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Rachel and Tony Ssenkebejje say I do after 50 years together

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Rachel and Tony Senkebejje

The lively atmosphere in Rachel and Tony Senkebejje’s home during my interview with them reveals a bond that goes beyond just being spouses. Theirs is a warm friendship with undeniable energy, which becomes evident as they laugh and reminisce about the early moments in their music career.

Their living room is decorated with multiple photo frames, showcasing the couple’s and their children’s happy memories.

When Rachel welcomes me into her living room and asks me to get comfortable, I notice a set of drums, a piano, and two guitars carefully arranged on one of the couches. Rachel and Tony use these instruments to occasionally practice their music, as Tony later tells me during our conversation. It was no surprise to learn that Rachel and Tony met in the music industry.

“In 1974, I was playing music as a guitarist with The Cranes Band at Silver Springs Hotel when Rachel approached me and said, ‘You sing nicely.’ I was proud of that. When I was served dinner, I offered it to her and she accepted. After the performance, we introduced ourselves to each other and started meeting often over coffee,” Tony narrates.

Rachel grew up in a family that loved singing, and she was a part of a church choir. When she first met Tony, she was not looking for a spouse at the time. However, the two music enthusiasts were soon attracted to each other and eventually settled down together.

“At home, we loved singing and would imitate singers while listening to Radio Uganda. I was amazed to meet Tony; we became friends, but I did not know that our casual relationship would develop into something more serious,” Rachel says.

Long distance

Tony and Rachel started living together a few months after meeting. However, at the end of 1974, Tony received an offer to join a band in Kenya and he relocated. 

“Rachel’s parents had heard about me, but they had not seen me. So, I visited their home to inform them that I would be travelling to Kenya to find better opportunities for myself. I assured them, however, that I would come back for Rachel after ensuring that everything was okay,” he says.

Even though it was still difficult to make ends meet, in February 1975, Tony returned for Rachel after he started working with Le Noir Band and later the Black Band. And although Tony had not pursued music as a profession, many people in Kenya spotted his exceptional talent as a singer and guitarist.

After two years, when he was approached by the Vikings Band, he was amazed by the benefits that came with the offer, including a fully furnished residential house.

Rachel, who had watched Tony perform many times, soon started mastering the art of singing. Moreover, for every song Tony performed, he would share the stage with her, and soon, she was offered a job as a singer in another band.

After working with the Vikings Band for five years, the talented Tony became their music leader for two years. He then returned to Uganda and joined Afrigo in 1991. Subsequently, in 1992, Rachel also joined Afrigo Band and found great success with her vocals. During their two-year stint with Afrigo Band, the group secured a contract to perform in Sweden, significantly boosting their popularity in the music industry.

Working together

Tony and Rachel founded Simba Sounds Band in 1996, to pursue their passion for performing jazz, Japanese, Indian, Italian, and other international songs. Despite being married and working together, Rachel insists their relationship remains unaffected. The couple stays busy, given their demanding field, always having new songs to learn and work on.

Rachel shares that their busy schedules keep them from getting bored with each other, and she is thankful for that. The couple reflects on how they have responded to the challenges that come with working in the same industry.

“Sometimes, team members leave and you are left alone, and these can be tough times, especially when you have arranged something together and someone does not turn up. But we have been lucky to always be there for each other, and, importantly, God has kept us healthy,” Rachel says.

“Rachel is an attractive woman. Whenever she was on the platform with the microphone dancing, people came and hugged her in my presence, which hurt me in the beginning. However, as we went on, I understood that our work involved facing such challenges, and I worry no more,” Tony adds.

Challenges

The couple fondly recalls significant moments in their careers. For instance, Tony led Simba Six, a Kenyan band, to perform in Germany in 1989 and later secured a contract with Sheraton Hotel in Djibouti as Simba Sounds. However, they acknowledge the sacrifices made along the way. They often left their children behind, resulting in missed opportunities for bonding and shared experiences with their beloved family.

“Relatives stayed with our children in Uganda while we stayed in Kenya and travelled for work. We would send money to help with household expenses, pay for electricity, water bills, and school fees,” Rachel says, adding that separation between children and parents is not advisable. In 2004, their band, Simba Sounds won a contract with the Serena Hotel where they still perform to date. They attribute the precious opportunity to not only their hard work but also God.

Today

Rachel and Tony, who have been performing for more than four decades, say they invite their band members to their home once a week to practice songs. They believe that the art of music becomes more enjoyable and better with experience. They work together on everything that concerns them, which has made it easier for them to navigate marriage and careers.

“Every first three Sundays of the month, we perform at Serena Hotel. We plan the show with our musicians at home and run everything hand in hand,” Rachel says.

Rachel, a lively 65-year-old woman shares her secret to staying fit: “I have been on this fitness journey since I was 19,” she says. “I get my workout inspiration from YouTube channels, and do everything in the comfort of my home,” she adds, taking a sip from her ever-present water bottle, which is a testament to her commitment to staying hydrated.

Support system

Tony fondly reflects on the day destiny brought him and Rachel together, acknowledging her as his unwavering guide ever since they met.

“At nearly 80, she remains my guiding force, especially when it comes to music. She has now surpassed me,” he admires Rachel’s ever-evolving talents and unwavering support. He adds that even when he feels quite tired due to old age, he insists he is not yet tired, but rather, he is advancing and moving forward with his work.

“If you keep saying you are getting old, you will get sick since that is what you are feeding your mind. I rarely miss work, which is a plus since you do not find many musicians my age who are still very energetic,” Tony says.

