Vision Group in association with Twaweza Initiative and Buzz Events are seeking to recognise artistes whose compositions advance society. Today, Gloria Nakajubi brings you what lies behind Lord Fred Ssebatta’s music
One of Lord Fred Ssebatta’s awardwinning hit Gwanga Mujje is ladden with a useful message calling upon the masses to unite for development. Being a Muganda, Ssebatta grew up aware of the existing hatred between his tribe and Bunyoro and this kept him wondering what he could do to change the situation.
His song Gwanga Mujje was purposely meant to bridge this gap. “In this song I was asking the different tribes to come together and unite as one nation because as you may know the hatred was started by our grandfathers and many of us are innocent about this,” he explains.
He says the song stressed the importance of the different human beings and wanted everyone to appreciate the other as an important piece in their lives regardless of their background. “We are all human beings and I don’t see why we should put our tribes or colour above this because we need each other,” he says. The song won him the Star of Africa award from the International Theatre Institute in Cairo in 1997. Another of Ssebatta’s major hits in 2000 was Nalwewuuba which highlights unfaithfulness in relationships.
Packed with drama, the song highlighted the risks of infidelity. Ssebatta says during that time many people were living recklessly and he wanted to come up with something that would help avert the situation. “This was a real life story I witnessed and was left in total shock; I wanted to share it and the best way was to put it in a song,” he says. A man was complaining to his wife about rumours that were going around of her unfaithfulness but every time she would deny. One day he tricked her that he was going away for a burial and wouldn’t return until the next day.
As usual, the woman brought in another man and all of sudden they heard a knock on the door and to her disbelief, it was her husband. Ssebatta says by highlighting the risks associated with infidelity, he was sure many people would at least get scared of the vice and maybe this would make a difference. “People had resorted to calling anyone especially ladies who were suspected of sleeping around Nalwewuuba and this, in a way, would make someone change their behaviour because it was very demeaning,” he says.
He has been around and his motivation is the need to change through whatever he does and music being his major occupation, he has worked his best to see his purpose fulfilled. Commonly referred to as one of the grandfathers of kadongo kamu, Lord Fred Ssebatta, the father of seven, is passionate about what he does, and says he is not about to give up kadongo kamu in favour of modern genres.
What inspires him
His motivation is the need to see change through music, his major occupation. He has worked hard to see his purpose fulfilled. “Everyday I ask myself what I have done as God’s creation to change this crazy world,” he says. Ssebatta admits that this music currently appeals to a few but this has not wavered his hope and he believes time is coming when people will realise that kadongo kamu is the way to go. “The level of immorality is high and people think the best form of entertainment is going naked. When this gets out of hand, people will notice the messages in kadongo kamu music,” he says.
Who is Ssebatta?
Fred Ssebatta was born in Kitonya village, Ssingo in Kiboga district on April 24, 1958, to Mzee Yusufu Ssebatta. He went to Nakwaya Primary School in Kiboga and later Kalinabiri Secondary School in Kampala up to Senior Three before dropping out of school. “Just like many local musicians, I could not go further in my studies because of financial constraints,” Ssebatta recalls. After dropping out of school, Ssebatta joined Kayondo’s Garage in Ndeeba to acquire some mechanical engineering skills.It was here that he realised he could pursue music during his leisure time.
“I started singing for pleasure and I think that is why I have stuck in there despite the hard times,” he says. Ssebatta says he used to work with music groups like Picking Guitarists that was led by Festo Kasajja, Entebbe Guitar Singers and later Super Singers that was owned by Matiya Luyima, where he composed and released his maiden song, Saamu Wange in 1982. Joining mainstream music The political unrest between 1984 and 1986 could have been pivotal in re-aligning Ssebatta to his destined career. He says during tha time the garages in Ndeeba were closed.
He, together with some of his friends from the singing group, was abducted by the rebels and taken to Masaka where they spent five months. After the National Resistance Movement took power, they moved back to Kampala. He went back to Super Singers, but in 1989 Ssebatta formed his current group, Matendo Promoted Singers with his sister Alice Nabatta in Kajjansi. Ssebatta writes his songs depending on what is happening in society, especially emergent ills.
No one should ignore an elder’s advice Ssebatta, 55, cautions young people against ignoring advice from elders. “The youth think they are the most knowledgeable, forgetting that actually those older than them have gone through the same stage,” he says. On marriage, he advises girls to look out for men they love to avoid regrets. “If a man loves you more than you do, run away, because in such a marriage there will never be respect, which is the foundation of a successful marriage,” he says.
He says a woman should marry a man who is at least five years older than her so that she does not age faster than him. He also advises people to have smaller families they can manage, given the current economic times.
His over 20 years music experience has not been devoid of challenges and these have seen many like him pushed to the backyard of the industry. The change in people’s preferences has had a bigger impact on their survival in the industry. The failure of the legislators to enact the copyright law has left many artistes reaping nothing from their sweat as any one can access their music free-of-charge.
Fred Ssebatta says he married his first wife when he was 21. They had three children, but later separated. He later remarried and has four children in his current marriage. “The separation from my first wife can only be blamed on immaturity. We later realised that we could not go on,” he noted.