15 July 2006

Uganda: When Priests Get Jiggy

Kampala — LORD'S DANCE: Fr. Musaala

IF Father Anthony Aliddeki Musaala lacks anything, it is not fame. The 50-year-old Catholic priest first caught the attention of the media when he stormed the Pearl of Africa Music Awards in 2005, winning in the Best Gospel Artiste and Best Gospel Song categories.

Musaala's risky decision to venture into music in a secular environment caused some controversy, with some conservative Catholics saying that an ordained priest should not demean himself to the extent of performing on the same platform with secular artistes.

So, what could have motivated a Roman Catholic priest, with all the solemnity of his office, to share a platform with artistes like Gerald Kiweewa, Harriet Kisaakye, Iryn Namubiru, Phina Mugerwa, Bobbie Wine, etc?

Musaala says the last encyclical (Papal letter) of Pope John Paul II, which called for new methods of evangelisation, inspired him. Musaala argues that music and the media are powerful tools of evangelisation, which go beyond the limits of church pulpits. "The good news of salvation is not restricted to people that come to church," he says. "We must try to make Christ known to people outside the churches; people on the streets, in garages or market places like Owino."

Musaala also says the music ministry has a biblical backing. He cites Psalm 150:4, which says, "Praise Him with tambourines and dancing. Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes."

Musala, who in his songs draws from reggae, ragga, Afro-Caribbean, socca, techno and African dance hall has released three albums - Ye Taata, Jesus Is Coming and Endongo Ya Yezu. He has also embarked on a strategy to improve on old Ganda and Swahili church hymns.

Not content with working at home only, he has extended his ministry to Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, where he identifies good church music and improves on it.

To help him, Musaala has formed a 30-strong group, Gospel Groovers, which sings and dances along with him.

Musaala sings in a variety of languages, including Luganda, Swahili, English, Runyakitara, Bemba and Latin.

The impact of Musaala's three-year music ministry is beginning to be felt; a number of Catholic gospel artistes are following in his footsteps.

Most prominent of these is Fr. Michael Ssenfuma, a priest from Masaka Diocese. Ssenfuma also has a musical group, the Anawim, which comprises major seminarians. Ssenfuma's album, Njagala, is selling like a hot cake.

The Seraphim choir of Our Lady of Africa Girls SS Lubaga has also gone modern.

Other prominent Catholic artistes include Jude Byansi/Orion Stars, Bro. Mukasa and the Noberts, Richard Masembe/Zion Gospel Kids, Fr. Simon Peter Magandaazi, Sr. Mary Theresa Kamyuka and Dan Katende.

All these performed impressively during the launch of Musaala's album, Endongo Ya Yezu, at Sharing Youth Centre, Nsambya on July 2.

Musaala also partners with secular, Anglican and Pentecostal Gospel artistes. He argues that the doctrinal differences of Christians must not prevent them from working together.

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