Singer Lady Mariam Namukasa of the Tindatiine fame has relayed the troubles she went through to record the smash debut that catapulted her from a naïve village belle to a superstar.
The Runyankore track premiered at the start of 2006, captivating Ugandans with its punchy lyrics and video. Within days of its release, it had traversed the country and crossed borders to southern Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. For once, an artiste from the western region was at the helm of our local charts. In a matter of days, Lady Mariam had transformed from a nobody to a star.
The singer has for the first time gone on record about what happened behind the scenes of the popular song.
"You can't believe the challenges I went through. I almost gave up," Mariam started. "Can you imagine Tindatiine was recorded at a fee of only Shs 50,000?" The song has since raked in millions.
Mariam's story is the kind that inspires a hit movie; it chronicles an orphaned uneducated village girl's tribulations as she chases her dream of becoming a star.
The Tindatiine story began in mid 2005 when Mariam, who ran a village salon in Kabwohe and part-timed in a Mbarara-based karaoke group, visited her aunt in Kampala. She was instantly bamboozled by the city's fast entertainment life.
"I would watch artistes on stage and wish it were me. [Mariam] Ndagire has always been my favourite," said the singer in Runyankore, because she can't confidently express herself in English.
One morning, she recalls, she decided to write a song.
"It took me the whole day and I used over three exercise books."
She then sang it to a friend who "doubted I had written it myself."
'Fool' the Crook
Convinced her song was worth taking to a studio, Mariam embarked on a finance-seeking mission. Her salon was the sacrifice; she sold it for Shs 350,000 and returned to Kampala.
"I had met a certain artiste at a previous show and he offered to take me to studio," she said.
"Fool," as Mariam likes to refer to the artiste, first lied that he had paid the money to Dream Studios and that recording would only take place at night.
"I slept at the studio for seven straight days without seeing the producer. Fool started avoiding me."
She then confronted studio boss Eddy Yawe about the matter, who said he had not received a coin from "Fool". Instead, "Fool" later suggested that she try a downtown studio, Hypercom Studio, where the song was eventually recorded. But Fool's antics were far from over.
"He twisted my song around and made it Kadongokamu. He also forcefully sang a Luganda verse on it. It sounded horrible, but I had nothing to do," she narrated.
Real trouble came when Fool went into hiding after a few recording sessions. Stranded, Lady Miriam decided to approach the studio's management and was shocked to learn that "Fool" had only paid Shs 50,000.
"I didn't know what to do; so, I broke down and cried. I begged the producers to help me out." They did.
It took Lady Mariam over a year to cope with the fame that came with Tindatiine's success. As a naïve belle, she struggled to learn how celebrities behave and how to talk to press. She also went to perform in places she had never dreamt of, and for such places Lady Mariam boarded planes. Previously, she had only been on a bus a few times.
"Silver [Kyagulanyi] advised me to buy a car, which I did. But I didn't know how to drive then," said the artiste who has since driven a range of cool cars, including her current Toyota Noah.
Encouraged by the hype, like winning the 2007 Pearl of Africa Music award for Western Artiste of the Year, Lady Mariam decided to diversify to Luganda, a move she said she does not regret.
Fans, nonetheless, blame the move on Lady Mariam's diminished fame in the recent past. Clearly, the likes of Julianna Kanyomozi, Iryn Namubiru and Desire Luzinda, among others, have overshadowed her in that genre.
Despite boasting of four albums with over 30 songs, none of her music has matched Tindatiine's finesse and success: and she knows it.
"I miss Tindatiine days when I was at the top of my game," she said, vowing to bounce back this year. She is working on another Runyankore song that will surpass Tindatiine.
Lady Mariam has been linked with a string of men since hitting the limelight, and she hates the media for that (she was reluctant to give me this interview).
"I have run out of fingers counting the men people have linked me with. But there is only one man whom I love so much," she said, dismissing rumours she is carrying her manager Hussein Ojuku's child.
The artiste who is cagey about her age is working on her second film project. She also hopes to out her fifth album by end of this year. Basing on her determination, it may not be long before she bounces back.