New Vision (Kampala)

17 December 2012

Uganda: Singer Sophie Tells All

Singer Sophie Nantongo is a true definition of a diva. She is not only blessed with a good voice, but her talent also spills over to acting on stage.

Of recent, she has been painted as a tragic figure who is beset with troubles and countless broken hearts - a failed marriage with her first husband and, reportedly, her second marriage to football coach Sam Simbwa, is also on the rocks.

Nantongo broke her silence and talked to Joseph Batte about her personal life. But her story is more than what we see. It is a story about a young female artiste, who was exploited by her former employer and betrayed by the man she loved

Who is Sophie Nantongo?

I was born on October 10, 1983, in Kasubi, a Kampala suburb. My father, Erias Bisegerwa and mother, Sarah Bisegerwa, both passed away. I have two siblings and I am the last born.

My mother was a staunch Seventh Day Adventist, while my father was Muslim. I spent most of my childhood under the care of my mother. My father was always busy.

He owned Happyland Theatre in Kibuye. It is still our family property.

My mother owned a shop in Kikuubo. Meat, rice and matooke was our daily meal. We eventually got tired of the food because we had enough of it.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Nakasero Nursery, then Namugongo Girls' Boarding Primary School, Gombe SS (O'level) and Agha Khan Secondary School for A'level. Throughout my primary school, I was a member of the choir and often sang the solo parts. At that time, my dream was to become a pilot, not a singer.

I was inspired to fly planes by my mother. I sewed pips that are found on the flight captains' uniforms on all my school uniform.

Other than the school choir, when was the first time you stepped on stage to sing a pop song?

It was in 2000 at a pub in Namasuba on Entebbe Road. I had gone to the pub with three friends when we found a band, Power Pro, performing live.

I felt an urge to join them on stage. I sent my friend, Sylvia Nabukenya, to ask them for permission. That day, I performed Judy Boucher's Send Me the Pillow. My performance surprised many, including myself. The crowd went wild.

They remarked that I was even better than the female members of the band. The following week, I went to Sabrina's pub to sing karaoke of the same song. The performance was even better. That evening, I emerged the best female singer of the day.

After two weeks, I got a call, asking me to join Stone band, which was performing at Sabrina's Pub. I accepted. I was too excited to mind about the pay. My interest was in singing. When I was eventually told I would be paid sh170,000, per month, I could not believe it. That was a lot of money for me. I used my first pay to buy a Nokia 5110 phone.

After a month, the money was raised to sh250,000. Still, I felt that was just too much money for me. I was not paying any rent, I had no child and I was not buying food at home. I ended up using the money on chips and chicken and new shoes and clothes.

How did you join the Eagles Production band?

After a year with Stone Band, singer Mesach Semakula asked me to join the Eagles Production band.

But a month before I joined, Semakula took me to record my first album. That is where I met my first boyfriend, Shaban. He was the drummer of the band. Life in Eagles band was tough.

By the time I joined, they used to combine singing and acting. I was required to do both and I excelled. I was the best female actress/ singer in the group. At one moment, there was a production where I was the only female acting with all the male band members. After a year, which seemed like an eternity for me, I quit.

Eagles Production exploited me

Why did you leave the band?

I left because I felt it was the right thing to do. I felt I could not take my music to another level when still a member of the Eagles band. Not that it was a bad band, no. When you are in the band from Monday to Sunday, you will always be a kid. I wanted to grow up.

But the major reason I left the band was because I was not paid a salary for the year that I was there. I was always paid sh2,000 for transport.

I would go and perform on other shows, but the money would not be paid to me because I was not deemed a product of the Eagles Production Band. Somebody else took the money. I would not even be involved in the negotiations.

The band's directors sometimes would tell me I was going to perform in Mukono and after that, I would join them in Entebbe. Still, after performing on both shows, I would be given sh2,000 for transport.

I remember the day I quit. It was in September, 2002. We were performing in Nakulabye at New Life Bar. At the time, my transport allowance had been raised from sh2,000 to sh10,000. After performing for four hours, I asked the manager for my money.

He refused to give me the money. I was furious because I was expected to perform again the following day. I went to my boss, Mesach Semakula, whom I told that I was quitting the band. He broke the news to the rest of the members of the band and told me to go back home and cool down.

The following day, he did not call and neither did I. After four days, I received a call from the band, asking me to perform with them in Gayaza. I declined. I lied to them that I was nursing an injury on my leg and would not be able to perform. I had already made up my mind on going solo.

What lessons did you learn while with the band?

I learnt so many things. On a positive note, I think the band helped me to grow. I learnt to take care of myself. I was working, but not being paid a salary, yet I had to dress up well because I had to look good on the stage. I also learnt how to compete. When I joined, I met two strong artistes in the group, Irene Namatovu and Catherine Kusasira.

