In his songs lay Sematimba’s outstandingly wit, social appeal and enviable music arrangement. It is music soothing the soul in a deep manner and awakens it to social causes.
Sematimba’s music tells about love, unity, social justice, peace and everyday issues in songs such as Irene, Tukolagane, Omwami N’omukyala, Kampala, Come Let’s Rock. In the same songs, the feel-good factor comes out strongly. If you have seen him perform, you will appreciate the psyche he puts in his delivery and presence that naturally pulls an emotional chord with the audience, thanks to his good guitar skills and commanding lyrics.
Sematimba’s lyrics are simple and straightforward that he delivers with a joyful but laid-back demeanour. In Namagembe, All time lover and Nakatudde, he manages to get lovers warm up to the dance floor and for the lonely to feel the weight of not being loved.
In an emotive surrender, he will delicately strum the guitar that every string’s sound is as clear as the previous one. Ssematimba is one of Uganda’s uniquely gifted artistes. Years after he last released an album -- Abato in 2006, his music still enjoys airplay.
Cooking good music
“I know people are waiting for some new musical tracks from me, and I will not say that I am not working, but I’m not going to rush into it,” says the Nakatudde singer.
“I will take my time, cook it up and I won’t give you a time frame,” Sematimba paused for the message to sink as he sipped on his bottle of Nile beer. “But I know it will be an album of about 12 songs mixed in Luganda and English.”
The father of two adds that he is also trying to put together some professional reggae musicians. He is already working with one of the oldest reggae bands, the Blood Brothers, on a couple of live performances and they are going to be part of this solid reggae band that will be playing at Bulenge Paradise Resort based in Ggaba, Makindye Municipality. It is here that this reporter met him.
“We want it to be the best reggae joint in Uganda as a whole. We are taking things step by step,” he says, running his fingers through his dreadlocks.
But Sematimba’s fans will have to wait a little longer. “There were some setbacks like lack of music equipment that I’m waiting for from Canada, but I think in a month they will be here. You know, I’m selective.”
“I want the best presentable equipment that can allow me work comfortably and produce something good for my fans,” the 43-year-old artiste explains.
“On my part, I will take things slowly so as to produce something good”.
Man behind the music
The singer goes on to describe himself as a very simple person who always makes sure the people around him feel very comfortable just as much as he would want.
The artiste achieves this through a couple of jokes, storytelling and sometimes making sure there are drinks on the table to enjoy.
How Sematimba started out in Sweden
In Sweden, Sematimba cut his musical teeth. He left Uganda at 21 in 1991. When he got there, he started learning instruments, from the guitar to keyboard.
“I had an uncle who taught me how to play a guitar but unfortunately he passed away. He encouraged me. He’s the one who gave me the picture that when you master an instrument, it can give you the key to compose,” he recalls.
Part of the reason Sematimba followed a musical dream was because he was born in a musical family. His brother Andrew Kawesi is a music producer. There are Drake Sebuma and Jackie Nabasumba who are in church choirs.
It was not easy starting out in Sweden but Sematimba’s character helped him fuse in. He is sociable. He says there are so many open windows of opportunities. It is up to you to take advantage and exploit such.
It took him two years to settle down. “I started performing in a couple of bands around 1993.”
He was a backup singer here and there and he used to balance studio recording and live performances. It is in these bands he met people that showed him the way.
Sweden was a new country and environment and he had to learn the language.
On his musical journey, he was introduced to big professional studios. He embarked on writing songs. By 1992 he had written his most popular songs Namagembe and Nakatudde.
“It was something that sounded good to me. When you do something and you appreciate it, you always care to see what others will say about it. I used to get quality vibes back about my work,” the Ugandan reggae icon explains.
Thereon he concentrated on learning the musical language and recordings which took him a couple of years. He was no in a rush and it took him another three years to start putting together songs off his first albumTukolagane. It took him about four years. He released the first single in 1998.
