Hanyiga: The brain behind Bamasaaba cultural anthem 

Mrs Hanyiga  Catherine Eleanor with her husband Mr Fred Hanyiga at their home in Bukisukye lower cell Mbale Industrial City Division in Mbale City after intervie.  PHOTO/YAHUD KITUNZI

What you need to know:

  • The musician, who is also a retired secondary school head teacher, is popularly known as Maayi Hanyiga, and was born in Sironko district.
  • Fred Hanyiga says his family has had to sacrifice a lot to enable his wife follow her career path.

We met her last Friday morning. Dressed in a red kitengi dress, with a pink scarf wrapped around her head, Catherine Eleanor Hanyiga calmly plays the black Yamaha digital keyboard on her verandah. A smile plays on her lips as her fingers move deftly over the white and black keys. 
The 73-year-old plays gospel music she has composed over the years. Her husband and son watch from the sidelines of their compound in Bukisukye Lower Cell, in Mbale Industrial Division, Mbale City. 

The musician, who is also a retired secondary school head teacher, is popularly known as Maayi Hanyiga, and was born in Sironko district. She composed her first song when she was 36, and since then, she has composed and translated over 400 hymns for St Andrew’s Cathedral Church. However, in Mbale City, Hanyiga is more known for composing the anthem of Inzu Ya Masaba, the Bugisu Cultural Institution. 

“When I composed the anthem, I did not know it would turn out to be a very good song. I read a lot. Actually I can read the entire bible in four months, and it is from the scriptural text that I get the lyrics for my music,” she says as she sits down in a chair, laughing.
The opening lines of the anthem are “Khusiima Weele lwe  Shishalo Masaba. Shillimo Umukuka weeffe Uweshirifa. Shillimo imwanyi ni Lukingi Masaba. Shillimo bibindu biyangisa babantu. (Loosely translated as: Let’s thank God for the land of Masaba. The village has His Highness the Umukuka. The village has coffee and Mt Masaba (Elgon) and other wonders that can mesmerise people). 

“Every anthem is a prayer for the nation it represents. Even our national anthem is a prayer. In this song I composed, we are thanking God for the nature around us – the trees, Mt Elgon, our main cash crop – coffee, and the three main clans which form Inzu Ya Masaba. Finally we petition God to give our leaders wisdom to guide us and to make imbalu (circumcision) a useful tool that unite us,” she says. 
The anthem is a complete departure from the oral traditions of the Bagisu, which claim that the tribe’s ancestors, Mundu and Sera, climbed out of a mythical hole found at the top of Mt Elgon.

“In 2010, Inzu ya Masaba put out an advert and when we applied, we were given a motto to use. My son, Isaac Hanyiga, recorded the song in his studio in Mbale City. The anthem was used for the during the coronation ceremonies of Umukhuka Wilson Wamimbi Weasa (August 2010) and Umukhuka Bob Mushikori (2015). However, I was advised that the anthem was a heavy song.”
Although Hanyiga composed the anthem, Prof Timothy Wangusa and Canon Codvia Wakiro helped with stanzas. Prof Wangusa is a former lecturer at Makerere University and Uganda Christian University. 

He is also a poet and novelist. In 2015, Hanyiga composed a softer tune, although she retained the lyrics from the old anthem. It took her two days to compose and arrange the music.
Prof Wangusa says the three of them created the words and Hanyiga put the lyrics to music. 
“I feel a humble sense of satisfaction when I hear the anthem - something of significance; though not world-shaking. I feel good about that. I encourage Bamasaaba to have the Lumasaaba language in print and electronic form in their homes. Just try to learn the language, and be in touch with the anthem, learn and memorise it,” he says.

