What you need to know:
- After walking similar musical paths and sharing a longstanding connection, a public falling-out created mutual dislike between both artistes
Inside Uganda’s musical history, the seeds of rivalry were sown long before the recent clashes between contemporary artistes such as Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine and Musa Sali, alias Bebe Cool, or songstresses Cindy Sanyu and Sheebah Karungi.
The echoes of such rivalries reverberate through time, reminding us that today’s musical conflicts have ancestral roots. The enigmatic feud between Kadongokamu heavyweights Herman Basudde and Livingstone Kasozi, who dominated the scene in the 1990s, remains an indelible chapter in Uganda’s musical lore.
After walking similar musical paths and sharing a longstanding connection, a public falling-out in the early 1990s created mutual dislike between both artistes. Basudde infamously tore into Kasozi for being afflicted with HIV/Aids, as their mutual old friend Antonio Ndawula recalls.
While both achieved moderate crossover success, their unyielding exchanges of verbal salvos captured public attention to such an extent that reconciling the two stars necessitated a grand show at Nakivubo Stadium in 1996.
To grasp the dynamics of their rivalry, one must delve into the factors that set them apart and fuelled their discord. In it all, Basudde’s superior vocal prowess, husky voice, lyrical prowess, and storytelling ability relegated Kasozi to the fringes.
Elsewhere, Kasozi’s handsome demeanour contrasted starkly with Basudde’s unassuming presence. In fact, while Basudde tirelessly worked to garner musical recognition and respect, Kasozi enjoyed adoration due to his looks despite producing subpar music.
Another factor was Basudde’s lack of technical expertise, stemming from his inferiority complex occasioned by Kasozi being more formally educated. Kasozi also took great delight in the fact that he initially took Basudde under his wing before the ‘student’ proceeded to eclipse his ‘teacher.’
During the early 1980s, it was customary for prominent stars to discover talent in the remote backwaters. They would consequently bring them to the capital to serve as backup singers or group members. When Dan Mugula, along with Moses Katende and Livingstone Kasozi, toured Masaka as the Lukwata Guitar Singers, they were approached by Basudde before a performance in Bubondo Village. They were so impressed that Basudde headed back to Kampala with them.
Once in the capital, Kasozi, who was second in command to Katende in the Luwata group, formed a strong bond with Basudde. Kasozi taught his apprentice the ropes of playing the guitar and delivering live performances. It wasn’t long before Basudde released his first single—Mukyala Mugerwa—in 1986.
From the get-go, it was obvious that Basudde possessed a greater creative gift than Kasozi. Mukyala Mugerwa underscored this.
In 1990, Kasozi assumed full control of the ensemble following Katende’s death. He was now Basudde’s boss. Basudde’s star, however, shone brightly in the early 1990s. During a show in Mukono, Kasozi, known for his affinity with women, reportedly excused himself to a lodge with one. This left a void that Basudde was happy to fill.
Upon Kasozi’s return, Basudde confronted him about his dedication to work. Kasozi made it abundantly clear to Basudde who was boss. A heated exchange ensued that culminated in Kasozi giving Basudde fuel refund of just Shs30,000. While the sum was significant at the time, Basudde believed he deserved more.
To compound matters, Kasozi opted not to pay Basudde for his performance in Mukono. Basudde was told he would only receive payment for the subsequent Nkokonjeru show. Historically, Nkokonjeru wasn’t known to pull a big crowd.
Sensing that Kasozi was intent to punish him financially, Basudde started plotting his exit. He duly approached the likes of Kateteyi Mbalire, Sylvester Busuulwa, and Faith Nakayiza, urging them to join his newly formed group, Kabuladda Professional Singers.
They agreed, maintaining secrecy, and embarked on this new musical journey. Basudde’s determination led him to seek equipment for rehearsals, which he acquired with the assistance of music promoter Festo Kasajja.
Basudde then composed Ennimiro yo’kubuganga. It was a diss track aimed at Kasozi. The song’s cryptic lyrics targeted Kasozi’s lack of artistic understanding. Per Mzee Nsubuga Naakalya, a former friend, Kasozi played the bass guitar in the same song that criticised him. Basudde’s lyrics included a line —Eno Jetuzze balijja ne Batusanga—suggesting that Kasozi would eventually join his new group, Kabuladda Professional Singers. This prophecy manifested, contributing to Basudde’s reputation as a “music prophet.”
When Kasozi learned of Basudde’s move, he approached Kasajja to mediate his entry into Basudde’s new group. This action stemmed from his understanding that the move was orchestrated without Basudde’s input. Kasajja requested a favour from Kasozi, asking him to create a free music tape titled Mary Kipapula to use as leverage for his inclusion in Basudde’s group.
Although Kasajja presented the offer to Basudde, he rejected it. Faced with the ultimatum of accepting Kasozi or returning equipment, Basudde incorporated his former boss into Kabuladda Guitar Singers.
During a performance by their new group, Kasozi repeated the mistake of arriving late. This sparked frustration from Paulo Kafeero, another star nurtured by both Kasozi and Basudde.
Kafeero cited such unserious behaviour as the reason behind Basudde’s Ennimiro yo’kubuganga diss track. This realisation marked the point at which Kasozi comprehended the song’s intent, even though he played the bass guitar in it. Despite his anger, Kasozi maintained composure, benefiting from Basudde’s hard work.
