New Vision (Kampala)

31 August 2013

Uganda: Celebrating Afrigo Band

The Afrigo band celebrates 38 years of existence this weekend. They have gone through many ups and downs over the years they have existed, but somehow the band always finds itself 'up'. Here fellow musician and lifelong admirer Lungfishman Lwanga gives tribute to their indomitable spirit. It was 1982.

It was dark and scary! I was not sure I had made the right decision, or if at all I had made a decision. But we were on the move, three or four young boys from Namilyango College, averaging 14 years of age, following one another through village plantations on a course towards Mukono.

Out without permission, I had absolutely no idea where we were going or what for, except that it would be fun! But I was petrified because these were the days when National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel activity had spread and the Uganda National Liberation Front government forces were uncompromising and exquisitely deadly! But I still tagged along, dodging road junctions, stopping at mud huts, tadooba bufunda's for quick refi lls of 'Kasese', and once or twice squatting in the bush to share 'weed' or hide from passing car lights!

One of us, a half-caste called Michael Jackson, carried a scratcher comb in his belt, explaining that if anyone saw the bulge they would think it was a pistol and would let us be! Long story short, we got to Mukono town, very small then, and into the town hall.

I cannot recall how we got in, but there we were, me in utter exuberance! It was not like I had not seen a live band before, but there was this band playing the Bob Marley and the Wailer's Uprising album song for song... Africa Go, Black Power, if I remember well! That is how I fi rst saw Afrigo Band! Afrigo Band's 38 year stretch is not a miracle. It is the culmination of years of many musicians' diligence, discipline, sacrifice and above all, talent and the love of music! I believe that of all the musicians I saw that day in 1982, only Moses Matovu and Herman Sewanyana are alive today.

Afrigo Band has survived more crises than most entities in Uganda and I recall a comment Moses made to me in one of these crises: "Nze ne Ssekyanzi ffe Afrigo Band!", so when Ssekyanzi passed, I worried, but I need not have worried, Afrigo still survived! This for me is absolute proof that Matovu is indomitably the spirit of Afrigo Band! Watching Afrigo is an experience in itself and here are no disappointments. Year in year out, every single time I have been there, I have enjoyed myself completely.(left Joanita Kawalya, Afrigo singer)

They are a dance band, so to speak and have kept that tradition successfully. It does not matter the mood you go with to watch Afrigo, you will leave feeling fully satisfied and entertained. What always surprises me is that even when they play the same songs they did last week, you will enjoy it all, something that does not happen with many bands.

For most, you will watch twice and it becomes dull! Afrigo Band has without doubt created a brand sound of theirs. One bar into a song and you know it is Afrigo. This is not easy in a country where music long ceased to be an art form and became a business. But then one has to agree that the band's management hit the right note in balancing business and art; sticking much to their own creativity, came up with a unique and always enjoyable sound.

Matovu is a strict disciplinarian, on and off stage and is quick to anger when you let your guard down. He is also sincere and will not hesitate to tell you where you have gone wrong. But he is also forgiving and loving! For those who knew Don Kanta (RIP), know that Kanta was a true free spirit and was many times hard to rein in, consequently falling in and out of line. But Matovu always forgave him.

Many other members have gone and come back for other reasons as well! Time keeping for rehearsals, time keeping for shows, tuning instruments and quality of sound, dress code, behaviour on stage and back stage or in the vicinity of a show are all very highly regulated and these all add value and respect to the band Matovu always impresses it upon the members to practice on their own to improve skill. And to say the least, it shows on stage that all artists there are accomplished at what they do.

Every artiste, musician that has worked with Afrigo Band has its mark on their work. Whereas Matovu is the most highly acclaimed, there are other directors who have contributed equally to the success story that is Afrigo Band. But as they say, that is a story for another day. We will, perhaps, with their permission, unveil them to you. I salute the memories of all fallen artistes whose contribution to the life of Afrigo Band has been upheld with respect! Thank you master Matovu and all the directors for a job well done!

Thank you Afrigo Band for representing us musicians very well

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