14 February 2018

Uganda: Mowzey Radio Off Air (January 25, 1985 - February 1, 2018)

What happens when an artiste dies is a question often asked when a creative dies. Unlike many people, artistes are expected to have obvious legacies because works of art never die. This can be said of Radio, singer and songwriter who passed on at 33.

He was hailed for his unique vocal abilities and lyrical finesse that produced some of the most popular ballads in Uganda. But Radio's talent was not just felt in Uganda, music lovers across the continent and beyond mourned a star whom they described as an icon.

Born Moses Nakintije Ssekibogo but known to a legion of fans as Mowzey Radio, the voice of the tall, thin and jolly musician blasted radio airwaves and rocked hangout spots for a decade as one half of the Goodlyfe Crew with his partner Weasel, real names Douglas Mayanja.

Through songs like Nakudata, Bread and Butter, Magnetic, Ability, Nyambura, Talk and Talk, Radio broke the orthodoxy of the Top Three artistes in Ugandan music; Jose Chameleone, Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine and clearly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. His lyrics usually revolved around themes of beauty, an unreciprocated love or a love that he never gives up chasing.

And the latter part is something that defined Radio's career. There are times when the Goodlyfe Crew would release hit after hit, nearly every month and people wondered whether they would not suffer quick burn out musically. But they did not. Instead they wowed their fans with more hits.

Early life

Radio was born on January 25, 1985 and went to Kibuye Primary School among many others before he joined secondary school. He attended Lake View Wanyange and Kiira College Butiiki for his O and A-level studies and opted to study psychology at Makerere University after an inspirational talk in his last year at secondary school.

Like many musicians, Radio started singing at a tender age. "My mother used to ask me to learn Luganda songs and she would also ask me to sing for visitors at home," he said in an interview with Sanyu FM radio. As a child, he sang Fred Sebatta's songs and his love for singing just blossomed further.

Growing up, Radio's journey followed a familiar pattern for most artistes- he was active in the school choir and wrote songs for it as well. It helped him hone his talent at song writing.

Radio first garnered attention as an artiste after he released Sweet Lady in 2006; a ballad about pursuing a love interest. It is on this single that his unique voice got a chance to be heard at some events around the country.

However his first song was Jennifer, released in 2005. Jose Chameleone, already an established artiste then, recorded the song at his Leone Island studios and Radio's meeting with Chameleone opened many doors for the aspiring musician. Radio met Chameleone through another artiste, Chagga. At the time, Radio was juggling his young music career with his university studies while also working as a barber in Ndeeba, in the outskirts of Kampala.

Goodlyfe Crew

During his time at Leone Island crew, Radio worked as a back-up singer for Chameleone as well as a driver. It is here that he met Weasel and the famous duo 'Radio and Weasel' was born. Weasel, a younger brother to Chameleone, worked as a backup singer too.

One day as the two milled around bored, they hit the studio and recorded Nakudata their first song as a duo. The song was an instant hit, bringing them overnight stardom. Shortly after, fans were singing along to Zuena, Ability, Potential and many more and the two started trading as the Goodlyfe Crew.

Their musical success pitted them against their mentor Chameleone, and they renounced their membership with Leone Island. Fights both musical and physical became a staple of the two singers' lifestyles and also fuelled their creativity.

In their break out year in 2008, Nakudata won them Song of the Year at the defunct Pearl of Africa Music Awards. They also collected Best New artiste/group and Best Afrobeat single for 'Zuena' at the event.

The dynamic duo, as they referred to themselves, did not survive the folly of fame. Fans would be astounded by their rivalry with Chameleone since the latter was Weasel's brother. The group's fights with Bebe Cool were more acrimonious; they traded insults, fought in bars, and often sucked in relatives.

In December 2013, the duo faced off with Bebe Cool in a concert dubbed Battle of the Champions at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds. Their quest for domination seemed to cement their position further as Uganda's finest music duo.

Although they had long made up with Chameleone and Bebe Cool, the group was at loggerheads with their former manager Jeff Kiwanuka.

Radio and Weasel were plagued by unending rumours of a split. No sooner would a rumour be doing the rounds than another chart topping hit was churned from their Makindye-based studios. As is wont with musical crews, there would be fights over song releases, performance fees, booking negotiations but the duo's creativity invariably put the rumours to rest.

In 2013, the duo registered a milestone when they earned a nomination in the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards for Best International Act Africa.

Last year in November, Goodlyfe crew staged a concert marking their ten years in the music industry where they took their fans on a memory lane of their unforgettable hits.

However Radio seemed to shine more than his counterpart. Fans were often awed by his sharp silky voice that always belted out the chorus on Goodlyfe hits. He also distinguished himself as a song writer, penning hits for many of his colleagues. Many saw him as the lifeblood of Goodlyfe but Radio was always at hand to acknowledge Weasel as a vital partner.

Benon Mugumya, the founder of Swangz Avenue, a music production house, says Radio was peerless. "We have not just lost Radio but music. There is no one like him. There is no one who crafted lyrics like him; the passion and feeling he had, it is such a loss."

Mugumya says he worked with Radio on Dagala, one of Radio's very first songs. "He played a big role in the establishment of Swangz Avenue," he told The Independent.

Singer after singer eulogized Radio for his artistry. Bobi Wine wrote: "Radio was an icon. He was a bright shining star. He held Uganda's flag high on the national and global scene. He defied the odds and proved that one can rise from the ghetto and become an international celebrity."

Jose Chameleone said he was Radio's number one fan because of his obvious talent. "He came to me and sung to me first. We fell out, fought and reconciled."

Radio died on February 1 from severe head injuries. He had spent more than a week at Case Hospital after a pub brawl in Entebbe. The musician turned 33 on his deathbed and is survived by three children; two from fellow artiste Lillian Mbabazi.

His last song, Tambule Nange released a few weeks before he was hit, sounded like a valedictory to his multitude of fans. In the song, Radio was asking God to take charge of his life and as fate would have it, Mowzey Radio was gone.

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