“I remember coming back here and talked to Mulindwa Muwonge, Rasta Rob who worked at Radio Buganda to help me promote my songs. Then I went to Simba and talked to Tonny Sengo and Omulangira Ndausi and asked them to do the same. They gave me very good feedback when it came to production, the sound, composition and the message,” he recounts.
He was encouraged and he went back to Sweden, mastered the album and released it in 2000.
“I remember it was Kasiwukira who bought the requisition rights of my Tukolagane and thereon of Abato album. The space between Tukolagane and Abato albums is six years. Artistes here tend to do things quickly,” he adds, emphasising why he takes his time before releasing music.
Sematimba has unofficially released two albums; ‘A word to a wise’ and ‘Youth man’.
“They will come out sooner or later. When you have so many things to run, you have to give them ample time so that one does not outweigh the other. I have my family at heart at the moment,” says the man who confesses to cherishing Rastafarian principles, concept and culture than as a religion.
“I was drawn into it by the words of our brothers. The artistic way they express their feeling through the music and feelings of how society should be, how it is and people from all walks of life and age can understand that.
Reggae is a very wide chapter in music. It has many styles,” he elaborates about his love for reggae music.
His struggles and the future
On his future, he says as he pulls on his rather protruding beard below the chin, “I’m soon getting a manager but I have to be careful because I have gone through a lot of crap. It has to be someone that knows the profession very well. Many are simply thieves and conmen.”
He adds of artiste managers in Uganda, “It was much later on that I realised that most of them were out with different intentions. I realised that I should start handling things myself. You might have people around smiling at you but not all of them are good.”
Maddox blames promoters for not achieving much since he returned from Sweden in 2009. Now he dreams of setting up a recording studio.
“When you have a studio that is stationary, you start doing things. I know many musicians that have come from Sweden, like Frank Mbaliire and Sammy Kasule. They have equipment but they do not move around with it,” he says.
Much as he does not take responsibility, there are things an artiste of Maddox’s stature needs to reflect about his life.
For example, in the last television news item, he was arrested by police with a group of youth smoking marijuana (weed) which is illegal in Uganda.
“Let the smokers smoke and I will always smoke it,” he defends his abuse of weed and why he smokes it. When asked why he takes weed, he says it boosts his creativity.
He adds, “My senses get a lot sharper. Leave alone the stuff you always hear and what is written in the papers. You just smoke a couple of puffs and go on. I don’t say people should go around smoking it because it is illegal. If you are caught with it, that is a crime but I will always smoke it.”
The hustler misses his family
Much as he is not releasing any new songs, Sematimba survives off his music which is selling in music stores in Europe as well as earnings from corporate and ordinary performances.
“I do survive because I’m alone. One single man cannot fail to make it,” Maddox says, reflecting his family that he misses. He has not seen them in four years since he returned to Uganda.
He offers to tell how he met the mother of his children -- Christopher Ssemanda and Melody Ssemanda.
“It was a musical thing. She was a friend to a friend. It was through recording that she appreciated my work. We fell in love,” he explains with a youthful smile. Her name is Eva Linek.
“She was a keen music fan. She is a social worker working especially in third world countries in Africa and South America.
However, “She has not been to Uganda but we have been together in Kenya and she has been to Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Congo for her social work. She is Swedish, but we are not married.”
Sematimba says they have since separated because he came to Uganda and stayed longer than he expected. Part of the time was the spell he spent in jail, that he is not comfortable talking about.
Away from music
If Sematimba was not a musician, he says he would be an active gardener.
“I’m a perfect gardener. I also like children very much, so much so that sometimes when I watch the news and see tragedies happening where children are involved, it really hurts like a deep thorn in the heart,” he discloses.
He is grateful for his one brother.
“I have a brother called Allan Sematimba. He now lives in the UK but he used to live in Sweden. He bought me a keyboard, guitar and a small portable public address system.
I started moving around in hotel lounges, clubs and bars performing,” he recounts about his beginning in music.
One more thing he doesn’t forget, “As much as I’m a Swedish citizen, I’m as much Swedish as I’m Ugandan,” he says proudly.