Last week, I stumbled into the Dining Room, opposite Ministry of Health. A band was playing on the makeshift stage set next to the bar.
On lead guitar, Frank Mbalire strummed away while Sammy Kasule belted his classics such as Njabala, Oze and Asante. Their colleague, Daniel Kaggwa Sseninde, got momentarily lost on the keyboard.
What was a little strange about this outfit though was it was not Afrigo Band – a band in which the three used to play alongside Moses Matovu on the Saxophone.
Mbalile, Kasule and Sseninde had earlier left Afrigo to form Ziwuma Band.
Ziwuma also comprises Jimmy Mugema, a bass guitarist and sound engineer who has played with a couple of bands, including Qwela as well as Isaac Zimbe, who has done his time as a drummer with Mystic Band.
Zimbe, Mbalire, and Sseninde were once members of Misty Jazz band which played at Kampala Casino until two years ago.
The band gets its name from one of Kasule’s songs that shares the same title - Ziwuma.
Across town, at Guvnor Discotheque, an upscale nightclub, Matovu and the remaining members of Afrigo were treating revelers to some of their classics at the monthly Friday Night Live show.
Members of Ziwuma claim Matovu was not giving them enough opportunity to showcase their artistry yet they were not growing any younger.
For example, Kasule and Mbalire say they have a lot of music they have done over time. The veteran musicians say they spend days practising songs and fine-tuning their instruments but are only given a few minutes to perform on stage. Kasule has five albums to his name while Mbalire has been doing music since 1968.
“We would like to pursue new paths as musicians. We are not trying to start a war with Afrigo. We are still friends. Afrigo is a big band and there are so many good musicians. We have been doing three hours as band which was not enough for all of us to perform,” Ziwuma Band leader Sseninde says.
“Let no one lie to you that money is not part of the reason we left. We were never given a chance to air out our dissatisfaction when it came to pay. . I am 41 years old and I am not growing younger. I have aspirations too and I cannot continue to feel suffocated.”
Kasule, who is uncomfortable speaking out about the money for fear of breeding conflict says, there was a revision in pay ever since they left Afrigo.
“Before we left, the pay was dissatisfying. I will not tell you how much I was paid because salary is a private matter, just like women never want to reveal their age,” Kasule added.
Sseninde adds that whereas it is prestigious to play with a reknown band like Afrigo, he is well aware that prestige will not allow him discounts on items at shopping malls or at schools where his children seek education.
The musicians make a case of lack of growth materially and can hardly compare themselves to new age artistes who have made more money in so short a time. Sseninde, for example, says the need to grow, musically, continues to bother them yet, because they are not the ones that call the shots, find themselves unable to fully express themselves.
“In the music industry, it is the person with machines that calls the shots. Without machines, you cannot say anything,” he adds.
According to Kasule, there were times when some of them would not perform at all, or perform just one song.
“As a musician, I would practise my instruments at home and expected to go on stage and perform. Upon arrival at the venue, my guitar and I would be relegated to the role of spectators,” Kasule, who joined Afrigo about two years ago after returning from Sweden where he was based since the 1980s, says.
Upon return, he says he asked his good friend Matovu if he could join Afrigo.
“I never foresaw myself leaving Afrigo but circumstances and the fact that I felt I was losing out on expressing my talent forced me out,” he says.
Matovu, however, wished his former colleagues well.
“It is not the first time that members are leaving Afrigo Band. I have no problem with members who have left. There is nothing to worry about. I wish them the best,” Matovu says, adding that Sseninde had left in November.
“It is only Kasule and Mbalire who have left.”
Ziwuma, according to Mbalile, will offer original compositions on top of their timeless classics.
“We are in studio and will be soon releasing new songs,” he says.
Kasule will be releasing a new single next month while Mbalire’s project is scheduled to be released in September.
Ziwuma performs at Dining Room in Wandegeya, opposite Ministry of Health on Fridays for Shs15, 000 and at Dine@62, formerly known as Mamba Point, on Saturdays, for free. Afrigo Band is back at Little Flowers, off Bombo Road every Saturday for Shs20,000.