By Joseph Batte
You have probably heard music lovers mourning the death of good music – music that would get you thinking; music that tackled real issues you and I related to; music that you did not have to listen to after sneaking away from your kids. What happened to that good old music? Or to rephrase the question, what happened to the musicians that used to produce what really fitted the term music? They cannot be dead, can they? Well, at least not all of them. Or could they be suffering some malady that shows up during the music incubation and eats up all their creativity? How the heck do you explain the current consistent flow of junk into our music industry? It really sucks, doesn’t it?
Lately, foreign visitors are making an interesting observation about Ugandan music – that it sounds the same, like it’s the work of one producer. They say it is the same empty songs, same immaturely developed topics, by the same talentless lot whose tune you can predict from miles away (childish sing-songs that have seemingly been lifted out from nursery school song books). Well, that is one of the many things wrong with our music today.
But while you ponder which songs you have heard from different camps that sound like they were cooked in the same camp, let us drift away a little bit and take a look at one of our music’s, or rather musicians’ malady – the love for vulgarity in the name of using sex-laced metaphors, which turn out distasteful as they attempt to capitalise on the clichéd notion that sex sells.
Sadly though, a large section of our audience seem to enjoy eating the tasteless little balls of bad music. Current crowd favourites like Captain Dollar’s (right, below) Emmese and Eddie Kenzo’s Sumbusa make you feel like you are listening to pure musical pornography. And there are a lot more songs like these that are sort of the latest epitome of distasteful metaphor used in music.“
If the Year 2013 is going to be labelled the year of Emmese because of that ratty song, yet 2012 ended on a filthy note with gutter hits like Sumbusa on top, then perhaps it’s time society got out the fumigation kit and killed all the rats,” says Moses Serugo, a music critic. He added that, “I am not listening to much Ugandan music lately since most of it has become cotton candy, both musically and lyrically.”
Serugo’s argument against such use of metaphors is that it is straight-up crude. “Fred Sebatta’s use of Dolly Y’omwana, or Ziggy Dee’s use of Mike Ya Ziggy Dee as metaphors do not jump out at you as having sexual innuendo. They leave you room to interpret them in different other ways and you would not mind singing along or listening to them in the presence of kids. Can you do that with Emmese?” And did you know that its singer Captain Dollar is only 17 years old? Haven’t you pitied the world, especially our children if a young boy at 17 could muster such lyrics, which are now being fed on our children?
Do not get me wrong, there is still some good music(ians) out there. “The Lillian Mbabazis, Maurice Kiryas, Michael Oumas and Qwella Bands of this world are just about some of the one-eyed among the blind. We still have some good seeds like Tamba, Irene Ntale, who are good, but are somehow still playing it safe doing covers of other people’s music. Maybe their coming out more on their own might salvage the industry,” says
Andrew Kyeswa, a music fanatic. So, from Kyeswa’s point of view, it is not all a story of loss, for there is still some promise.
The promise notwithstanding, there is an issue to solve. Why can’t today’s crop of artistes write good songs like those old folks used to do back in the day? Are there any musicians out there making good music? If so, why aren’t we hearing the music on radio? Who is responsible for this messy situation? A survey I carried out turned some factors.
lack of real music talent
A very striking feature about yesteryear’s songs is tunefulness and musicality - the orchestration, the arrangements. These songs, well-written, sung with wonderful voices, powered by fantastic rhythms and good arrangements; still reveal a lot about the past crop. Artistes then looked for more than just the bare surface thrills of a pop song. That is why compositions by Afrigo Band, Philly Lutaaya, Peterson Mutebi, Elly Wamala, Jimmy Katumba, the Ebonies, and the much maligned Kadongo Kamu artistes, to mention but a few, still stand out as the best that Uganda has ever produced.
UK-based Ugandan artiste Kuklee Ali blames it all on lack of songwriting talent, as we now have a big lack of musicianship from the writing, production and presentation. “Everyone wants to be a musician yet some people can’t even hold a note, read music or write it, let alone play an instrument or sing in key. They talk into a microphone and let the computer do the rest.
Romeo Akiiki of the Kads Band thinks the media and the caliphs that rule the industry have not gone out to look for this talent: “There are many talented songwriters and singers who create real music but it doesn’t always make it to the platforms. Most of them have given up due to frustrations with media and promoters.” Akiiki says the scene has been hijacked by the “pack-them-loops, bubble-some-vocals, hit-the-clubs kind of singers.
To them, music is the quickest way to fame and riches. After scoring the first hit, they usually crumble like a pack of cards.” Let us face it, you cannot play drum, keyboards, guitar, all at the same time in the name of wowing. Somewhere, you go wrong.
Computer manufactured music
“If today’s music is horrible, this is exactly why: the computer,” says Geoffrey Kayemba, a talent scout who discovered David Lutalo of the Kapapaala fame, and currently manages Chris Evans. “Whereas back in the day artistes used the computer to enhance the music, today it is the computer making the music.”
See, we have never really had a good clear identity for our pop music. And instead of drawing inspiration from the music around us, like the South Africans, West Africans and Congolese did, we are still grappling with the concept of pop music. We despise our indigenous music styles as ‘too local’ and in the name of modernity, are always looking elsewhere – Jamaica, America and now Nigeria, countries which have since figured out their own pop formulae and stuck to them.
Lazy musicians, undiscerning consumers
According to Akiiki Romeo, we have become so used to being fed on quick snacks that we have lost a discerning ear for good music. “We no longer look at music to stimulate us mentally, to challenge our intellect like we did in the past, which tasked the musicians to put in time, share ideas, and even put that emotional personal attachment while cooking a song. Now a new musician comes on the scene and finds a consumer who cares less about all that, so they come up with a quick fix, go to the studios and poof, done. That is why almost all Ugandan artistes are recording artistes, not performing artistes.
It’s all about the winning formula
Copycats, is what our artistes and producers are today, with the mentality: why change a winning formula? “Today, if I make a new song and it hits, the rest will just copy the same melody and make a song,” says Charmant Mushaga, whom Michael Ouma rates as the best lead guitarist in Uganda currently. And you wonder why your music sounds recycled? The promoter, even the producer, will tell you that’s what sells. There is no time and thought process put into the composition to create an artistic identity.
Commercialism and the media factor
The industry has been invaded by businessmen, laments Joe Tabula, a member of the Afrigo Band, producer, songwriter and the education secretary of Uganda Musicians Union. “All they think about is making money; there is no passion for real music. As long as they can somehow get a mass appeal, they out the song regardless of quality,” he says.
Tabula adds that some corporate sponsors are also killing it for us, as they are asking musicians to put in some lines that get the audiences they are targeting. So, real musicality dies at the hands of the short, repetitive catchiness the corporate want.
A number of our good musicians insist there is still loads of good music(ians) out there, it’s just going back to basics and following the rules that will bring out that finesse in our music. To the artistes, they and a number of critics give advice, the bottom line being going back in time to learn from the pros.
*Learn to play musical instruments.
*Listen to a lot of music, not just songs; you pick up bits you don’t even know you are picking.
*Work hard at honing your craft, for most successful artistes are not necessarily talented, they have learnt the secret of hard work.
*Don’t be consumed by fame and money. Those are by-products of talent and hard work.
*Most people are more creative when hungry and walking the streets. Lastly, good works defy short-termism.