17 May 2017

Uganda: Ten Years Later, Paulo Kafeero's Music Still Inspires Pop Culture

Paul Kaliika is a fine performer who made his name in the early 2000s, mostly for covering songs by the legendary kadongo kamu artiste, Paulo Kafeero.

"I started singing Kafeero's songs from home where my aunt had almost all the artiste's albums," he says.

Then he escorted his aunt to the market and started singing Kiwenenya Amazina to himself as they were served. The vendor took note and asked Kaliika to keep singing.

"After that, I started singing for money; I would even escape from school to go sing in the markets," he recounts.

Kiwenenya Amazina was the fourth single off Kafeero's fifth album by the same title. The song was answering a rival that thought Kafeero's other song, Ekijjankunene, was about him. Kiwenenya Amazina seemed to refute the allegation, but went on to note it was not Kafeero's fault the said rival saw himself as a kijjankunene (disgrace).

Many believed the rival in question to be fellow genre maestro, Fred Ssebatta. Today, it is exactly 10 years since Kafeero died at Mulago national referral hospital after a long illness.

Kaliika is one of many artistes directly impacted by the kadongo kamu artiste. At Nakivubo stadium in 2005, where Eagles Production had organized Ebbinu Makeke, Kaliika finally met his idol.

Kafeero was there to perform, Kaliika was there to compete with aspiring artistes covering songs by famous artistes. Kaliika won after performing three songs by Kafeero.

"That's the first time I talked to him," he recalls.

Kaliika says Kafeero gave him Shs 100,000, on top of the bicycle he had won in the contest. Kadongo kamu was then still heavily appreciated. Its artistes were music and music was them; they recorded not because they wanted fame and wealth, but because they wanted to communicate.

Kafeero was part of that crop of artistes that made fans debate about their deep Luganda lyrics, and made others question the system while teaching them a thing or two.

During his 37 years, he recorded more than 20 albums, but it was for his monstrous hit Walumbe Zzaaya that he became immortalised. The 1994 masterpiece was an attack, lamentation and effort to give death a human face.

With the 15-minute song, Kafeero at only 24 years walked into history books as a songwriting genius, because throughout this song, he does not repeat any words outside the mournful chorus.

According to the book, One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeero by Kathryn Barrett-Gaines aka Omwana W'Omuzungu, who is also the director of the Kafeero Foundation, the song earned Kafeero the enduring nickname, The Golden Boy of Africa, after he was awarded a gold medal from the Institute d'Etudes Theatreales at the 1994 Cairo Music festival.

Born on July 12, 1970, Kafeero exploited the topic of death in other songs such as Essawa Ya Walumbe, Essuubi Lyampeddemu, Obulamu Bwebutyo and Nsonda Nya, which was released after his death.

Barrett-Gaines says in her book that Livingstone Kasozi had brought Kafeero from Kyaggwe and Herman Basudde from Masaka to form Makula guitar singers. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with, with Basudde still referred to as a musical prophet.

Where Basudde was hilarious and mischievous in his lyrics, Kasozi had a lot of soul, while Kafeero was the lyrical genius. Kafeero's art was a work of deep thought and poetry. The way he threaded and joined his words to drive a message across, Barrett-Gaines calls it a masterstroke that exposed the limitations of the English language when it comes to expression.

"English is an incapable vessel to carry Luganda, much less the deep Luganda that is the stuff of Kafeero's art," she noted, introducing a book that translates all Kafeero's lyrics to English.

The death of his two friends Kasozi and Basudde in a space of months in 1997 is said to have left Kafeero a lonely man. Kafeero reacted to the deaths with Edduma ly'Embaga where he reminisced their friendship and the hardships they faced when they first started out.

At the time of his death in 2007, Kafeero was planning to celebrate 20 years of his musical journey.

"He had promised to write for me a song that would appear on his next album," says Kaliika, now 29. "When he came back he looked tired and since I wasn't in a rush, I waited for him to get better."

It never happened. Kafeero last performed live on stage on Christmas day, 2006.


Ten years after his death, Kafeero is more celebrated than before. Walumbe Zzaaya and others are anthems at vigils and wakes, while others such as Bulandina Ndibakoya and Nantabulirirwa are also famous at traditional wedding ceremonies. Kaliika says it is Kafeero that made him what he is today.

"I may not have made money out of his songs, but performing them enabled me to make friends and meet people I could only dream of."

According to Kaliika, much as he hardly performs Kafeero's music today, he has tailored his stage mannerisms and artistry to those of the late artiste. Kafeero's continued influence is undeniable, propping up music careers and keeping other artistes relevant to kadongo kamu lovers.

In 2010, Bobi Wine redid Kafeero's Dipo Naziggala as Ghetto Naziggala. Much as Bobi's version was interesting to listen to, sections from the Kafeero estate noted it was not lawful.

Later, in 2012 a then relatively unknown rapper Gravity Omutujju would launch himself into pop culture with a lugaflow version of Walumbe Zzaaya that did not only sample Kafeero's original track but also took his entire chorus.

According to Kafeero's son, Thomas Kafeero Schwarzenegger, Bobi Wine talked to the family about the song. Apparently, he was supposed to pay something but did not fully fulfill his obligation. Other platforms like telecommunication companies have used the music as call back tunes, even though the family is yet to see any financial returns.

"Ten years down the road, we don't know what happens to the money collected from the different channels that use the music," says the young Kafeero, who is currently following up on his late father's music copyright.

Thomas says many people have gone on to abuse the music; some have built their stars around his musical maturity, while others have taken from his demeanor and style to create their own careers.


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