Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reggae Vibrations

Reggae Vibrations
EDGAR R. BATTE

If you thought that the 1998 Lucky Dube show that sold out in Namboole Stadium was the best thing that ever happened on Uganda’s reggae scene, then you should visit one of the popular clubs in town. You will find crowds swaying to the buzz of the soft Caribbean coconut beats. It is the sound of reggae music, swaying the Ugandan souls.
Initially, reggae was developed as a voice of the downtrodden, it is also the music of the Rastafarian movement usually in praise of Jah (who is the supreme being among the Rastafarians), but current trends have proved otherwise. Reggae is now a music genre like any other and it’s the hottest kind of music appreciated by all outgoing Ugandans. A case in point is Club Silk’s reggae/ragga night every third Friday of the month. Here; you will hardly find space after midnight and you have to shove your way to wherever you are going. Resident Dee Jay, Shiru affirms to the fact that it is the biggest crowd puller in Club Silk.

Other hang out joints like Blue Africa, Volts club, Hunters in Kansanga, DV8 Bar & Bistro, Rock Catalina in Ntinda and many others have reggae theme nights that attract throngs of people.
The number one station in the country KFM has included two hours of reggae music on it’s daily programming schedule. The programme, KFM Hotspots is aired every Monday to Friday between 8 and 10 p.m. Mr Peter Kabba the station’s Programmes Controller explains that KFM plays its listeners’ taste of music and reggae is part of that taste.
“Our target audience is 25-35 years, who are mostly urban people. We found out that we had to introduce the reggae/ragga concept because this was the kind of response we got from our listenership,” he explained.

The background
Winston ‘Tshakarama’ Mayanja now of Blackroots and Ras B. Ssali of the Blood Brothers Band, are some of Uganda’s earliest reggae voices. As early as 1989, Ras B. Ssali knew there was hope for the reggae genre in Uganda.
“A few of us had the heart for reggae. We came up as a group and we wanted to relay positive messages through music. This was when the HIV/Aids scourge had come in. We felt that we could draw the attention of the crowds to the scourge using reggae.”
They did a song, which not only introduced them to the crowd but also had a message to send to the masses. It was called Immorality and for the youngsters, Ras B. Ssali and Solomon Igona, it was one of their best moments because their hit was being used for the various drives to sensitise the masses about the scourge. The duo went under the stage name of Ssali Solis Blood Brothers. Many more young men were captivated by this style of this music and they joined in, the group grew and they changed their name to Blood Brothers.
It was around the same time that Winston Mayanja, had also come up and had become another prominent name, thanks to hits like Rasta Wange and Twerile. Ras B. Ssali gives him credit as one of Uganda’s reggae father figures, for Ugandans started appreciating reggae because of him especially when he became a music promoter. Under his promotion company Yohannes Ham Inxs, he brought in all the big Jamaican names like Chaka Demus and Pliers, Spanner Burner, Aswad, Buju Banton, Third World, Shaba Ranks, Papa San, Cedella Booker Marley, Red Rat and South Africa’s Lucky Dube.
“People are doing reggae now mostly because it is what’s hot at the moment,” Tshaka who is now part of the duo Black Roots with K’Angie explains the current trend.
Proof that reggae music is sweeping Uganda was the Bob Marley anniversary celebration at Steak Out in February, where a big crowd of all classes from the upmarket to the middle and lower classes all turned up for the event.

Local reggae crooners
Due to reggae’s growing popularity in Uganda, several musicians have made their mark on the local music market using this genre. Bebe Cool is one of reggae’s fresh talents. He has retained the Pam award reggae artiste of the year for two years running. Bebe Cool, Together with the Necessary Noize duo of Kenya who share a stage name as the ‘East African Bashment Crew’ have been nominated for the Kora awards in the continental reggae category for their Pan African hit Africa Unite.
However, when he compares the love of reggae in Kenya and Uganda, Bebe Cool reveals that Kenyans have deeper reggae roots that Uganda does.
Bebe Cool who was initially better identified with dancehall broke into the reggae frontiers with his Never trust No People reggae hit.
Another artiste, who has done the reggae genre proud, is Sweden’s based Maddox Semanda Sematimba. His album title track Namagembe became a party classic, which ruled the local airwaves for close to a year plus being heavily rotated in most hang outs, but that is not to say the other hits where not as big.
General Mega Dee is another reggae star who has been around for some time with a brand of reggae that he christened dynamic music. Right from his first songs, that he did while still singing with Menton Kronno like Nze Ndeeka, Mugulu Teriyo Mwenge (In Heaven There’s No beer), Tutemere to Oli Mukazi to his latest Woman of My Life, Mega Dee has been a reggae crooner. The Pam award winning Eastern artiste of the year will soon be rocking Sweden with his reggae vibrations as he has been invited to perform there.

Reggae theme nights
Thursday night is Reggae Night at DV8 Bar. It is brainchild of Sidney Mukasa, the Public Relations Officer of Cineplex Cinema and DV8. Reggae enthusiasts flock the dark confines of the venue and dance to reggae till late. The in house DJs, Ras Brown and Ras Nesta believe that everyone loves reggae.
“That is why you will find people from all walks of life here on Thursday. Even those who are avowed hip-hop artistes will come. It is not about loud beats and image. I believe it is really about the soul. Reggae is soul music and everyone needs a refill at some point in time so they come.” Ras Brown says.
Club Silk’s deejay Shiru describes reggae as more of a feeling than just music yet it also carries realistic messages.


Rastafarian flock
Reggae is usually associated with Rastafarianism and taking marijuana. It is not the case in Uganda because many Ugandans who enjoy reggae are not necessarily Rastafarians. However, there is also a Rastafarian following in the country. Rasta Jjuko Munyenye is the Chairman of the Rastafarian community in Uganda and disclaims the practice linked to their association. He says that the Rastafarian community does not live for marijuana, but doesn’t deny that some members take it and he is quick to add that it is not what someone does that makes that particular thing bad but just the way he does it. Well, reggae and Rastafarianism seem to be compatible and Rasta Jjuko appreciates the fact that reggae is on the rise but criticises the way it is being consumed claiming people use it more for their business ends disregarding the message that the music is supposed to drive home.
Rasta Jjuko argues that the spread of the reggae message should have been a role of the Rastafarians, but has been taken over by artistes and entertainment place owners.

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