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At 40, Afrigo is still on the go

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th March 2015 12:37 PM

As part of the activities to mark 40 years, Uganda’s oldest band, Afrigo, travelled to London yesterday to celebrate their journey. Carol Natukunda brings you their success story

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As part of the activities to mark 40 years, Uganda’s oldest band, Afrigo, travelled to London yesterday to celebrate their journey. Carol Natukunda brings you their success story

As part of the activities to mark 40 years, Uganda’s oldest band, Afrigo, travelled to London yesterday to celebrate their journey. Carol Natukunda brings you their success story

It had been a long night. His homework was to come up with a name that would give his team identity. And finally, Moses Matovu came up with two names. The first suggestion was to call the group Afri-raha, where Afri was for Africa, while raha was a Swahili word meaning pleasure. The second suggestion was Afri-go, meaning: Africa, go.

After several discussions with the group members, they finally agreed on the latter. And a new band — Afrigo — was born, on November 1, 1975. It was a team of eight young people, who loved music with a passion. Although they were all eager to make a name for themselves, it would be a journey into the unknown.

“We had just broken away from the Cranes Band. We had some misunderstandings. But we knew we had no choice but to venture out on our own. There was no turning back,” Matovu, the only surviving founding member, recalls.

The other seven founding members have since passed on. They were Charles Ssekyanzi, Jeff Sewava, Paddy Nsubuga, Paulo Serumagga, Fred Luyombya, Geoffrey Kizito and Anthony Kyeyune.

The team rented a house in Najjanankumbi, on Entebbe Road where they would rehearse from Tuesday to Friday. However, Matovu remembers that the beginning was not easy.

“We did not have music equipment. Music then was not as respected as it is now. It was seen as a field for failures, but somehow we persisted. We kept rehearsing and soon we got wellwishers, who helped us buy some equipment,” recalls Matovu

Within a month after they had started out on their own, Afrigo had their first gig at Bat Valley restaurant.

“The numbers were not huge. But they were promising,” he says with affirmation. Armed with the buoyancy, the band started performing regularly at the then White Nile nightclub in Katwe. They would hold performances three days a week, from Thursday to Saturday.

After saving money, the band then embarked on recording their songs.

“It was after the recordings that people really began talking about us. We were invited to perform at the Cape Town Villas in Munyonyo as a resident band. The hotel was under the presidency of the then regime. We would perform from Tuesday to Sunday. Sometimes, President Idi Amin invited us at State House to perform for him specifically. He loved music and dance very much,” Matovu narrates.


Sewanyana (on drums) and his colleague during a show. Below: Matovu’s many faces

In March 1979, with the war against Idi Amin’s regime at its peak and bloodshed the order of the day, there was no time for rehearsals. Matovu remembers that some of the band members fled to Kenya.

“For those of us who stayed around, it was still not safe to sing until late 1979. We used to perform at the Slow Boat restaurant on Kampala Road during the day, because of the insecurity of the time,” he says.

It was not until 1982 that they finally got together again and started performing around the country. Meanwhile, their fame — as the only Ugandan band that could provide local music — was spreading fast among Ugandans. In 1986, they resumed their shows at Bat Valley and later moved to Little Flowers near Wandegeya between 1987 and 1989. Thereafter, they were taken on as a resident band at the Sheraton Hotel, before moving to Fairway Hotel in 1993.

Although Matovu would not disclose how much they were earning, he says it was pushing their profile higher by the day.

“Money is not everything sometimes,” he remarks.

It was not long before the band started performing at The House of Entertainment, a hangout place at Crested Towers. “At that time, politicians and high profile people were regular patrons. This was a big boost for us,” narrates Matovu.

Fast forward to 1994, the band decided to have a permanent home — at Club Obligato on Old Port Bell Road. That is where they would hold their gigs until 1999. “Sometimes, we performed at Ggaba Beach. Since 2000, we have been performing at Little Flowers,” says Matovu and sighs, “And here we are!”

Getting new band members

Many Ugandan artistes start singing groups, but fail along the way. Matovu cites discipline as a factor lacking in these groups. ‘‘Discipline, plus commitment and interest are key,” he hastily adds.

However, there were many lows, like losing seven band members. His face darkens, “They did not die at a go. I miss them terribly, because they were not just my work colleagues, but my friends too,” he says.

As the only surviving founder member, Matovu does not want to take credit for steering the group to its present heights. “We work together as a team. We are a family. We listen to each other, we all see ourselves as equal,” he says.
Those virtues, Matovu stresses are what can glue any team together.

“In the beginning, it was not easy to fund a band. But we had to be creative and look for ways to attract funding. We decided was that we had to compete with foreigners; not in a bad way, but learn how to use guitars and saxophones to give Ugandan music an international feel. Back then, we sang western songs because we had limited compositions of our own. Today, we can perform our own local songs from way back. I am glad that even the young people dance to our songs,” a satisfied Matovu reveals.

The band boasts of 22 albums. Some of the famous hits include Jim, Obangaina, Maria, Amazzi Genyama and Speed Control, among others. They all have different themes, ranging from relationships and marriage to political instability and HIV/AIDS.

“If you want to join the band or are interested in singing with us, you come for auditions. This helps us to determine if you are capable,” he says.

The band has over 21 members. Matovu lists all of them and their roles.

He says each one of them has had an impact on the band. Some are dancers, drummers, vocalists and others play the keyboards. From Herman Sewanyana to Joanita Kawalya and Rachael Magoola, who joined the band in 1981, 1989 and 1999 respectively, every single member of the band has left footprints on Uganda’s music industry.

There are many other musicians who grew musically in the band, according to Matovu. Among them is Philly Lutaaya, for whom Afrigo played instruments when he came to perform in Uganda on his Born in Africa tour in 1987.
Matovu loves all his songs so much that he cannot pick a favourite.

“All the songs we have produced are like my children. I love them a lot. And music has made me what I am. It is a career for me. It has paid fees for my children. It has also taken me places.”

Afrigo Band during one of their live performances

Lessons from the industry

Matovu has some regrets about the music industry — that the younger musicians are fighting and abusing drugs. And while they do this, they are not putting much effort in their work.

“My heart bleeds for the behaviour of musicians today. They are taking us back to the days when musicians were not respected. Why should you fight over a song? Music is a profession. Let us respect it,” he says.

“I am also sad that the real music is also gone. It is generated digitally, which means that anyone can sing. They do not take time to compose a song so it is all bubblegum music, here today, gone tomorrow,” Matovu laments.
He believes Afrigo can go on for the next 40 years.

“When you stay longer in the field, you learn better. You even laugh at the first song you released.”


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Afrigo: Uganda’s greatest band

Celebrating Afrigo Band


At 40, Afrigo is still on the go

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