Kampala — Joseph Batte, music critic, analyses Uganda's two most popular bands for you
If you ask what is the most popular band in Kampala today, the name that will instantly pop up is Eagles Production. Why? "They sing well," will be the reply. I agree.
Others will swear that good, old Afrigo band is still the best. Reason? "Because they are professional musicians".
But which is the best band? Is it the Eagles Production? Or is it Afrigo? To answer that question, we first have to know what makes the best band.
A good band should have the following: the choice of music, instrumentation, musicianship, beat, rhythm, phrasing, novelty, improvisation, stagecraft, interaction between members and energy.
I attended live concerts of both bands, listened to their music and this is my observation.
Choice of music:
Their style is heavily laid on a strong Latin (congolese flavour). But they can also comfortably play jazz, zouk, reggae, slow rock and rumba. Their new album, Genda Osome, is a good example of their versatility. However, their music mainly reels in that age-old format -an intro, pause and the climax.
These chaps were born yesterday. So they grew up on a diet of Lucky Dube's reggae, Jimmy Katumba, gospel music like Pastor Kayiwa's Bayugumya Ekibuga, late Philly Lutaaya and Elly Wamala. All these styles were influential in shaping them.
Their style is 'Ugandan reggae'. It is a fusion of rumba, reggae, soukous and zouk.
Every band member who holds an instrument is a professional. Moses Matovu has more than 30 years' experience on the soprano saxophone. Sewanyana plays the conga like he is possessed. Frank Mbalire and Buko lead guitar have beats that are crisp. All these instrumentalists give Afrigo that punchy sound they are famous for.
Afrigo is also the only band that can comfortably transfer the live feel of their music directly on CD.
When I attended a live show recently, I saw the women squeal viciously when they were introduced. But when the band was playing, I buried my head in embarrassment. The sound was horrendous. The instrumentalist worth mentioning is bassist Fred Musoke.
The Eagles often have problems with keeping a steady tempo. You often see the lead vocalist slapping their thigh urging the band to keep the tempo. The two blokes on the saxophone and trumpet seem to have been recruited from a school brass band.
As they struggled, it hit me why they are poor instrumentalists. Eagles Production was studio-manufactured.
Practice makes perfect, but it also makes a great band. That is Moses Matovu's motto. However, this maxim is lost on the Eagles. This explains why they cannot transfer the beauty of their music on tape live on stage. When they try, they sound pathetic and amateurish.
Musicianship and stage craft:
Afrigo are very musical and also know that being a dancer as well as a musician is very essential for a good band. Eagles Production seem to have never had any dancing lessons. All they can do is an odd sway. They instead rely on two Congolese dancing mercenaries.
Afrigo keeps a good strong beat. Thanks to their spirited playing, which is well defined with a punchy down beat.
Eagles Production often have sloppier timing in the backup and tend to get away from the melody in less obvious variations.
They have a steady and danceable rhythm while Eagles' can only be found on tape. However, both bands have good phrasing.
Afrigo is good at improvising and can make up a new melody over the chords, but Eagles try at the same is speculative.
Afrigo tries to keep the integrity of the tune even when doing novel things like pauses, stops and harmonies.
That said there is no denying that Eagles Production commands a big following. Why? It is because all the members - Geoffrey Lutaaya, Mesach Semakula, ronald Mayinja, Fred Seruga, Grace Sekamatte, Haruna Mubiru, catherine Kusasira, Irene namatovu - are not only good singers, but skilful songwriters as well. They write songs with strong love themes, which tug at the heartstrings. Their music sounds simple, but it is potent enough to make their fans shiver with delight and flock their concerts in thousands.
Critics of Afrigo say though it is the best band, their popularity is waning because they have failed to change. They write songs steeped in one style. "The only time they tried to move with the times was when they released obangaina," observed a fan.
"Yes, they are very good, but currently they can only sell their music abroad and maybe to a few of their loyal fans, because their music is very high class. Ugandan audiences want good, simple songs with love themes and good hooks they can identify with.
That answers your burning question. The most popular band is Eagles Production. The best band? Definitely Afrigo.