Singing groups: Does it always end in tears?
What you need to know:
End of the road: Sauti Sol will not be The Band anymore after the group announced a break up. Over the years, bands or groups as they are usually known have been going separate ways – sometimes, the separations are ugly and messy.
The year was 2001, and the rap duo Outkast was still basking in the success of their 2000 album Stakonia. The laudable album had made the world hum to Ms Jackson, So Fresh So Clean and the experimental B.O.B (Bombs Over Baghdad), among other songs.
Winning Best Rap Performance by group or duo and Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards, many pundits believed the duo was robbed when they did not win Album of The Year.
But it was all good, Outkast was yet again at the peak of both their game and rap. With a follow up album, Big Boi and Dre Present Outkast, celebrating the duo’s biggest songs, it was clear nothing could go wrong.
Or we thought!
Yet in 2003, the duo of Andre Lauren Banjamin alias Andre 3000 and Antwan Andre Patton alias Big Boi released two solo albums, Speakerboxx and The Love Below respectively. The two albums were however packaged as a joint project of the duo, released as a double disc, Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Much as the double disc album gave the world hits such as The Way You Move, Roses and Hey Yeah, things were never the same after this album.
Over the years, bands or groups as they are usually known have been going separate ways – sometimes, the separations are ugly and messy to the extent of playing the issues out in the press. Think about Cindy Sanyu and Blu*3. It is said she left, she says she was fired. Or Julianna Kanyomozi and Iryn Namubiru in I-Jay. Did one dump the other for Europe or they indeed communicated and ended the union!
Other times however, the separations are formal with clear communication - not many of these have been witnessed in Uganda but we could use an example of Beyonce and Destiny’s Child or more recently, Kenyan boy band Sauti Sol.
On Saturday, through their social media platforms, the band announced that after 17 years of making music together, they are embarking on a world tour that is also doubling as their farewell tour.
The band announced that their farewell tour will be followed by an album sending their fanbase into shockwaves.
But it was not the kind of news that found the fanbase completely off guard, for instance, in 2021, when the band announced their Alone Together project. In their statement, Alone Together was a conception birthed during the Covid-19 breakout. It was not only a reflection and progression of their individual self-growth as artists, but also a pack they had known them to be.
“Alone Together is a child of the pandemic. The result of deep reflections that we experienced as individuals and as a group, leading us to craft the ultimate expansion of our musical and artistic legacies. It is the unique next chapter as brothers that ties with our natural progression of self-growth, while still being a single unit. The journey is a four-part musical and visual art series for you and the world with the hopes it enlightens you to who we really are; four phenomenal parts that make one iconic whole,” the group said.
Under the project, the four members of the group; Polycarp Otieno (Fancy Fingers) Willis Chimano, Bien Aime, and Savara Mudigi released solo projects, after which they were meant to follow up with a joint band album in May 2022.
The release of solo albums, Bald Men Anthem, Fancy Fingers’ Father Studies, Chimano’s Heavy is the Crown and Savara’s Savage Level got many thinking the beginning of the end, but the band dismissed the rumours.
Yet, the independence of the members beyond the individual albums was spelling the end. For instance, Savara held at least two independent shows within that time, Bein performed in Kampala, while others such as Fancy Fingers and Chimano produced content such as books and podcasts without the group.
In Uganda, the story of Sauti Sol has technically been relieved over and over. From the time when music wasn’t profitable, groups such as Menton Krono and Gen. Mega Dee disbanded when both members decided to take different paths.
In 2008, it was Cindy leaving Blu*3, the difference this time though, it was one member becoming solo. She was easily replaced by Mya Baganda. But after a few songs together, even the new refurbished Blu3 was disbanded with all the members eventually going solo.
Before joining Blu3 as Cindy Sanyu’s replacement however, Baganda had temporarily been a member of The Obsessions, another group whose exodus saw the focal point change from boys to girls at one point.
Why groups will eventually split
Ronnie Mulindwa has worked with groups and has been part of a group, The Obsessions. He says one of the reasons groups break up usually comes from the way funds are shared.
“When you are performing as a group, you will get paid the same amount they give a solo artiste. When people start doing solo projects and get paid individually, they start seeing things differently,” he says.
