The Observer (Kampala)

8 November 2012

Uganda: Tony Houls Bemoans Poor Pay

Whenever I listen to songs, rarely do I think about the brains behind the great hits.

I credit artistes who are literally the faces of the songs; just like many Ugandans who know artistes but can hardly mention a music producer's name.

But when I visited the Kamwokya-based Fire Recordz (home to Bobi Wine and the Firebase crew), where I met Tony Houls Bikumbi, the brains behind some of the biggest Ugandan hits over the last ten years, he narrated to me the life of a music producer.

Church background:

Growing up in Kasubi near Pastor Steven Ssozi's heritage revival church, Bikumbi was lucky that the church's music instruments were kept at the pastor's home.

"I quickly learnt how to play the guitar and keyboard and I was admitted into the church choir as one of the instrumentalists. I later started getting involved in [the] production of several church songs. This gave me the experience that I was later going to use for commercial purposes," he recalls.

It was then [in the late 1990s] that Eddy Yawe spotted Bikumbi and offered to partner with him and collaborate on some music production. "Yawe, who was staying in America then, offered to buy all the necessary equipment to start a good recording studio," he explained.

In the early 2000s, while Uganda's music was taking off, Bikumbi and Yawe started the Dream studios, where he (Bikumbi) stayed until he joined Fire Recordz in 2009. The studio started in high gear, producing hits like Owomukwano Nakkazi by Bobi Wine, Ssunda by Bobi Wine/Zigy Dee and Funtula by Bebe Cool/Bobi Wine.

"This was the greatest beginning any producer would wish for. The songs were all hits and since the industry was in its infant stage, many artistes were willing to work with me," he said.

Facing challenges:

Despite having a great start to his career, Bikumbi pointed out the lack of recognition of music producers. "About 75% of the song is contributed by the producers, but most credit goes to the artistes since they are the face of these songs."

This would not be a problem to Bikumbi if the producers, who employ a lot of time and technical skills in the production of the song, were well remunerated.

"Apart from in-house artistes (Fire Base crew), I rarely get a commission for say a song I produced being used by telecoms as a ringtone. I think we need the copyright law to protect producers as well," he surmised.

His laurels:

Bikumbi has produced hits for people like Bobi Wine, Pastor Bugembe, Silver Kyagulanyi, Mesach Ssemakula, Ronald Mayinja and Eddy Yawe, among others.

In fact, local producers like Paddy Man, Washington, Brian J.J, Godfrey Kwezi and Tony Tyraks also attribute their success to Bikumbi.

"Here we call him 'Jajja Tony'. He is the grandfather of music production in Uganda, ready to help anyone," said Godfrey Kwezi at Fire Recordz.

His take on the industry:

"As music producers, we work with a lot of artistes with different styles and demands. Some artistes are a big headache but it's all about patience and understanding and life continues," he said.

Bikumbi generally notes that Uganda's music production industry is progressing.

"We started with very poor instruments that would give a bad sound but this has since changed to production of world-class music."

He, however, says the industry lies far below the standards when it comes to monetary returns.

"There is absolutely no money in music production, there is still a long way to go."

Bikumbi, however, believes the prosperity of the industry lies in whether artistes can learn to respect and partner and promote music other than competition and beefing.

Inspiration:

Though he holds a diploma in Computer Engineering, Bikumbi said creating good music has always been his goal in life. For this reason, the father of two went ahead to study a course in music production to further his career.

"I have been inspired by two people, Silver Kyagulanyi for his special character and Tom Musoke who was a keyboard specialist and I vied to be like him one day," he said.

Pastime:

"I spend most of my free time with my family. I also produce music for my wife Joy Bikumbi - a gospel artiste at Glory of Christ Church in Kawaala."

Bikumbi loves detective movies, which take up most of his time away from music.

Prospects:

Bikumbi is an ambitious man. He plans to start counselling programmes, deal in real estate and establish a farm.

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