Uganda: Cindy's Edge Over Sheebah Is the Scourge of Our Time


Now that a [former] entertainer headlines the billboard charts of opposition politics - and there is possibility of becoming president - the country ought to listen and be more respectful when two artistes feud.

Who knows, our next cabinet could be filled by lyricists and vocalists. [Please do not give me that nonsense that they are unworthy]. Indeed, writing in 1982, Okot p'Bitek would pronounce the artiste as the actual ruler who, through the magic of their tunes and wit of their jokes control consciousness and structure our reflexes towards the world.

Ever since this business-affective feud between Sheebah, Karungi and Cindy Sanyu became more serious, there have been more reason for me to listen. Besides being a scholar of popular culture, over the years, I have honed my sensibilities as a feminist with a particular bias towards the "softer sex." [By the way, softness does not seek to underscore weakness but, rather, a profound emotion of empathy and love that is terribly insufficient in the menfolk - and generally lacking in the world].

There has never been a better time for men to appreciate and be guilty about structural male privilege. To this end, when some of the most visible women in our public space face-off, their feud ought to be mainstream as their personal struggles are a reflection our collective struggles.

Popular cultural studies are replete with narratives of feuds in the music industry. In fact, the industry would be incomplete without them. Feuds take different forms ranging from the subtle ones that manifest in lyrics, trash-talking in print and broadcast media, and in some cases, violent exchanges either in theatres or on streets.

There is another layer of sophistication to these feuds that makes them visible: they take forms and thrive on a linguistic and social infrastructure that is already laid down in the community in which the artistes live. That is, the yardsticks for measuring value or stupidity are already established.

See for example, in response to the accusation that she could not sing, Sheebah Karungi preferred not to respond to the accusation but, rather, point to what she has earned from the industry, which her adversary could be lacking.

For her, a house she owned in Munyonyo, a posher suburb of Kampala, was worth flaunting as statement of her accomplishment. Mulling over Sheebah's house-rich rebuttal, it struck me that if our MPs were challenged over their ability for sound debate, their responses - by far the majority - might not be different.

So are our ministers, economists, private health professionals, the many pseudo-intellectuals, farmers posting pictures on social media, etcetera. We now live in the age of the spectacle - with very little substance. Perfecting one's trade, and doing something well, ceased being a matter from which we derive satisfaction. It is all about an endless pursuit of personal benefit.

Thus, Sheebah, my sister Veronica Nakiyingi, and my OG, Winnifred Nakanwagi and their several so-called "record labels" are like Chinese factories. They are churning out song after song - which we gaily dance to as they are fairly entertaining.

But their songs too quickly lose their aesthetic and melodic spark and are soon forgotten. Like the Chinese products inundating downtown Kampala, you need to keep buying new ones.

But this is not Sheebah or their record labels' problem. Like the ministers and everybody else claiming to create something, they are the passive conscripts of a culture we have normalised after 1986: existentialist, impatient and fake [But lucrative and can afford one a good house and big automobile].

In her response, the more mature - in age and professionalism - Cindy Sanyu, born before 1986, insisted on questions relating to the craft of music and performance. Instead of taunting her opponent with property possessions, Cindy has been consistently well-spoken about her investment in the product she sells - owning a studio and procuring band equipment underscoring her reverence for quality and longevity.

To this end, not only can she tantalisingly dance and sing at the same time - in a live performance - she can also gruff her voice and battle with men. This is the turf for Afrigo band or Bobi Wine - and no wonder, her songs of the late 2000s are still relatable.

Challenged over what she has earned from the industry she has been involved in for over a decade, now 33, Cindy pointed to the comfort she afforded her mother by building her a house. Folks born after 1986 may never understand the quality of pleasure this affords a soul - and they should not be begrudged.

The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.

See What Everyone is Watching

More From: Observer

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 150 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.