Double tragedy

Monday March 9 2009

Last week, two talented musicians passed on, days within each other, writes Robert Kalumba

“He wasn’t feeling well, so his wife took him to Mulago Hospital to see the doctor. On arrival, he was given a bed to rest while they waited for a doctor. But as soon as he lay down, that was the last he breathed.�

Narrating the ordeal was excruciating for Moses Matovu, the founder of Afrigo Band and close friend of the late Charles Ssekyanzi, that for a second, he kept quiet as he pondered the exact meaning of death.

“Sometimes I wonder why death is this cruel,� he thought aloud. Matovu and Ssekyanzi go way back to the times when bands ruled the music scene in Uganda. “The 60s were full of bands and that is where I met Ssekyanzi and for close to three decades, we’ve have been together,� he said.

Born in 1949, Ssekyanzi kicked off his music journey, which has defined him over the years, in the Slingers Band. “It was in 1967 and he was a vocalist for the band,� said Matovu.***image1***

His skill was quickly noticed by various bands, who started coaxing him to feature in theirs. “Because of his smooth voice, he was wanted by many bands. He then left Slingers for West Nile Band, which used to play at Kololo Club now called Ange Noir Discotheque. At the same time, he used to guest-perform for Cranes Band where I was a performer too.�

This brief union in the Cranes Band, (that happened to be the police band at that time), was to later give birth to a music relationship between Matovu and Ssekyanzi in the form of Afrigo Band.

“It was in 1975 that we decided to form Afrigo after Cranes Band collapsed. And by that time, Ssekyanzi had learnt to blow the trumpet adding another dimension to his persona,� he says. “He was loved by the patrons for his voice.

He could sing soprano, tenor, and alto and at the same time play the trumpet, he was that versatile. And because of our personal relationship, I didn’t have to guide him; he just knew how I wanted him to sound,� he painfully laughs.

The late Ssekyanzi passed away on March 1 at Mulago Hospital due to kidney failure, leaving behind a wife Justine and several children. In a twist of fate, Uganda lost another musician, days after Ssekyanzi.

“I really don’t know what killed him. Rumour has it that he poisoned himself; others say he was poisoned by some people over land wrangles. One thing for sure, he looked fine the last time I saw him.�

The words of Ibra, a boda boda rider, are echoed by Lasto Lubega, son to the Late Fred Hannington Masagazi. “My father went to bed as usual without any complaints, but when we checked on him, he was not himself, so we took him to hospital thinking he would be fine, but suddenly at 2p.m., he passed away.�

The death of Masagazi could be shrouded in mystery, but not his contribution to Ugandan music. Having started a singing career way back in 1955 as a singer in a Congolese band named Tinapa, where he sang both Congolese and Luganda, Masagazi’s musical journey has been long filled with interesting anecdotes.

Known for his meaningful compositions, the late Masagazi endeared himself to Ugandans with his 1961 hilarious but serious composition Atanawa Musolo highlighting the consequences of not paying taxes (which to date is played on local FM stations whenever it’s time to pay taxes).

Masagazi formed his band known as UK Jazz Band which dominated the music scene in the early 60s with hits like Lucy Tuula, and Osana Okole.

But due to in-fighting within bands at that time, his band disintegrated, forcing him to ply his trade in various bands like King Jazz Band, Kampala City 6 Band, BKG Band, all the while churning out hits which would cement his reputation amongst the 60s generation as a prolific composer and singer.

His singing prowess would cross boundaries with his composition Kolazizo, becoming the first Ugandan song ever to be played by the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, in 1966, something that has eluded many Ugandan musicians.

But Masagazi had a rebellious streak to his music, which nearly cost his life. His composition Kyali Kyetagesa composed in the late 70s praising the rule of the late Idi Amin and bemoaning the days of the late Obote’s first presidency didn’t go down well with the second regime of Obote.

He was hunted, forcing him into hiding and doing odd jobs like selling madanzi to school canteens. He resumed his singing career after President Yoweri Museveni came into power, guest performing at Club Obliggato with the Afrigo Band and performing at other venues like the National Theatre.

The late Masagazi passed away at Mulago Hospital on March 2nd, leaving behind his wife Nora, eight children and nine grandchildren. He was laid to rest at Mpererwe off Gayaza Road.