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Tuesday,August 04,2020 11:58 AM

Why Elly Wamala keeps going

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th December 2003 03:00 AM

Last Sunday, Elly Wamala turned 68 years old and celebrated the birthday at Sabrina Pub with grandeur –– a live performance backed by his children, a brass band and happy birthday song sung by his fellow musicians and friends

Last Sunday, Elly Wamala turned 68 years old and celebrated the birthday at Sabrina Pub with grandeur –– a live performance backed by his children, a brass band and happy birthday song sung by his fellow musicians and friends

By Joseph Batte

Last Sunday, Elly Wamala turned 68 years old and celebrated the birthday at Sabrina Pub with grandeur –– a live performance backed by his children, a brass band and happy birthday song sung by his fellow musicians and friends.

At 68, one would expect his voice to be like an ancient reed that has been tortured into submission. And, like a clarinet that has been hocked so many times, you believe the mouthpiece may not hold the note, yet somehow it pulls off an enchanting melody.

Wamala is simply an incomparable musician who amazes us with his longevity. While his peers have bloomed and withered like flowers, he keeps going and going, holding sold-out concerts and churning out cute albums that musically go a little deeper than the pop song that was released on the market yesterday.

Todate, Wamala maintains music standards that not many locals have been able to emulate. His music has a sincere and authentic feel, has poetic rhythm, is melodious and there is an indisputable beauty and creativity in the lyrics.

He attributes all this to the good vocal training, pitch and note perfection he received from his school and church choirmasters like his former headmaster, Livingstone Semyano. But the biggest break came when he learnt how to play the guitar and took music lessons at the then East African conservatoire in Nairobi, Kenya.

He then flew to London, where he was examined by one of the guitar greats at the time, Geoff Sisley, author of guitar books like: First Step: How to play the guitar, Classical Guitar and the Homespun Guitar. Wamala returned to Uganda with a Banjo Mandolin Guitar (BMG) Diploma. To sharpen his song-writing, he studied drama and linguistics at Makerere University.

Wamala goes to the recording studio with all his music written down, including the harmonies and guitar chords.

“When you are a musician but can’t play any music instrument, your compositions tend to be shallow,” he reasons.

Wamala invented Kadongo Kamu music in the 60s with his ground-breaking Nabutono single. When he abandoned the style for an Afro-Caribbean calypso, an older Christopher Sebadduka picked it up.

When Pop Paul V1 came to Uganda, he recorded Welcome Pope Paul. For his trouble, the visiting Pope imparted on him his Apostolic Benediction.

Outside the music arena, he was one of the pioneer workers of UTV. He also worked as course director at the School of Journalism, Ugandan Management Institute.

Wamala attributes his long stay in showbiz to leading a disciplined life.

“I rarely touch booze, though once in a blue moon, I take a sip. I had to give it up because I could not control myself. Getting married early also helped stabilise me and stay focused on my music career.

In 2000, he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon. He underwent surgery and 52 weeks of chemotherapy.

Although he was pronounced dead by some mischief seekers, he came out triumphant, hit the studio and came out with Ani Yali Amanyi.

Wamala has recorded about 40 songs, quite a small number compared to the rate at which albums are dropped these days.

He reckons that he can not record songs “too frequently” because “I’m a perfectionist.” I take my time in writing songs and in the studio.”

Should he not retire? Unfortunately, ‘retire’ is a word that is currently not part of Wamala’s vocabulary.

“I would love to retire but I don’t think I’m too old to sing. And as long as I can still sing, I will continue recording because there are many songs that I want to immortalise.”

No one should disagree. No matter how many local musicians you would have listened to, there will always be one Elly Wamala. And may the singer live to blow 68 more candles.

Why Elly Wamala keeps going

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