Stephen Masiga, the spokesperson of Inzu Ya Masaba, says an anthem portrays the people who it belongs to as united to the world.
“Without an anthem you are nothing. As a cultural institution we would like to acknowledge all the efforts of the composers in putting together such a beautiful anthem. 
Bunyoro Kingdom’s anthem was composed in 1950, while Reverend Polycarp Kakooza composed Buganda Kingdom’s anthem in 1939. Our region does not have music composers so we dearly appreciate Mrs. Hanyiga for encouraging the Bamasaaba to worship God in this song and for promoting development,” he says. 
The Bugisu anthem is for all Bamasaaba in Uganda, and the Bukusu and Luhya of Kenya. However, Hanyiga says she has not earned significant amounts of money from her singing. 
“I was given only Shs500,000 for recording the Bugisu anthem. I have not been recognised or appreciated. I wish Inzu Ya Masaba and the government could find something (monetary) to appreciate me with, given that currently, my husband and I are sickly. We are now ageing. I don’t want to be like the late George Wilberforce Kakoma who was promised Shs50m but died without receiving the money,” she says. 

Kakoma, a Ugandan musician, wrote and composed The Pearl of Africa, Uganda’s national anthem. 
The song was first played publicly on October 9, 1962 during the first Independence Day celebration, when Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote received the instruments of power from the last governor of Uganda Protectorate. 

Other music ventures
Besides composing songs, Hanyiga translates lyrics from English to Lumasaba or from Luganda to Lumasaba and rearranges the music. 
“When the Lumasaba Bible was completed, Bishop Patrick Gidudu asked us to write a Lumasaba Enjatula (Anglican Hymnal) with prayers and hymns. One team worked on the prayers, while my team translated 400 hymns. The Lumasaba hymnbook has 371 hymns and 29 choruses. These are the hymns that are being used in the churches all over Bugisu. We need a revival in the church and this can be achieved through bringing the gospel to believers through music, in churches, crusades and meetings,” she says. 
Hanyiga says she has trained a number of musicians who have recorded the songs she composed. 

“Some of my products are Joel Kisibo who plays the Organ and has a Lumasaaba Hymns Choir; Charles Kutosi who started the Jolly Singers Choir in the Cathedral and has two choirs in Kampala; Silver Omakenyi, Kizito Otuluke, and Manasse Engole in the Teso sub-region have choirs each. Our role is to continue multiplying musicians by teaching them how to compose music and play the keyboard and other instruments. It is OK to sing songs composed a long time ago, but we need to produce music of our time,” she says.  
However, unlike other gospel artists, Hanyiga does not hold concerts to launch her music. After she composes and arranges the music, she takes it to the church and teaches the how to sing the song. 
“As long as God hears the song and the Christians in the church are edified, that is enough for me,” she says.

Early beginnings
Hanyiga says her late father, Canon Sezi Wagama Songo, who was an education officer in Mbale, Jinja and Bukedi districts at the time, mentored her. 
“He was a choir leader, trainer and composer. Whenever he played the Organ in church, I would admire him so much. Whatever he used to do is what I am doing today, and that is why most of my music falls under the gospel genre,” she says.

Hanyiga, who was a choir mistress at St Andrews Cathedral Church for 30 years from 1984 to 2014, says the joy that descends over her when her songs are sung is indescribable.
The composer has taught language, literature and music in several schools, including Wanyange Girls Secondary School, Manjasi High School, Iki-Iki Secondary School, Mbale Secondary School, Nabumali High School, Bungokho Secondary School and Busiu Secondary School, where she went on to compose the school anthems, some of which are still in use today. 

Family life
Fred Hanyiga says his family has had to sacrifice a lot to enable his wife follow her career path.
“She has not been selfish. There are moments that we have had to go without eating food on time because she composes most of her pieces in the church. However, we are proud of her work,” he says.

Hanyiga is married to Fred Hanyiga, who is also a retired head teacher. She joined Bubulo Girls in 1962, and went on to study at Nyakasura School in Kabarole district in 1965. She joined National Teachers Colleges, Kyambogo to pursue a Diploma in Education in 1969. After graduating in 1972, her first teaching post was Wanyange Girls Secondary School in Jinja district. 
In 1973, she got married at St Andrews Cathedral Churd in Mbale City. The marriage is blessed with eight children and  13 grandchildren so far.