On the negative side, the band exploited me a lot. We were required to work throughout the week. We would go to villages and spend months there and upon return, I would be given a transport allowance of sh2,000.

How did you initially find life as a solo artiste?

I spent 2003 without doing anything. Nobody was listening to me. I had no new song.

At the time, I did not think about money because I was not used to being paid. What I really missed was being on stage.

Luckily for me, I used that one-year break to look for someone to write a new song for me. I recorded an album, Liberty. The songs in Liberty were written by Silver Kyagulanyi. That is the album that launched my solo career.

The next album, Ekisanja, which had songs like Wansumulula and Abakazi Ekitubonyabonya Butayiga, propelled me to stardom.

Then next we hear is that you are getting married to a rich man called Kagoma. What happened to Shaban?

He was still with the Eagles Production, yet I had left the group unceremoniously. The distance that developed between us saw me drift apart from Shaban. The people who got to know me thereafter only knew my second boyfriend, the father of my first born.

What happened with you and Hajji Kagoma?

I was deeply in love with him. I did not know how he felt about me. We took our vows, but things did not work out. For the sake of my life, I decided to pull out. There are other reasons I would not like to reveal in the press.

Did you know that your husband had another wife in Jinja?

I did not know. We stayed together for months and there was no day he slept outside home. When I learnt that he had another wife, I expressed my disappointment, but accepted it as a fact of life. But there is something else that forced me to leave. He got a child with my younger sister.

At first, he lied to me that I was his only wife. Then, I discovered that he had two other women living in the same house, meaning I was the third wife.

Having a child with my sister was the worst moment in my life. As I grieved, a thought struck me. I decided to move on. I thought that if i stayed with him just to make my child happy, I would die because I was devastated.

I needed to be strong in order to raise my child. So, I left the marriage and kept silent for two years. He was also silent for all that time. When he discovered that I had another man, he started protesting.

When you separated with Kagoma where did you go?

When I told him it was over between us, he left me in the house we were renting in Kasanga. Had he returned, I would have walked out.

How did you discover the affair between your young sister and your husband?

He bought my sister a phone and she hid it from me. But I discovered there was something going on between the two. When I asked her, she spilled the beans.

She had come to get some money from me, but I did not have the amount she wanted. So, I told her to live with us as she waited for the money. Soon, she was in a relationship with my husband.

I did not refuse to baptise my child - Nantongo

The new man in your life now is coach Sam Simbwa. How did you meet?

He first sent my brother, Edward, to me. Edward was a soccer player in Simba FC, a club Simbwa coached.

However, Edward refused to deliver the message because he knew I had been devastated in my first marriage. Instead of delivering Simbwa's messages, he gave him my mobile number.

Simbwa called me and revealed how he felt about me. I replied that I did not know him. He changed the tactics. The next time, I got a call from my cousin, Anne, who plays netball in one of the local teams. She invited me over to her place.

When I went there, I found Sam Simbwa. The next thing I knew was we had fallen in love.

Tell us about the fight you had with your step children and their mother

When I met Simbwa, I knew he had children. He had been married, but for the previous four years, they were not living together.

By the time I moved into his house, there was no woman. The mother of his children was living in Oman. She knew of our kwanjula. In fact, even her children were present. Problems started when she was deported from Oman back to Uganda.

She had no where to go. Since they had not yet divorced, she stormed our home, in company of the press. She expected me to put up a fight, but I did not.

My husband went back to his parents' home and so did I. Later, we reunited we are now living together.

Why did you refuse to baptise the child?

I cannot do that because in our culture, the child belongs to the man. The reason we did not baptise was because he was travelling with his team to Zambia for a match.

Why have Simbwa's children reacted like that toward you?

I was disrespected and abused by my step-children. The fire started when their mother came back. Nonetheless, I will always be a mother to them. They should know that I still love them. I got annoyed because I was insulted, but that is history.

Any lessons in relationships?

In my first marriage, I learnt not to quickly trust a man. I trusted this man, but I discovered that right from the foundation of our relationship, it was full of lies. What I learnt in the second marriage is that when one is desperate, they will do anything to get what they want.

Haven't these scandals affected your career?

The press always publish one side of the story. They said nasty things about me. That sort of affected me.

That is why I decided to talk to Saturday Vision about my untold story. I am a strong woman. I separate my family from my work.

How will you bounce back from this mess?

I did not use strategies when I joined the music industry. What I know is that with time, my fans who were hurt by the saga will be healed. I will also heal. People have tried to paint me as a stone-hearted person, which is not true. With time, people will know the truth.

Finally, I would like to apologise to all my fans. I am sorry if I have let you down. I have my private life, which certain people are trying to destroy. May be I blundered and for that I am sorry.

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