MUSIC is one of the biggest cultural components of the Uganda North American Annual Convention (UNAAC) held in North America.
Well, spinning the records on turntable and co-ordinating the entertainment in the background was little known DJ Monde. Monde, whose real name is Raymond Kibenge, 34, first did the UNAAC back in 1997 and is set to handle it again this year in August/September in Seattle, Washington.
But this is more than a stint for Monde. Co-ordinating and playing Ugandan music at events in the US is what he does for a living. Monde, who moved to the US for further studies in 1992, is a career disc jockey (DJ) who keeps Ugandans across the US tuned to the sound of the motherland by playing the latest in Ugandan music for them. He holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from the US and a first degree in Social Work and Social Administration (SWASA) from Makerere University.
However, spinning the wheel is not something Monde took on inadvertently. Matter-of-fact, Monde was the first DJ ever to play in Ange-noir Discotheque under Charlie Lubega in 1991.
â€œThe discotheque was still a very tiny room with a square space where people used to dance. Nothing was permanently fixed,â€ Monde, who is in town on holiday, recalls.
He remembers the original core group of about 100 revellers and recalls that the club used to play two nights a week. Ange-noir is now much bigger and has got an ultra modern annex â€“â€“ Ange Mystique, a three storey building. They play five nights a week.
Monde, who first returned to Uganda last year, says there has been a drastic change in the way things operate. â€œBefore, one DJ used to do all the music the whole night, then do his own wiring and music selection. Today, you find about five different DJs in a cabin,â€ Monde says.
He says he was blown away by the developments at Ange-Noir and the general club scene. â€œ(Ange) Mystique is a world class discotheque. Back then we used turntables. Now they have the latest in CD players and DJ mixers on the market,â€ he says.
â€œIn fact,â€ Monde exclaims, â€œIâ€™m yet to come across a club like (Ange) Mystique in (Washington) DC!â€
Monde recalls that it all started in 1989: â€œI started by helping out Charlie (Lubega) who was fresh out of campus. He had some equipment from UK and kept a step ahead in music because he used to go to UK and come back with music. We started with room parties at campus before we formed Soul Disco.â€
From room parties, it was the occasional house party. Then the group graduated to regular gigs at Resort Beach Entebbe before Lubega purchased Angenoir Discotheque in 1991 from Patrick Bitature (of Simba Telecom).
â€œWhen we first acquired the place, we first had to get rid of the round chairs which took up like half of the current dance space. With the increase in the patronage, we needed more space. Then in came the mirrors. We fixed the bathrooms and the DJâ€™s Cabin. Next was the executive wing,â€ Monde recollects.
â€œWe started out playing the music of our peers â€“â€“ people we had been with at school. Then we moved on. Our main aim was ensure that people did not sit down. We played just about anything to get them to dance,â€ he reminisces, with a chuckle.
Setting off in the US was not easy. He had to finish his masters and, as a new person from Africa, cutting his teeth on the entertainment scene in Washington DC was the most disappointing feat he ever tried. But eventually, he got a job as a DJ in a small West African club Called Erico in the DC area.
â€œThings were hard. In Uganda, we played LPs. Here, they used CDs. I had to make that adjustment. Secondly, while I was with Charlie, he brought in all the music for us. Here, as a DJ, you had to have your own music. So, I had to set about building my own collection, from reggae, Lingala, zouk to hip-hop. That was 1996. Decent, well recorded African music was heard to come by,â€ Monde recalls.
But things have changed since then. Today, Monde has a myriad of music from East Africa to choose from and satisfy his clientsâ€™ needs. He can even play a whole night of Ugandan music. â€œThe first Ugandan song I came across on CD was by Ragga Dee. The quality was as good as that of American music and when I played it to Ugandans, the reaction was overwhelming.â€
Monde, now a renown DJ amongst East Africans in the US, now plays weddings, house parties, clubs and more across the US. He says Chameleone, Bebe Cool and other East African artistes who sing in Swahili are very popular among East Africans in the US.
â€œBefore, people never really cared about (especially)Ugandan music because of its poor quality. Today, itâ€™s madness. People want to have the latest from local artistes. From Fred Masagazi, Elly Wamala to the Chameleones â€“â€“ they want it all.
Monde, who is married to Julianna, a Ugandan graphic designer in Washington, is also a commercial underwriter on independent contract. Musically, his biggest market is in Boston, where he plays at the Kampala Club. However, he is contemplating returning home, where, he hopes to set himself up as an entrepreneur in the industry.
â€œIn my time, DJs were low lives, associated with cigarette-puffing, drinking and womanising. Today, DJs are respectable and prosperous. You have people like Charlie Lubega and Elvis (Sekyanzi). I want to be a part of that dream.â€
He Keeps Ugandans In The US Tuned To The Sounds Of Africa