Mulindwa adds that at times, people start evaluating what they bring to the table compared to what others are doing.
In the separation of most bands, for instance, there have been discussions on who has been doing the writing and much of the singing.
It has actually been rumoured that before his death at the beginning of 2018, singer Mowzey Radio was evaluating his role in the duo Radio and Weasel. The late Mowzey had been responsible for penning and composing almost all the duo’s catalogue.
Sometimes, however, it comes down to a difference in the vision or dissatisfaction. Singer and actress Hellen Lukoma has an experience as a member of two groups, The Obsessions and later, she formed half of the duo HB Toxic.
She says naturally, when you are in a group, time comes when your dreams are not aligning, when you want to be seen in a different light and probably a different sound.
“See, the way I reasoned 10 years ago is not the way I reason today,” she says, adding that as time goes on, people start wanting different things, which makes separations a must.
“You could get to a point where you want the spotlight for yourself without having to share it with other people,” she says.
Groups, according to Cleopatra Koheirwe, have many reasons for calling it quits and personal growth and the need to explore different things is a major factor.
Koheirwe was a member of dance and later girl group The Obsessions before she broke off to explore both media and film.
“By the time I left The Obsessions, I had been one of the longest serving members. I had seen the first change, I had been there for six years and I had grown to a level where I was not adding anything to the group and the group was adding nothing to me as well,” she says.
At the time, Koheirwe was working on radio, teaching dance on TV, writing for African Woman and was graduating from university.
“By the time I left I had struggled with leaving and coming back, but the decision to leave was not an easy one but it was not all bad - it was for personal growth,” she says.
Sauti Sol started out as an acapella group of three friends; Bien, Savara and Chimano. Fancy Fingers joined them after meeting Bien at an audition at Alliance Francaise.
Clearly at the time the group formed, they were young and did not have as many responsibilities as they do today.
“Probably at the time they met, they did not have girlfriends; today some of them are married, you may find some of them do not want to perform anymore and they want to take a different direction and that should not be seen as a bad thing,” Koheirwe says.
In fact marriage has been cited as a major factor that has led to famous bands collapsing after holding on for so long. For example, blood brothers, Peter and Paul Okore of the P Square fame, had been performing together for years only to break up, with Peter accusing the other siblings of disrespecting his wife.
In the same vein, the breakup of The Beatles was largely blamed on John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. Just like Peter, Lennon did not like the way the rest of the band treated his wife, at least according to one of his interviews.
Mulindwa says some marital problems bands face are not always from exterior forces.
“Take an example of ABBA, who started relationships within the group and later cheated on each other within the group.”
Mulindwa says groups are synergy, its chemistry, they usually hangout together and create together. When people get families the synergy dies because they divide their attention and start looking at the world differently.
Should we mourn a split?
Lukoma says some splits are natural while others are out of a dissatisfaction but either way, at one point, it has to come to an end. Lukoma was in two bands, The Obsessions and later HB Toxic alongside fellow former Obsessions member Brenda Nambi, but the duo was short-lived as they later embarked on solo careers before Lukoma came out stronger as an actor.
Koheirwe says such things happen when people grow. She says announcing as a group is a fact that this is not final, they are only taking a break.
She references Kenyan YouTubers, Over 25, who recently announced they were taking a break after more than six years.
“Being in a group is like being twins, you have to be in sync and the moment responsibilities come up, they end up affecting the consistency since each person becomes an independent individual in their own right,” she says, adding that change and growth move hand in hand and should not be viewed as a bad thing.
Mulindwa says it is better to start groups when people are still young because groups do not stay together for long. As they grow older, the chances of breaking up are always more.
Lukoma says even groups have a time limit, especially as people grow up, “It is bound to happen.”
End of the road
After 18 years, Kenyan band Sauti Sol on Saturday announced that they will not be working together anymore.
“Sauti Sol has been an incredible journey for us, both as musicians and friends. We are filled with gratitude for the love and support we have received throughout the years. While we take this hiatus to pursue our individual and collective passions, we remain committed to our friendship and our shared businesses. The bond between us is unbreakable, and we are excited for what the future holds.”