No love lost
In 1994, they journeyed to Munich, Germany, alongside other artistes. Basudde capitalised on this opportunity to purchase equipment for his newly formed group. Due to his inability to communicate in English, he enlisted Kasozi’s assistance in the transaction. Kasozi registered the equipment under his name.
After their return, Kasozi claimed ownership, intending to resurrect his former group, which Basudde had left, renaming it Lukwata Advanced Singers. This act served as revenge for Basudde’s prior actions and the diss track he had composed.
Basudde retaliated by ending the romantic relationship between his sister, Immaculate Nabiryo, and Kasozi, who was sent to America. Basudde also composed another diss track, Abakunseere, describing Kasozi as a parasite thriving on others.
Kasozi, however, did not reply to this song, prompting Basudde to release Ekiryo No’Muwafu. He promised to reveal the name of his intended target in the next song.
Confident he was the target, Kasozi recorded Akazimba Mu Lumuli. In it, he heavily criticised Basudde. Kasozi reminded Basudde how shabby and smelly he was when he joined his Lukwata Singers. Reference was also made to Basudde’s protruding teeth (ebinyo).
During this period, Basudde realised that artistes could earn from recordings. Kasozi had exploited Basudde’s lack of knowledge by selling master tapes to music promoters such as Kassajja Emporium and Kasiwukira. A striking example was when Basudde received only Shs30,000 for his highly successful album Mukyala Mugerwa. The uncovering of exploitative actions only escalated even the rivalry further.
When sickness finally overpowered Kasozi, he relocated to his village in Kyaboggo. Music promoters Festo Kasajja and Hassan Kasule would spring to his rescue. They brought him back to Kampala, where he recorded an album to depict the melancholic tale titled Bwendiba Nfudde (After My Death). The album worked remarkably well, earning him substantial income.
The mournful music on Kasozi’s album resonated deeply with the masses, who sympathised with his plight. One track from the album—Nalweyiso—depicted a woman who had abandoned Kasozi upon learning of his illness.
“I was driving along Kampala Road to our offices at Pride Theatre when I heard the song, and an idea struck me,” recalls actor Charles James Senkubuge of Bakayimbira Dramactors, who heard it on the late Mulindwa Muwonge’s programme on CBS FM radio. “The song touched my heart, and all I wanted to do was help Kasozi.”
Once at the office, he shared the song and his idea with colleague and fellow actor Andrew Benon Kibuuka, who had also heard the song. They soon reached out to Kasozi and discovered that his primary challenge was financial hardship resulting from his illness.
Senkubuge and Kibuuka, through their events company Pride Productions, formulated a plan to organise a concert for Kasozi at Nakivubo Stadium. The aim was to provide him with some financial relief during his final days, as he acknowledged his impending death. To enhance the show’s appeal, they sought the support of Paulo Kafeero.
Bury the hatchet
Kafeero agreed and also advised them to involve Basudde to draw larger crowds due to Nakivubo Stadium’s size. When Kibuuka and Senkubuge pitched the idea to Basudde, who was performing in Masaka at the time, he didn’t answer in the affirmative. Sharing a stage with Kasozi was repulsive.
“Do you know how that man insulted me in his song Kazimba Mu Lumuli? If you understood, you wouldn’t be here asking me to perform alongside him,” Basudde firmly declined.
The pair had heard the song, but had no idea Basudde was its target. After re-listening to the song, they realised that if they had grasped its context earlier, they wouldn’t have approached Basudde.
It took Kibuuka some time to persuade Basudde. He emphasised the importance of forgiveness and brotherhood, reminding Basudde that despite their enmity, they had started their careers together and accomplished a lot. Appearing together on stage, Kibuuka argued, could mend their differences and allow them to have a positive experience before Kasozi’s inevitable death.
Basudde eventually agreed to the proposal, and Pride Productions began promoting the concert, named Munno Mukabi, with Basudde and Kasozi as the main performers and Kafeero as the interlude act. While the event was advertised as a musical battle, its real purpose was to raise funds to support Kasozi.
The show took place on August 18, 1996 before a sold-out crowd. It was, Senkubuge says, the largest event he had ever witnessed in terms of crowd size. At least, before the 2000s.
After their battle, the duo received a substantial amount of money. Basudde even contributed a portion towards Kasozi’s medical bills. The two artistes went on to record music for a joint album, symbolising their celebratory reunion.
Senkubuge says Kasozi’s strength returned after the musical battle concert. The outpouring of love from people, coupled with the financial support he had received, revitalised him. He even purchased a new, fashionable car with the earnings from the concert.
His illness, however, resurfaced, leading to his demise on May 17, 1997. Barely a month after Kasozi’s death, tragedy struck as Basudde lost his life on June 11, 1997 in a devastating accident. While en route to his parents’ house in Masaka, a lorry attempted to overtake Basudde’s vehicle. In the process, he lost control and his vehicle overturned multiple times.
Kadongokamu is a genre of music which gets its name from the way it was originally delivered as musicians accompanied their long narratives with one guitar.
Some popular artistes in the genre include Fred Masagazi, Paul Kafeero, and Fred Sebatta, among others.