Politics of Uganda as seen through music since the 50s

Former Ugandan president Idi Amin seemed to have encouraged the composition of praise songs. FILE PHOTOS

What you need to know:

  • Songs. Idi Amin seemed to have encouraged the composition of praise songs. His love for music saw him create a military band in every major military barracks across the country. These included the Simba Airborne Jazz Band in Mbarara, Suicide Revolutionary Jazz Band in Masaka, Bombo Barracks Band and Tiger Army Band in Mubende.

There has been a mixed response to the government’s proposed regulation of the entertainment industry. To the critics of the government, the move is aimed at gagging artistes who are critical of the government. But love-hate relationship between music and politics in Uganda is not new.
Music has been used as a tool for political messages. Political songs have been used to promote or denounce individual politicians or political parties.

During the 1958 election boycott campaign by Kabaka Yekka (KY) in Buganda, Fred Kanyike sang Kabaka Yekka which was praising the virtues of the KY. It was the same person who in 1962, just before the elections, released DP Egumire which was the party’s campaign song for those elections.
Andrew and Margaret Kyambadde came up with songs such as Uganda is Independent in 1962, praising the independence leaders. The song called on Ugandans to get to work for their independent country.

As politics of intrigue started taking a hold, musicians took note and they played along. At the time, in the mid-1960s, it was songs of praise. They centred on the person of the president. Among the first artistes to come up with such songs was Simon Kaate Nsubuga who sang Doctor Wangala (long live doctor) in praise of former prime minister Milton Obote. The song was, however, released after the 1966 crisis when he was executive president.
Non-Ugandans also wanted to have a share of the praise of Obote. Juma Odundo, a Kenyan with the King Jazz Band, found home in Uganda and sang praise of Obote. Among his records were Obote na UPC and Milton Obote.

At the time the government had taken interest in the artistes’ works which was produced at the government record label then called UG for (Uganda government).
However, this was short lived as everything changed following the 1971 coup that overthrew Obote. New political songs castigating the ousted Obote regime hit the airwaves, though the government record label changed from UG to UA.

Soon after the fall of Obote, Minsuseri Segamwenge released Bamugamba in which he talks of Obote’s refusal to listen to the people’s voice.
“Bamugamba nga anyoma omusajja yeyisa nga bwalaba. Abayindi bamukyawa, nabasoga ne bamukyawa olwa kyabazinga wabwe, n’aba kinyatta bamukyawa naye nga tabifako Amin wama webale” (They told him and he despised them acting as he wished. Indians hated him, Basoga hate him because of their king, even Kenyans hate him but he doesn’t listen. Thank you Amin)

Peterson Mutebi and the Tames Band in 1974 released Alukeseza thanking the army and Amin for rescuing Ugandans from Obote.
“Amin Dada ne army Katonda abakume Mwatuwoyenza omusajja Obote.” (God bless Amin Dada and the army for they have rescued us from Obote)
In Amada Genjole, Fred Kabuye, Paul Kasoozi and Israel Magembe accuse Obote of being a weakling who attacked the Kabaka, forcing him into exile. They go ahead to curse him so that he meets his death on foreign land like their beloved Kabaka.

Amin seemed to have encouraged the composition of praise songs. His love for music saw him create a military band in every major military barracks across the country. These included the Simba Airborne Jazz Band in Mbarara, Suicide Revolutionary Jazz Band in Masaka, Bombo Barracks Band, Tiger Army Band in Mubende, EKO Jazz Band in Moroto, Masindi Army Jazz Band in Masindi, Malire Army Jazzy Band in Lubiri, Headquarter Army Jazz Band in Bugolobi, Military Police Band In Makindye, Uganda Air Force Jazz Band in Entebbe and the Eagle Jazz Band in Jinja.

These were independent of the police and prisons bands. All these were composing music in praise of Amin. He also ordered them to go out and perform for the local populace in their areas every week free of charge.
The Uganda Air Force Jazz Band was the most prolific of them all. It made the country’s official souvenir entry to the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, (FESTAC) in Lagos Nigeria in 1977. The album ‘Uganda Souvenir Album’ with 20 songs was the only LP the band produced. Others were single records.

