What you need to know:
- There is perhaps as much politics in Uganda’s music industry as is in Parliament.
On the eve of June 9, Ugandans passionate about local music followed closely on both social and main stream media on who between artistes Alien Skin, real name Patrick Mulwana, and Pallaso, real name Pius Mayanja, would pull off a more successful music concert.
The musical duel between Pallaso and Alien Skin was to happen in two different venues; Lugogo Cricket Oval and Freedom City Namasuba respectively.
In the build up to Pallaso’s concert, there was a scuffle between the two musicians. A video had emerged of Pallaso slapping Alien Skin. And to get back at Pallaso, Alien Skin teamed up with music promoter Abitex to organise a concert – in only five days – on the same day as Pallaso’s.
This set the stage for probably the most thrilling duets in post-Covid-19 Uganda.
The tensions between the artistes, however, was influenced by undercurrents; characterised by divides between political affiliations, inequality, education, poverty, and social status, among others. The most common of the divisions was political connections.
Majority of Alien Skin’s supporters seemed to identify with the ‘ghetto youth’, majority of whom support National Unity Platform leader Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, who rose from the ghettos to run for the highest office in the land in 2021.
Pallaso’s concert, on the other hand, was organised by promoter Balaam Barugahara Ateenyi, a ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) diehard and strong supporter of First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba (MK) Movement.
NRM has in the past used musicians to mobilise masses during campaigns, appointing some of them as presidential advisors. The Opposition that wishes to oust the NRM – that has been in power for close to 40 years – has also capitalised on artistes to advance its struggle, in the process catapulting some of them to leadership positions.
At Cricket Oval, some fans could be seen waving yellow shirts at Mickie Wine, a brother of Bobi Wine, a clear indication that it was an NRM fan base. At Freedom City, Big Eye received a rude reception with a section of fans throwing mineral water bottles at him because of his perceived political affiliations.
In another incident, music promoter Balaam handed an award to Pallaso from President Museveni’s brother Gen Salim Saleh for being an ‘exemplary hustler’.
At Freedom City, Alien Skin performed his song “Can Did It”, a song praising Bobi Wine as a resilient figure that emerged from the ghetto to become a prominent musician and key political figure in the country. The song was well received by the jubilant revellers.
While both Pallaso and Alien Skin claim to be nonpartisan and say they are simple entertainers who focus on music and welcome everyone, regardless of political affiliations, they can’t run away from the reality that performing arts in Uganda took sides between ruling NRM and Opposition.
There is perhaps as much politics in Uganda’s music industry as is in the corridors of Parliament, with musicians becoming pawns in a grand political chessboard.
Robert Kigongo is a scholar of leadership and governance.