If you google Rachael Magoola, you will probably land on the black head wrap and big-beaded-necklace wearing version of her that is selling music across the world. Magoola, who seems to be more visible on the World Wide Web than she is in real life, returned to the country nearly five years ago from a sojourn in Britain. Her homecoming didn’t make ripples on the music scene, possibly because on her return, she slipped seamlessly into her old musical life.
Magoola, who is synonymous with her popular hit song Obangaina, sprung to the limelight in 1999 when the hit song, an adaptation from a folksong that she grew up singing hit the charts after it was recorded with Afrigo Band. The song was such a hit that it was voted number one song of the year in a news media poll for three years in a row. It was also the number-one song on Capital Radio’s Coca-Cola Hot Seven daily countdowns for 30 consecutive days and it was named the Song of the Millenium. 14 years on, people still jump when it plays.
In her words, the song was such a big hit because “the melody and instrumentation was a work of musical art. The lyrics told a difficult but familiar story in a cheeky fun tone. Every family in Uganda has a Margaret (the subject of the song) in their lives.”
In 2003, the Obangaina star left the country and Afrigo band where she had been performing for 11 years on a journey of self-discovery which ended in Britain. “I told my bosses at Afrigo goodbye on good terms. I had got to a point where I felt that the way the music industry was structured, I wasn’t going to get my music to where I wanted it to go,” she explains.
In Britain, she went knocking on music promoters’ doors and performed at festivals. She believes she made career headway in terms of putting Ugandan music in a market where it was relatively unknown compared to Nigerian and South African music.
One of the real benefits from Magoola’s stay in the UK is the deal she struck with a global record distribution company called ARC Music. ARC Music website and Amazon.com are some of the cyber spaces on which Magoola’s music, collected on the album Songs from the Source of the Nile, is to be found on display and on sale. How much does she sell? “The music sells slowly over the years,” says Magoola without giving any figures.
Magoola, who returned to the country in 2007, went straight back to her gig with Afrigo Band, where she still sings every Friday and Saturday evenings. After the time spent abroad, she thinks Ugandans waste a lot of time and work too little. With a bachelor’s degree in Education from Kyambogo University, when Magoola is not on stage, she spends most of the week between Kampala and Iganga where she runs Walugogo Primary Teacher Training College. This probably explains why she claims to be and sounds exhausted when she requests to meet an hour later than planned at Bugolobi’s Jazzville Club, where she was due to perform that Wednesday evening.
Meeting 47-year-old Magoola Perhaps it has to do with the red lipstick or the dim lighting in Jazzville Club but when she speaks and moves, the light is cast on her glowing eye shadow and polished cheek bones. Away from the exertion of stage performance, there is no hint of aging lines on the face of the 47-year-old singer tonight.
Magoola, who made 20 years on stage in 2011, believes that her biggest achievement is being able to stand the test of time in an unpredictable music industry and the ability to perform with both the young and old and still be valid in the industry. She draws a lot of satisfaction from the fact that people still appreciate her music, even songs like Obangaina, which she released years ago when many adults today were still toddlers.
Where the journey began
Magoola’s musical journey started at home where her father, the late Nicholas Magoola, was a music teacher at several colleges in eastern Uganda. As a young girl, she sang in the church choir and played musical instruments at home. Ironically, it was at school where she suffered musical setbacks. In Senior Two, she was expelled from Tororo Girls School for performing in a band while on a school break.
In 1983, Magoola joined Namasagali College, where her talent was welcomed and recognised as art. That for her was the real musical blossoming. After secondary school in 1986, Magoola went to Kaliro Teacher Training College, where she trained as a secondary school teacher, specialising in music and languages. Thereafter, she taught at Namasagali College, until 1993 when she applied for a degree course in education, majoring in Music at Kyambogo University.
Even though she was the best student in her class, Magoola didn’t graduate because she was discontinued from her course for absconding when she went on tour with Afrigo Band. That notwithstanding, in 1999, she recorded Obangaina in London with Afrigo Band and the song became an instant hit. After years of performing without her degree, Magoola went back to Kyambogo University and earned her education degree last year.
The search for her prince continues
Of all that Magoola has achieved in the last 20 years, one thing still eludes her. At 47, Magoola is not married and has no children.
“We did not agree with my partner. My expectations of what marriage was supposed to be with regards to fidelity did not settle with his. I broke it off,” says Magoola, adding that marriage is a wonderful thing and she is confident that one day her prince charming is going to show up.
With a soft jazz number playing in the background, Magoola is visualising herself performing all the way into her evening years, if she can. “If my music is still appreciated and I can be on stage when I’m 70, I’ll sing, I’ll travel,” concludes Magoola, who if she gets her way, could still be gracing the stage for another 20 years to come.
Date of Birth: March 12, 1966.
1971: Joined Nambulu Primary School.
1981-1982: Tororo Girls School.
1983-1987: Namasagali College.
1987: Studied at National TC Kaliro.
1989-1993: Taught at Namasagali College.
1989: Joined Afrigo Band.
First song: Recorded Kukusangana in 1991 with Afrigo band.
1993-1995; Joined Kyambogo University did not qualify; discontinued
1995-1997: Taught in Kaliro Teacher Training College.
1997: First recorded Obangaina.
1999: Obangaina became a hit after re-recording.
2003: Left Afrigo band for the United Kingdom.
2007: Return from UK, rejoined Afrigo band.
2009: Started Walugogo Teacher Training College.
2011: Returned to Kyambogo University.
2012: Finished Bachelor’s degree
January 2013: Graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Music from Kyambogo University.