Foreign songs
As local artistes were singing praise of Amin, on the international scene a number of songs were being released to denounce him and his rule. In Trinidad and Tobago, Slinger Francisco, known by the stage name Mighty Sparrow, released two songs; Idi Amin in 1978 and Wanted Dead or Alive in 1979.
In Idi Amin, he says the then president was a tyrant in Africa who brought red terror all over Uganda.

“If you disagree with Amin your life is in danger, Since he seized power he is known as the Black Hitler. Every week he is on honey money with a new bride.”
In the 1979 release Wanted Dead or Alive after Amin was toppled Mighty Sparrow says Idi Amin is a wanted man.
“The Uganda devil was easily cat straddle. Beaten up and chased, what a waste.”
In 1978, American country music singer Blaze Foley released Spring Time in Uganda in which he talks of the ills of the former Ugandan president:

“Kampala Uganda on Saturday night
Idi Amin just stepped out for a bite
The waitress she asks him, ‘Can I help you please?’
Platter of elbows, a bowl full of knees
He has got medals all over his chest
He didn’t win them he stole them I guess
Ears in his pockets and eyes in his stew
Don’t try to stop him ‘cause he might eat you (chomp chomp chomp chomp).”
In 1977, a UK-based Jamaican group called Capital Letters released Idi Amin in which they denounce him for the killings and his hunger for power.

“This man, he rules in Uganda and he’s causing a right propaganda
He wants to rule all of Africa, he wants to be king if kings
And lords of lords, but he will never be lord of lords
This man they call president Amin President Amin.”
In 1978, American-based punk group Black Randy and the Metrosqaud released Idi Amin. Unlike other Western songs, this was in praise of Amin. They thanked him for feeding missionaries to crocodiles, and he offers to join the army if allowed.

“Idi I know, the jungle was all smiles when you fed the missionaries to the happy crocodiles Politicians and Jews all think you’re smarmy
But just give me one chance and I’ll join your army
Though I can’t afford to fly to Entebbe.”
A Finnish group called Sleepy Sleepers also released Idi Amin in which they called him the best.

“In the beginning promised us nice junky and honey until the beginning of the slaughter of friends
We all know him we all considered him okay,
Okay Idi Amin, okay, Idi is best.”
Then Jamaican-based Militant Barry in 1978 released Idi Amin Disco which was also in praise of Amin, thanking him for having freed the Black people from the bondage of the Whites.

After the 1979 war J. Sichangi Mambilianga released Saba-saba, named after the powerful gun Tanzanians used to chase Amin. The song talked of the weaknesses and incompetency of the Ugandan Army. Unfortunately for him, this won him more enemies than friends, forcing him to flee the country.

Some of the local artistes that sang praises ended up paying with their life. Bonny Kyambadde of the Air Force Band is said to have met his creator in 1979 while fleeing the country. Others were Simon Kaate Nsubuga, Fred Kanyike and others.
Those who survived had to go underground and give their music career a break.
A Dutch national with keen interest in old Ugandan music who preferred not to be named says, “Praise songs of the past may not necessarily mean the musician was in support of the government. They may have been driven by the desire to endear themselves to the regime for survival.”

“The more the regime becomes cruel the more the praise songs. That explains why the Amin regime so far has the highest number.”
Former presidents Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa never had that privilege of having praise songs when they were at the helm. However, after his return in 1980, new praise songs for Obote were sung by groups. Ochestre Wana Musiki in 1981 released Welcome Back Home Dr Obote, Obote Tuli Mabegawo and Lunaku lwasanyu. (Obote we are behind you and Day of celebration).
Schools also composed songs in praise of the president and his generals.

The NRM ear
Despite being the longest serving president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has the least praise songs. In the early days of his reign a song extolling him as a proper son of Africa was released. It enjoyed airplay on the then only broadcaster, Radio Uganda.
Besides that one song there have been a number done, though not attacking the person of the President, but criticising the conditions of living from social, economic, political among others.

With the planned regulations of the entertainment industry, a lot is likely to change in that the lyrics of the songs may be censored. This will make the already shallow creativity even worse.