Rachel says she is now more into gospel music, citing the song “Mulabyeko,” which means “I have seen Jesus do mighty things,” that she composed with women from her church.

“It is the right thing to do at the moment, to sing about God because He does wonders as He has done many in our marriage, not forgetting our recent wedding. We were worried about finances, but we trusted God and He made it possible,” she says.

The couple has four children and four grandchildren. Two of their children live in Sweden and South Africa, respectively while one is a member of the Simba Sounds Band.

Wedding

Even though Tony and Rachel often reminisce about their wedding, which took place on May 31 at Namirembe Cathedral, they say they repeatedly postponed wedding plans until five years ago when they became more involved in church activities.

“We thought about it several times, but it would always pass because our relationship was stable, and we would often see most marriages end in divorce. Since it also required funds, we decided to allocate the money to other things such as building a residential house and purchasing musical instruments,” Rachel explains.

Rachel and Tony were encouraged by their church leaders to get married in church so that they would participate in church activities and set a good example for their young admirers.

“We prayed about it with our fellow church members, but it seemed unlikely to me. When church leaders visited us at home, they emphasised the need to get married. I felt that this must be something God is telling us to do because we had been postponing it for a long time,” Rachel shares.

Rachel describes the experience of walking down the aisle as breathtaking, with the choir singing peacefully while her brother held her hand.

“It felt like heaven with friends and family present to witness our wedding. I was emotional and my eyes were teary, but I had to keep the tears away, remembering that I had to keep my makeup intact,” Rachel shares with a smile.

They later hosted about 300 guests at Peniel Beach Hotel. Tony and Rachel were overjoyed by the attendance of different people, including church members, family, and friends such as Halima Namakula and her daughter Rachel K, and the Simba Sounds group.

On the other hand, Tony, who spends his time playing the guitar at home, says despite the wedding being nice, he was mysteriously nervous.

“I suddenly became very nervous. It was my best man who held me strong. I was also very tired from doing my hair and makeup, as well as standing at the altar, but afterward, I was truly happy,” he says.

Tony’s highlight was when he sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, a song that he said made everybody happy. They also enjoyed opening their wedding with their song “Gwe Wange.”

Advise

Rachel acknowledges that, despite being a couple, she and her partner are different. Therefore, they are still learning to accept each other’s imperfections.

‘‘You cannot find a perfect person. Whatever flaws you find in your partner, you should learn to accept them because no one can be perfect. If there is a solution to the flaws, find it. But if there is none, you just have to recognise that you also have flaws that your partner accepts. So, it is important to support one another and give each other space when necessary,’’ Rachel explains.

She also suggests that couples should reduce time spent with friends and instead dedicate that time to individual self-improvement to enrich their marriages.

Tony believes getting married in church is important in bringing spouses closer to each other, regardless of how peaceful and stable their relationship may be.

‘‘We hope to grow even closer now that nothing can separate us. Therefore, people should not neglect a church marriage, no matter how long it takes,’’ he says.

What friends, relatives, say about the couple

Nalongo Sarah Lubwama, Racheal’s sister-in-law

I have known Rachel and Tony for many years. They are deeply rooted in their Christian faith and are honest and genuine. One thing I have learnt from them is the importance of tolerance, especially emphasised by the clergy during their wedding ceremony. Despite being together for 50 years before tying the knot, their love has only grown stronger with time. It is a testament to their commitment and the power of love, regardless of age.

Moses Matovu, a longtime friend.

Tony and Rachel’s love story dates back to the 1970s as members of Cranes Band. After a few years, the couple moved to Mombasa, Kenya, where they continued to pursue their musical passion and found success along the way. Their enduring love story serves as an inspiration for lovers everywhere. As they recently celebrated their wedding, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to them. May their union continue to be blessed with love and happiness, setting a shining example for others.

Glenn Ssewanyana, son.

My parents are like earthly gods to me. Although I did not grow up with them, their love remained unwavering. What is amazing is not only their love but also their successful collaboration as musicians. It is not always easy for couples in the music industry to stay together, but they have defied the odds. Their eventual wedding only solidified what everyone already knew. Their journey has taught us that it is possible to take your time and wed when fully prepared.

Earnest Ssenkebejje, Tony’s nephew.

I call them Mum and Dad. They have played pivotal roles in my life, particularly during my A-Level when they paid my school fees. Leading up to their wedding, they valued my input, seeking my ideas and discussing preparations. Having known them for 26 years, I can attest to their boundless love for each other. Despite five decades of marriage, I have never witnessed any conflicts between them. They are a good example for me as I navigate my marital journey. I aspire to emulate their ways.

Faith Nambooze, Rachel’s niece.

For the past 25 years, I have witnessed the bond between Tony and Rachel. They are not just spouses but also friends; a dynamic I believe is crucial in every relationship. What truly stands out is their ability to tackle any challenges together, working in unison to navigate the nuances of marriage. Their wedding was a testament to the profound impact they have had on so many lives.

Gracious Waibale, Colleague.

What strikes me about them is their remarkable patience and mutual understanding. They have an amazing ability to collaborate in every aspect of their lives. From what I have observed, their key to success lies in their teamwork; they tackle challenges together and celebrate victories together. Their relationship is built on openness and transparency; they do not make decisions without each other’s input or knowledge.

Julie Ssesanga, Artiste, Teacher.
 
Racheal and Tony Ssenkebejje are a living testimony of a romantic and professional partnership which has stood the test of time.