The New Times (Kigali)

Uganda's Ebonies' First Play in Rwanda

Today, almost 26 years after its inception, The Ebonies stage their first ever play in Rwanda. Some group members arrived in the country on Thursday, aboard a Jaguar Bus while others flew in by Air Uganda. There is a VIP concert today at the Kigali Serena Hotel, to be followed by a live show at Remera Stadium tomorrow.

Established in Kampala, Uganda in 1977, The Ebonies is Uganda's oldest, best known and loved drama and TV group. At the time, it was called Jimmy Katumba with the Ebonies, and proceeded under that name as a musical drama outfit until 1989, when majority of the group's singers emigrated to the UK and US.

The few remaining members transformed themselves into The Ebonies, recruited new members and started making stage dramas and TV series.

Today, decades after its inception, The Ebonies stage their first ever play in Rwanda. The group arrived in the country on Thursday, aboard a Jaguar Bus while others flew in by Air Uganda.

There is a VIP concert today at the Kigali Serena Hotel, to be followed by a live show at Remera Stadium tomorrow. And as is tradition with most of their productions, the Remera show will feature guest musical performances from Ugandan singer Ragga Dee, and our very own Tom Close.

Not new in the game:

The Ebonies' flagship production, That's Life Mwattu, a TV series that delved into the contradictions of day-to-day life, first aired on the Ugandan national broadcaster in 1993. It was the first time Ugandans were seeing a home-grown series on local TV. That's Life Mwattu easily became a deep national obsession that would make fans of today's South American TV soaps look lazy.

That's Life Mwattu would go on to be voted Best TV Drama programme between 1995-2003. And The Ebonies have been continually voted the best Drama Group from 1995 to date.

One of the group's lead acts, Sam Bagenda, was voted as Actor of the Millennium and Best Drama Actor for the years 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 2003, 2004, and 2005

The Ebonies style from day one had been not only clearly spelt out, but consistent, too: the group strove to feed its large army of fans with quality yet decent leisure and entertainment that were all laden with educative themes.

In That's Life Mwattu, societal issues such as prostitution, rural-urban migration, class conflict and the place of women in society were to be demystified to the Ugandan public. And so real did it look to the fans, many found it hard separating the actors' stage personae from their real lives.

In the early days of The Ebonies, a new crop of instant celebrities was born in Uganda. These celebrities were the larger-than-life characters that acted in the series. The first crop of such celebrities had names like Sam Bagenda, aka Dr Bbosa, Dick Katende, Cissy Muwanga, aka Matron, David Kute, aka Corporal Kute, Lindo, and Nakawunde, a naïve village character whose name soon became a byword for the TV drama.

The line between drama, dramatic license and reality soon became blurred to the collective public eye.

The group has since acquired a fresh crop of actors to support its expanded productions, as well replace those that have since passed on, most notably Cissy Muwanga and Dick Katende.

Many of the current crop of Ebonies fans actually know nothing of this first crop of dramatists. Instead, they seem to connect better with the current team, with such names as Sam Bagenda, Julie Underwood Kalema, Julie Nakiboneka, Paul Jingo, Nsubuga Mayombwe and David Kute.

Productions:

TV dramas aside, The Ebonies also cut out a niche in the area of TV productions, most notably Dollar The Queen (1997), The Diamond Ring (2000), The Victim (2001), Inextricable Dilemma (2004), Excruciating Conundrum: Kalibobbo (2005), Daisy 1998), Enigmatic Palpitations (2006/2007) and Obnoxious Abomination (2006).

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