Vision Group, in association with Twaweza Initiative and Buzz Events, is seeking to recognise artistes whose compositions advance society. Today, Bright Balinaine and Elvis Basudde brings you the late Philly Lutaaya, a Ugandan musician who gave a human face to HIV/AIDS.
A distinguished musician, at the peak of his music career, when fame was his second name, Philly Bongoley Lutaaya shocked the world in 1989 when he declared that he had AIDS. He became the fi rst Ugandan to give the disease a human face, amidst stigma and discrimination.
Before succumbing to AIDS in December 1989, Lutaaya had composed songs about his battle against AIDS by touring churches and schools in Uganda spreading a message of prevention and hope. You would be hard-pressed to find music with a rich vein of instruments that blend well like Lutaaya’s. He was a composer, writer and producer.
Alex Mukulu, a playwright, described him as one with a unique music talent. “Lutaaya could compose and write a song within a few minutes. Not many musicians can produce an album with every song becoming popular. Lutaaya’s music is very rich in terms of message,” Mukulu says.
His album, Alone and Frightened has become an AIDS anthem not only in Uganda but world over. “Today it’s me, tomorrow someone else. It’s you and me, We’ve got to stand up and fi ght, We’ll take a light in the fi ght against AIDS, let’s come on out, let’s stand together, fight AIDS, In times of joy, in times of sorrow, let’s take a stand and fight on to the end”, go the lyrics
His Alone and Frightened album that made him an anti-HIV/AIDS activist was launched in September 1989 at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, shortly after its recording in Stockholm,Sweden. The song is, to a large extent, is the anchor of Lutaaya’s legacy, over two decades after he lost the battle to AIDS.
In this song, he is calling upon Ugandans to stand up and fight the epidemic. Alone helped fi ght the stigma that people living with HIV suffered in the early years of the scourge. Abbey Lutaaya (Philly’s elder brother) says, it created awareness about the virus.
Lutaaya chose not to wallow in selfpity after testing HIV-positive. He told his brother he wanted to spread the message on HIV to save mankind. By doing so, he not only helped raise awareness about the virus, but also reduced stigma and encouraging those infected with HIV to declare their status to fight the scourge and help those with the virus live positively.
“The song calls for a collective fight against the killer, yet preventable virus of HIV/AIDS, which has claimed many lives. When you listen to the song, sad as it is, you get fi ght against the disease, says Beatrice Birungi, a teacher. What Lutaaya desired was to launch the Alone album.
He made a magnificent statement during the launch. “The album would enable me to talk to the entire world. I composed the album with hope that AIDS patients might fi nd a few moments of comfort through the music,” he said. Adding, “Stigma is caused by ignorance. People are so afraid and it is natural. Do not blame anyone who keeps away from you, just educate them to love and care for the sick.” This album is a labour of love.
The practice I put in and the recording sessions nearly killed me, but I could not give up because “Alone” had to be completed as my legacy to Uganda and the world,” Lutaaya said. Most of Lutaaya’s fans remember him for his song Alone and Frightened. “We will always love you Philly. Your legacy will never fade.
Your last effort on HIV sensitisation through music has saved many people including myself,” says William Mulindwa, a member of Positive Men’s Union. Happy Margaret, another HIV activist says the legacy that Lutaaya left in Uganda and to the world through his music. “His music became a source of encouragement and a call to care for many and demonstrate our support and respect for people infected with HIV/AIDS or deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic,” she says.
Lutaaya also sang about societal ills like jealousy in Nazza Gwaki, marriage in Nakazaana, and his heritage in Emiziro. Born in Africa, an album recorded in mid 1980s in Sweden, tells a story of his last days on earth. Lutaaya’s Christmas Tumusiinze album produced in 1986 remains a hit to date. The album whose songs were written in Luganda included classics such as “Gloria”, “Merry Christmas oh Happy New Year and Azzaalidwa.
Hope Mukasa, a businessman and Charles Ssenkubuge of Bakayimbira Dramactors, say their favourite Christmas songs are on Lutaaya’s Tumusiinze album. “Having worked closely with Lutaaya, Tumusiinze reminds me of the last years with him in Sweden. The album is great,” says Mukasa. As for Ssenkubuge, Ssekukulu Eyasooka is the greatest song he has ever listened to. “The songs convey messages of salvation, they tell people how they can have a relationship with God,” he says.
Launching Lutaaya Initiative
Lutaaya launched a crusade against HIV/AIDS in 1989 through music, lectures and a Swedish Red Cross funded fi lm called “Born in Africa,” to educate people especially the youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. “Lutaaya’s initiative is an inspiration, especially to people living with the virus, and has helped many fi ght stigma and not to associate HIV with immorality.
It has taught Ugandans to be humane to AIDS patients,” says Dick Kayemba, an HIV activist. “ We have emulated his initiative and some of us have continued with the campaign by going public about our HIV sero status, to tell others that today with ARVs, with moral support, you can live a productive life even when you are HIV-positive,” says Kayemba
Who is Lutaaya?
Born in October 1951 to Tito and Justine Lutaaya in Mengo Kampala, Philly went to Kasaka Primary School, Gomba, Mpigi district. He later joined Budo Junior School until 1969 when he moved to Kololo Secondary School.
He was a member of high school bands before going professional. He became popular on the music scene in Uganda in the 1960s. At the age of 19, Lutaaya travelled to Kinshasha-Congo to join the Vox Nationale band that infl uenced his transformation from an amateur to a multi-talented and professional musician, songwriter and instrumentalist.
He also sang with Crane Band and with Congolese musicians such as Franco Luambo and Tabu Ley Rochereau in the 1970s. He settled in Sweden in the early 1980s and it was there that he found good music facilities and promoters that propelled him to the dream of greatness in music that he sought.
While there, he recorded his hit album Born in Africa making him one of Uganda’s top musicians of the 1980s. In 1987, he held his fi rst concert at Lugogo Indoor Stadium where the Born in Africa album was launched.
However, his fans were devastated when he returned to Uganda in April 1989 with news that he was HIV-positive. “I have AIDS and I have come here before you as a living example of an AIDS patient,” he declared. Lutaaya breathed his last on December 15, 1989 at Nsambya Hospital, Kampala. Lutaaya was married to Annet and they had three children. Annet died in 1992.
Fruits of his declaration
Stella Kentuse, the executive director of National Forum for PHA Networks in Uganda, an umbrella organisation of people living with HIV, says because of Lutaaya’s efforts, now there’s a nationwide AIDS awareness campaign. “This campaign is supported by the Ugandan Government as well as NGOs and other donor countries that have become aware of the situation through the media, she says.
Sources say in spite of Lutaaya joining the Vox Nationale band, the band hardly got admirable concerts, which frustrated him the reason he left Uganda. Due to the instability in the country in 1960s, it was not only unsafe to do night shows, which would bring money, but the economy was also in shambles; people would fear to attend shows because it was unsafe to move at night.
INSPIRED BY LUTAAYA’S SONGS
Agnes Mwebaza, 23, a terminal operator
I knew it from the perspective of Today it’s me tomorrow someone else. These words touch my heart.
Maureen Mulonga, 24, a sales personnel
The song Alone and Frightened is so inspirational; it reminds me of my great friend I lost to HIV/AIDS.
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