natural artistic intellect as well as their influence among music consumers (fans), they would be billionaires now. They would be harvesting money from artists of all the eras that came after them. Let me break it down; if you discover a talent like Radio, groom him, have him record albums at Leone Island Records, buy all the rights to his albums at say 2 million each, and sell his albums at whatever retail price you choose, you become Mr. Big Bucks in no time, and still remain an artist; boy, the market was virgin like Mary! Do the same for Weasel, King Michael, King Saha, Master Parrot, Rabadaba, Melody, Papa Cidy, name them. Those names were big enough to make Chameleone a billionaire, but sadly their greatness did not affect his pocket, in the same way that Butchaman, Master Parrot, Kabaya, Mr. Casanova, Toolman, Weatherman, Nubian Li had on Bobi Wine’s, and Rema (and who else?) had on Bebe Cool’s. This is the same approach that the Big 3 of the global music industry—Universal Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music—have been using since time immemorial and has not only made artists wealthy but has also given us some of the biggest music names and catalogs, many of which we would never have known at all. Take a deep breath.

It is similar knowledge (though I suppose not entirely) that Benon Mugumbya came in encounter within the event when he ditched the famous Benon and Vamposs outfit and forged a music label out of a mere studio, thanks to business minds like Julius Kyazze. Now, though Swangz Avenue came in late when most of the money had gone to a non-musical businessman, they are playing their cards fairly. The success of Swangz Avenue is the same reason why history will always be furious with the Big 3, for having failed to make such a business move in the era of Kasiwukira as well as in the present times when Swangz Avenue should have been an additional motivation. Rumblings such as those that presently accuse Bebe Cool of not doing what Don Jazzy has done for the Nigerian industry are, from a wider viewpoint, history’s accusing finger towards the Big 3.

An industry expert, who prefers to remain anonymous, opines that the failure of these artists and others to take this bold business move is because of the fact that every individual has their abilities and most of these artistes are only gifted in writing and performing music. “Every market should be two-dimensional in such a way that artists focus on what they do best—making music, and businessmen focus on playing with the forces of the market,” the expert stresses. To complement, but not differ from, this opinion, artists should acquaint themselves with the knowledge of how to consolidate the two and craft a business out of them. There is always room to relearn or employ someone with the skill to do what one desires to do as long as it has the letters M, O, N, E, and Y on it.

If Kasiwukira, in his limited knowledge of the global music industry (for I am doubtful that he knew what was going on at Universal Music or Warner Music), knew how to play with the demand of Ugandan music, which the Chameloenes had afore created, how much more would Chameleone do with his deep and diverse knowledge of the industry? He had managed to heighten the demand for Ugandan music, and he could satisfy that demand with good supply and smile to the bank. Ditto for Bobi Wine and Bebe Cool. If this microeconomics was too much to handle, why would he not hire a Jeff Kiwa or Chagga, who were at his disposal to handle that?

Well, with zero intention of keeping you here all day, I would like to throw a few ideas (actually it is one idea) that the present industry players can use in the face of the above loophole. Artists are carrying this industry on their backs and have 80% responsibility for it, with the rest only pulling on the teats of the industry’s udder. It is why they should plan to reorganize their craft, and each one plans on starting their labels at their levels, employing technical staff to handle marketing and sales departments. They should do it not as Kasiwukira did, for his approach is long outdated, but rather in the direction of the current music consumption style. They should own their masters, buy other artists’ masters, and play with technology to make money from and for this industry; I tried so much to end this article by not mentioning the name Diamond Platnumz, but I have failed because I have just written here hahaha. This is why my next episode will be about the dynamics of setting up and running a record label like he did in Tanzania. But for now Rest in Peace, Kasiwukira. Rest in Peace, my father.

Leave a comment

Picture of Mwesigwa Joshua
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.
Scroll to Top