Golden Jubilee Uganda
Afrigo: Uganda’s greatest band
Publish Date: Jun 22, 2012
Afrigo: Uganda’s greatest band
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To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities that have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE brings you the story of one of Uganda’s greatest performance bands, Afrigo Band, the challenges they have braved to get to the top and the personality behind the creation of the outfit

In November 1975, a group of talented young musicians broke away from one of the leading bands of the time, the Crane Band, to form a band of their own.

It was a leap of faith into the unknown by inexperienced and adventurous youth, who had a lot to learn about the real world. Despite having a big dream and the courage to pursue it, not even the boys who formed the band knew how far it would go on the path of greatness.

Yet today, 37 years later, the band is unrivalled for the honours of Uganda’s most enduring, most critically-acclaimed, most infl uential and most productive band in the history of the country’s music industry. Generally, Uganda’s greatest band ever.

Singer, producer and songwriter Sylver Kyagulanyi, music critic Joseph Batte, singer Bobi Wine and veteran dramatist Alex Mukulu, among others, all reckon that Afrigo Band is Uganda’s greatest band.

Distinct and professional band
In reviewing Afrigo Band’s role in Uganda’s music industry, the foremost credit goes to the work on shaping the local music industry’s identity and professionalisation.

Joseph Batte says other than Ugandan music a sound identity of its own, Afrigo have been the most infl uential and consistent band around. Those days music genres in Uganda were copies of those from Congo and South Africa and the West.

Batte agrees that the sound was inspired by Congolese music, which dominated the continent then, but adds that Afrigo did not ‘ape’ Congolese music much as they had its infl uence.

Kyagulanyi explians that in forming a music identity, Afrigo became one of the outfi ts who gave the entire Ugandan music industry an identity, thereby, becoming cultural ambassadors of the industry.

Kyagulanyi further says on professionalising the music industry, Afrigo Band has been one of the most outstanding contributors. He says their ability to stay together as a band over a long time, playing every week, while being disciplined and taking their day-time jobs seriously, was important in establishing the music profession as a vocation that disciplined people could take up and use it to impact lives.

Several landmarks
While at it, Afrigo Band has over the years introduced several innovations in the music industry.

The phenomenon of digital recording is one that was first done here by Afrigo Band in the 1980s — although they used an earlier format that was known as multi-track analog recording. At that time all Ugandan artistes who recorded using that technology did it in either Sweden or the UK, but Afrigo broke the duck to record an album using the technology in Uganda.

Hope Mukasa did the recording with some equipment he had brought from Sweden and only took the recordings with him to Sweden for fi nal touches. In 1994, when Afrigo released the Omutanda Gyali album (the one with the hit Jim), they did it on CD, making them the first outfi t to have their music on CD in Uganda.

A string of timeless hits
Over the years, Afrigo Band has churned out hit after hit and continue to dominate the airwaves and dance fl oors to this day. In its 37 years of existence, the band has released 21 albums.

Kyagulanyi points out that there is a need to realise that the music listened to impacts the lives of people, shapes their opinions, records their history, informs them on what is going on, voices their grievances and records their existence.

Indeed listening to Afrigo’s various strings over the years, the issues of the different times it has played in are well-recorded. There are songs about HIV from the 1980s, songs about the pressures of marriage in the 1990s, songs about the political instability of the 1970s and 1980s, among others. Songs like Jim, Obangaina, Maria, Amazzi Genyama and Speed Control all have attributes of these stories.

Cluster of great musicians
Behind the timeless hits are, of course, great musicians that Afrigo Band has supplied to Uganda’s music industry over the years.

From band leader Moses Matovu to Percussions Discussion Africa director Herman Ssewanyana to Joanita Kawalya and Rachel Magoola, many Afrigo musicians have left their footprints in Uganda’s music annals.

While many of the band’s legends like Deo Mukungu, Charles Ssekyanzi, Tony Ssengo, Rashid Musoke and Godfrey Mwambala have since died, Afrigo has continued to excel, thanks to the band’s ability to attract talent. Afrigo has been lauded for continuing to churn out talented musicians by always taking on young blood for continuity. The current younger members, include people like Peter Bazanye (Rude Boy Devoh) and Joe Tabula.

Afrigo Band has also worked harmoniously with other musicians who have not been part of it, like Philly Bongole Lutaaya for whom Afrigo played instruments when he came to perform in Uganda on his Born in Africa tour in 1987.

Moses Matovu
Afrigo’s contribution to the Ugandan music industry cannot be discussed without mentioning the band leader, Moses Matovu. Although he prefers to remain obscure among the ranks of his band members. Matovu wants everything considered in light of the band and not individuals. 

It is also said Afrigo wouldn’t have come this far without him. It is also said Matovu has not only instilled discipline in the band, but also steered it in the right direction, patiently nurturing band members and schooling them in music.

Matovu was born on June19, 1949, in Kawempe to Abdallah Bukenya and Solome Nakitto. He went to Namirembe and Kibuli primary schools, Kibuli Junior Secondary School and Pillai’s Secondary School. However, Matovu’s education was cut short in 1966 when traditional institutions were abolished. He he was on a scholarship from Buganda Kingdom.

With no opportunity to continue in school, Matovu concentrated on football and also joined the music industry in 1967 as a vocalist with the Thunderbirds Band.

In 1972, he quit football having played for Lint FC, Nakivubo Boys (SC Villa), Fiat FC, Express FC and Police FC to concentrate on music. He joined the Cranes Band and then quit to start Afrigo in 1975. He is married and has 11 children and remains active with Afrigo Band both as an instrumentalist and a musician.

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