At last year’s Bayimba International Festival of the Arts, Chance Nalubega received a rapturous welcome from fans, signalling a return of the veteran singer, with a bang. The singer who released her maiden album titled Guma Omwoyo in 1999, proved she has staying power, close to 20 years after her debut.
Coming to Kampala
Nalubega’s musical story begins on one night in August 1991 when she returned to an empty space in a corner of a church, her belongings gone. When she scanned the rest of the church where she took shelter every night, it was empty.
With a few other people, she took shelter in Christian Life Church, in Bwaise, under Pastor Jackson Ssenyonga. The church administration had allowed them to sleep within the place of worship although it could not guarantee their security.
Nalubega’s belongings were stolen and she did not have anyone to turn to for a solution. For close to three months, she had shared the same spot with her mother with whom she had come to Kampala, from Masaka District in central Uganda.
“We were both born again and belonged to Masaka Gosma Church. Before we came to Kampala, we were referred to Pastor Ssenyonga’s church,” singer Nalubega recounts in her local dialect, Luganda.
On the evening her property was stolen, she sobbed painfully, not just for the gomesi, small pillow, plate and tea kettle her mother had left her, but because she had nowhere to go for the night.
Earlier on in the day, the church administration had announced that it could no longer host people in the church, echoing its unwillingness to be held liable for lost property.
That night she stayed up, quietly seated in the same spot, thinking of what to do next. For survival, she did odd jobs such as vending food, domestic chores such as washing and cooking in homes and other sources of livelihoods she is not comfortable to share.
Her mother had introduced her to the informal work but had returned to Masaka, to take care of business back home such as fending for Nalubega’s siblings who had been abandoned by their father.
Story of survival
Nalubega says her father is a Muslim man who was not in their lives for as long as she can remember. “I needed a place to stay. I was a singer in church in Masaka so I approached the choirmaster of Christian Life Church and requested for an opportunity to sing. I was taken on and that is how I continued to stay at the church as I looked for elsewhere to stay. I knew it would be a matter of time before we would be chased out completely,” Nalubega recalls.
For survival, she kept looking out for odd jobs, which would earn her meagre wages. In her search for a better source of livelihood, she got a job as a hairdresser in Kibuye, near Kampala.
She was happy to find a job that could pay her a salary, little as it was. She earned Shs45, 000 a month. Nonetheless, singing in the church choir got her thinking of finding a better footing as an artiste because it was a more decent way to live and earn. At church, she sang for the love of it. She was never paid.
One midmorning as she went about her work in the hair salon, she heard an announcement over the radio. Pride Band was recruiting singers. “It felt like they were calling out to me. I went in with a lot of hope that I would be taken on.”
Every contender had their vocals tested. Nalubega had penned down some songs. When she was called upon to perform before judges; Andrew Benon Kibuuka, Aloysius Matovu Joy and Charles James Ssenkubuge, she sang some of her songs.
Her musical break
They included; Abakyala, Ekilangirilo Sanyu, and Guma Omwoyo, the song which introduced her to Ugandan music lovers and got her celebrated.
Kibuuka, Matovu and Ssenkubuge run Pride Band and were headlining actors with Bakayimbira Dramactors. The band played between theatre productions.
She was with the band for three years, between 1994 and 1997 where she earned a salary of Shs80,000. She moved to Pride Band where she met one Lubwama that connected her to a studio where she recorded her first songs.
“We recorded the songs in a little known studio somewhere in Bweyogerere. It felt good recording my songs. It gave me confidence. When they were released, I was able to earn from selling music tapes of the singles. The money enabled me to start Gomiba Band,” the artiste recollects. There was no turning back. She became more frequent in studio because she needed original music that she could perform and strengthen the profile of her young band.
In 1999, she released Guma Omwoyo, under Kasiwukira. Its owner, Eriya Bugembe Ssebunya, paid Nalubega Shs1.5m. It did so well that within hours, the 250 tapes produced had run out.
Nalubega recalls, “Music suppliers from around the country were waiting at Kasiwukira Studios because its director had announced that he would be releasing the album at 11am. When it ran out of stock, he had to produce another 200 cassettes. In my heart, I felt I had asked for little money but the deal and contract had been signed.”
When she sat at the negotiating table to sell Balinsekerela, in 2000, she was firm in asking for Shs3m from Kasiwukira. She asked for even more, when she released Yiga Okwagala in 2001, arguably one of her best songs and album. She was paid Shs15m. She followed up the album with I really love you in 2002, Ennugu, another good one in 2003, Kulikayo Mwami in 2005 and Agaliffa in 2006.
Some of her last albums did not do as well as the first ones. She confesses that some things went out of hand. During the rough patch, her band broke up.
She then went on a break, during which she concentrated on raising her children, as a single mother. Nalubega is a mother of three, one boy and two daughters.
But last year, her invitation to Bayimba International Festival of the Arts seemed liked a musical resurrection. She put up a spirited performance during which she sang elatedly, dancing vigorously and taking time between it all to engage with the mixed crowd, of young, old and foreigners.
“I had a good time performing for people who enjoyed my music. It felt like a re-launch of my career. I have thought about how to go about it. I was happy experiencing the love fans shared with me. Pray for me to make the most out of my new beginnings,” Nalubega says, with a smile.