Vision Group in association with Twaweza Initiative and Buzz Events are seeking to recognise artistes whose compositions advance society. Today, Elvis Basudde profiles some of the songs of Rachael and Tony Senkebejje that have influenced society positively
You might not have heard of them, but one thing is for sure, they are Uganda’s longest-practising musical couple, having started their career over four decades ago. You too probably have not seen them in a public concert launching their music as is the norm today.
Thirdly, their songs are rarely played on air. They are Rachael and Tony Senkebejje. Rachael composed a song about safe motherhood titled Tutaase Obulamu bwa Maama last year. It is loosely translated as “let us save the mother’s life”.
Rachael says she was inspired to compose Tutaase Obulamu bwa Maama after she attended a workshop about safe motherhood organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at Grand Imperial Hotel, Kampala, in 2011. “There was a lot of useful information that is not given out there. I realised many people needed this information. Personally, I was empowered on a number of issues to do with safe motherhood,” she says.
Rachael says the workshop also reminded her of a long-time friend, who lost her unborn twins when they would have survived. She used to drink heavily, contrary to what they learnt that alcohol and drugs are harmful to both the mother and her unborn baby. When WHO commissioned her to compose the song, they touched a subject that was dear to her. “We should ensure that all women receive the care they need to be safe and healthy throughout pregnancy and childbirth,” stresses Rachael.
The first stanza of the song goes: “Every pregnant woman hopes for a healthy baby and an uncomplicated pregnancy. However, every day, many women and adolescent girls die from problems related to pregnancy and childbirth.” Rachael continues in the second stanza: “Childbirth is the most critical period for the mother and her baby. Since it is difficult to predict who will develop a develop a complication, every pregnant women must have access to a qualified health provider for prenatal care and delivery.”
Rachael adds that through her music, she also wanted to sensitise men to support their wives during pregnancy. “During antenatal check-ups, it is important for a man to accompany his wife/partner. Often women go alone, yet this is a responsibility of the two of them (couple). When they go together, the health workers tell them what to do at every stage,” she says. “Sometimes the health worker will give medication for malaria.
If the couple tests positive for HIV, they will receive medication to reduce chances of transmitting the virus to the baby.” All pregnant women need at least four prenatal care visits to help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. Skilled medical attention is considered to be the single most critical intervention for ensuring safe motherhood, because it facilitates the timely and safe delivery for both the mother and the baby even when life-threatening complications arise.
The song also brings out the message that violence against women occurs in most communities and needs to be addressed. When a woman is pregnant, violence is dangerous to both the woman and her unborn baby as it increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth.
The song points out that at the workplace, pregnant women and mothers should be protected from discrimination and exposure to health risks. It adds that they should be given time to breastfeed and they should be entitled to maternity leave. The song urges the youth and teens to concentrate on their studies instead of engaging in sex. For those who have completed school, they need to use condoms if they cannot abstain.
Tony’s Eyali Akwagala, meaning “Exlover”, was a popular song composed when he was still in Afrigo Band. The message is that since you cannot undo what has happened, it is better to move on and avoid dwelling on the past. Tuyimbe, “let us sing,” is another song Tony composed on behalf of musicians.
He says musicians render significant service through singing. The song encourages singers to continue composing music as it influences society.
Who are the Senkebejjes?
Tony and Rachael Ssenkebejje are proprietors of Simba Sounds Band. For 48 and 35 years, respectively, Tony and Rachael have been making music. They have been married for 42 years and have four children, one of them, Glean Sewanyana, sings with them. Rachael is also a songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer. The two first met at Silver Springs Hotel in 1974.
Tony was performing with the Cranes Band and Rachael had gone with her family to attend the show. Tony’s singing skills impressed her. She always wanted to listen to him sing, so she made sure she attended the Cranes Band shows. Soon Tony and Rachael began dating. Five months after getting married, the couple relocated to Kenya where Tony played in a number of bands. Rachael started singing in 1982.
She joined Simba Six Band, where she was the lead vocalist. The couple came back to Uganda in 1990 and joined Afrigo Band, but quit just after three years to team up with another singing couple, late Sam Murungi and wife Florence Asiimwe, to form Simba Ngoma Band.
The Senkebejjes split from Simba Ngoma and formed their own band, which they named Simba Sounds Band. Today, the band performs at major hotels in Kampala. Rachael went to Luzira Primary School and Kololo Secondary School, while Tony went to Mengo Junior School and St. Mary’s College Kisubi.
Some people wonder what might have happened to this singing couple, they seem to have sunk into oblivion. Tony says they release songs each year. “Whenever I take our music to radio stations, they do not play it. We do not know why,” says Tony. He adds: “Our music is classic jazz and a few people understand it.” The couple now market their music during their live performances. “Fans who buy our music during our live performances send other people to buy our music from where we perform. We boast of six albums, with over 70 songs,” says Rachael.
Inspired by the Senkebejjes’songs
Emma Rukundo, a hotel employee
Their music is inspirational. It is not the kind you will find anywhere. You need to come and see them performing or listen to Eyali Akwagala. They are a class apart
Diana Kirabo, a resident of Muyenga
I love their music; it is relaxing. I have listened to their safe motherhood song, Tutaase Obulamu bwa Maama. Any aspiring mother should listen to that song; it highlights the importance of safe motherhood
Siraji Galiwangi, a resident of Makindye
When I listen to their music, I cannot remain the same because I am also a musician. I appreciate good music, and theirs cuts across; both the young and the old can enjoy it.
Juliet Kayanja, a resident of Mulago
As a mother, Rachael’s Tutaase Obulamu Bwa Maama makes my day. I learnt from that song that girls who are educated and have a healthy diet throughout their childhood are more likely to have healthy babies.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org You can also nominate via SMS type MUSIC (leave space) name of artiste (space) song and send to 8338. Alternatively, write to the Features Editor, P.O. Box 9815, Kampala or drop your nominations at any of the Vision Group bureau offices countrywide. Nominations close on January 15, 2014
To qualify for nomination, the musician should meet the following requirements;
❑ Be Ugandan
❑ The composition must be original and not pirated
❑ Have innovatively used their musical composition to convey deliberate messages advocating for positive change
❑ Have used their music to mobilise the masses to demand for accountability or for a community cause.
❑ Used their music to highlight societal ills like corruption, poor governance, poor service delivery, oppression and human rights abuses