By Kalungi Kabuye
During my long career as a journalist I have been to many concerts. Too many, it seems, so much that I have lost count and cannot remember them all. But there is one concert I shall always remember, and it is one of the best concerts ever held in Uganda by a foreign artist.
The year was 1996, the place was the then Nile Hotel gardens, and the Jamaican reggae group Third World had come to perform as part of the New Year celebrations. It had been quite a year where we had seen several international artists come to perform in Kampala, including Lucky Dube and the Chaka Demus and Pliers duo.
So it seemed like an overkill to bring the Third World band to Kampala, and there were debates around town what more a ‘bunch of old guys’ could offer that the other musicians had not.
I knew about Third World, of course, and their 1982 song Try Jah Love had held me captive for several years. Up to now I can still feel the magic when that song plays, and I’m reminded of those dark days of the early 80s, when trying Jah’s love was something real.
But I had learnt my lesson about getting all excited about musicians, and had developed the discipline that allowed me to go to a concert, be objective and not get carried away by what was going on.
Third World would do three concerts, one on the 30th of December exclusively for VIPs; a ‘mass’ concert on the 31st, and then a ‘family’ concert on New Year’s day.
The VIP concert found me ready, with camera and notebook in hand, ignoring all the excitement that was going on around me.
Then the band started playing, and for a moment I actually forgot where I was. It was like an out-of-body experience, it was that surreal. I knew most, if not all, of the band’s songs, and had listened to them time and again. But this was different.
The lead singer had this haunting, almost hypnotic voice that grabbed and took you wherever he was going with his song. More than their version of reggae (a fusion of soul and funk), it was William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke’s voice that really captivated me. He was quite the performer too, as indeed was the whole band.
That night I took my pictures and made my notes, but swore I would go back the next day without pen or camera, and I did just that. For the first time in a long time, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it again, I let myself go free, and let the music take me where it went. I screamed and yelled and jumped along with everybody, and I’m sure the band was amused to see the guy that had interviewed them that afternoon and argued about the direction reggae music was taking, going all crazy and nuts.
The Nile Gardens were filled to the brim that night, as most of the VIPs from the night before had come back for another dose of Third World magic. There are many people who still swear that was the best concert ever held in Kampala, and I am right there with them.
But there is a sad end note to all this: Bunny Rugs, that lead vocalist that weaved the magic that night, lost a battle to cancer earlier this week. He was 65 years old and had battling with leukaemia (cancer of the blood), for some time, and died in his home on Sunday.
Bunny Rugs was the voice of many of the band’s hits, including 96 Degrees in the shade, Try Jah Love, Now that we found love, and many more. His was a voice that really shook the world, a real reggae ambassador. May his soul rest in eternal peace.