How Jamaican artistes came to rule Kampala’s entertainment

Music promoter. Shaka Mayanja during the interview in Kampala. Photo by HENRY lubega

What you need to know:

  • Pioneer. From the late 1980s through the 1990s, Ugandans were treated to a constant flow of reggae music from as far as Jamaica. Save for the South African icon Lucky Dube, majority of the artistes on the entertainment scene in Kampala were Jamaicans, thanks to Yohanes Ham Inx and VR Productions Limited. Winston Mayanja, also known as Shaka, was central in both firms to bring the musicians to Kampala.
  • Nile Hotel Gardens, (Serena), Nakivubo stadium, Gaba KK beach and Resort in Entebbe hosted the shows then. Shaka talks to Henry Lubega about the adventure.

“I first did my own reggae show in 1991 at Little Flowers while still in school. A year later, I met Charles Lubega who owned Soul Disco and we talked about having more shows of the kind. We left it at that.
However, in 1995 when Lucky Dube first visited Uganda, my friend, the late Tajudeen, a great Pan Africanist, wanted him to plant a tree at the Pan Africa Square. That’s how I came to meet Andrew Rugasira, who had brought him to Uganda.
As a member of the Rastafarian movement in Uganda, they wanted me to organise for the tree planting event.
The meeting in Muyenga to prepare for Lucky Dube’s tree planting ended up influencing the entertainment scene in the country for the next almost two decades.
Andrew tapped into my connections with the reggae artistes not only in London, but also in Jamaica.
I was just 24 years when I went into promoting these people in Uganda. At that age, I didn’t have money and never owned a bank account. Andrew and later Charles Lubega provided the funding. I used my connections to bring them [artistes] to Uganda.
After the Lucky Dube show, Andrew wanted other groups that were popular with Ugandans. UB40 was on top of the list but was very expensive. Other groups included Chaka Demus and the Pliers and Aswad.
I told Andrew that I knew Aswad and I could secure the group for him. I travelled to England and got the group to come to Uganda.
I had known them through my studio connection at Spark Side Studio near Brixton. I had recorded from the same studio a year earlier, and this was a meeting point for most of the Jamaican artistes in London.

First group
The owners of the studio were called Matumbi, that is how I got in touch with Aswad. The shows were at Nakivubo and Nile Hotel in 1995.
After Aswad, Lucky Dube was brought back the following year.
Four years after my first meeting with Lubega, we touched base again and decided to start bringing Reggae artistes.
That is when we agreed to bring in Chaka Demus and the Pliers. I had to pick them from Jamaica and this became a habit to get the artistes from their countries.
I never wanted to go through Tamukati’s experience of booking an artiste and they don’t turn up.
During these trips, I met all sorts of musicians and their managers. Majority wanted to come to Africa. That is how I brought Chaka Demus and the Pliers. They performed at two shows in Nakivubo and Nile Hotel in 1996.
After their very good show, we set the ball rolling to Third World with Papa San, one of most prominent Reggae bands of all time.
That same year, Maxi Priest came here. He performed at Sheraton, Nakivubo and Resort. Third World was only at Nile Hotel with three shows.

In 1997, I brought Buju Banton, like the rest of the artistes I brought, he is a Pan Africanist in the mindset.
However, every time I brought the artistes, it was beyond music. All the artistes went on a tour of Uganda. Chaka Demus visited the source of the Nile in Jinja. While there, he literally cried at the source. He and others took soil and water of the Nile in bottles back to Jamaica. When Buju reached Entebbe, he removed his shoes and walked barefooted, saying he was walking on sacred ground. It was his first time in Africa.
Shaba Ranks was also a Pan Africanist when he went to Bujagali. He sat on a rock for an hour by himself. The musicians said their visit to Uganda changed their lives. Some of the groups have had to split, saying their visit made them discover something different about their lives.
While here, I make sure that their stay is not about the hotels and the music. They see beyond the hotel or things they have heard or read about.
I have artistes who have come here without being paid. In 1998, when Shaggy first came, he had not been paid a single penny and it was his first time in Africa.

Flies back with Shillings
He went back with Ugandan Shillings in a Kaveera (plastic polythene bag). From the stage, he rushed to the airport but it was not possible to exchange the money.
Two years later, when he came back for another show, he had carried the money and exchanged it but it was much less.
Bringing these artistes in Uganda was much to do with Pan Africanism first and then reggae took its course. After Jamaica, I decided to turn to Afro Americans 10 years now and doing Jazz.
I am promoting Jazz but I have other selfish reasons why I am doing this. I am trying to complete that circle of offsprings of people who left Africa during slavery and have no chance of coming back here. I am bringing them back home through music.
The last time Maxi Priest was here, he did not want to leave. He stayed three extra days and he was asking if he can find land to buy and settle here. I talk regularly with people like Chaka Demus and they are telling me the same thing.”