To anyone who listened to radio between 2009 and 2018, Siima Sabiti needs no introduction. During that period, she was to morning radio what Christine Mawasri was back in the nineties.
Apart from radio though, she had her hands in many other journalistic and socialite jars, in addition to being an accomplished flutist. Last year Siima left the media and I had not heard much about her, other than that she had a fake wedding in support of Lulu Jemimah - the girl who famously 'married herself ' to raise money to go to university.
I sat down with Siima recently at her parents' home in Muyenga and she poured me a glass of wine as we started our lengthy chat.
"I was born in Swaziland in 1981 to Mr Godfrey Sabiti and Mrs Sara Sabiti. My father worked for the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]; so, we moved around a lot while I was growing up. From Swaziland, he was posted to Switzerland, where I attended a French school till I was about five. We then moved to Zimbabwe, where I initially joined a French school as well, but when I was joining Primary One, my parents worried about my English since I was constantly speaking French; so, they moved me to an English school," Siima said.
In 1991, the family moved yet again, this time to Ethiopia.
"I loved Ethiopia! I loved the people, the culture, the food," Siima gushed. "Unfortunately, there was a war brewing in the country at the time, and when a hotel next to our apartment block was bombed and the impact shattered all our windows, my dad immediately sent my mother, brother and I back to Uganda until things settled down."
However, Ethiopia did not improve and they wound up staying for several months, during which time Siima got to really know her cousins and relatives. Towards the end of that year, the family was reunited when her father was posted to Sierra Leone.
Siima said: "Sierra Leone had great weather and beautiful beaches close to where we lived, but I was enrolled in a British school and I hated it! I was constantly teased about my accent."
In 1993 after her primary education, Siima moved to the UK to join her two elder sisters who were in boarding schools. Siima credits the school in York with building her self-confidence as well as her musical skills.
"We were always told we could be anything we wanted to be. My eldest sister played the piano, and my elder sister the guitar; so, I chose the flute - also because I like silver things," she added with a laugh.
In 2002, Siima returned to Uganda and spent three years helping her aunt run her school in Mbarara (Mburara International School), after which she moved to Kampala. Following a gig at Sheraton hotel where she played the flute at a cousin's wedding, Siima remembers one of the hotel's managers approaching her and asking her to perform every Saturday at the hotel's Park Square.
In 2007, Siima ventured into radio, landing a job at Vision Voice where she did the morning show with Ernest Wasake. Despite a rocky start, Siima threw herself into presenting, and her enthusiasm caught the attention of management, and three months later she was promoted to Station Manager and later moved to replace Flair editor, Keturah Kamugasa, who had suddenly passed on.
All progressed smoothly until July 2019, when Siima decided it was time to move on.
"I began to get physically unwell; so, I resigned to focus on my music and production work." Although she is no longer on radio, Siima, Rudende and KK still present together through a weekly podcast aptly named #NotRadio.
On her last official day in formal employment, Siima went home and slept for two days.
"I hadn't realised until then just how tired I was, and how broken my body had become." Today Siima says she is in a much happier place. "I'm enjoying being creative. I still do emceeing, and I'm working on my music and production work as well."
Would she ever go back to radio? "I would love to! Radio is my first love, and music has always been a large part of my life; so, never say never," she said.
ABOUT THAT 'WEDDING'
Those who know her well will tell you there is no challenge you could hand Siima and she fails to execute it; even if that challenge is to get married against all odds. Of course I had to ask her about that infamous 'fake' wedding that made rounds on social media and in the tabloids.
Remembering the fracas surrounding that, Siima laughed as she retold the story of how she became a married woman at last - well, sort of.
In 2018, a Ugandan student at Oxford University, Lulu Jemimah, now 34, married herself and made global news, after getting tired of being asked when she would get married. She decided to marry herself to raise funds for her tuition. Little did Lulu know, she was inspiring some other young women and men.
"I first heard about Lulu's story from a tweet by Winnie Byanyima, and her story resonated with me. Then Bernard (Siima's 'groom') responded by tweeting that he was going to marry himself, and jokingly I replied that we should marry each other (so technically one could say, Siima proposed)."
"The next thing I know, people were tweeting about the #KaBernz wedding ('Ka'for @Kanyindo - her Tweeter handle, and 'Bernz' for Bernard), and it just snowballed from there. Before we knew it, sponsors were offering different products and services, ranging from my dress, to the cake, to the venue, and that's when the management of The Square (which hosted the KaBernz wedding) suggested we make an event of it and raise money for Lulu's Go Fund Me page, which I agreed to."
Siima called her family and explained what was happening, and they understood, "though I'm sure my mother would have preferred that it were a real wedding".
The planning took just two weeks and Siima was surprised at what a success the fake wedding was. "Rudende 'married' us, my brother 'gave me away', and most importantly, we raised Shs 7m for Lulu," she concluded with pride.
So, will there be a 'real' wedding some day? "I believe people should do things in their own time, and not according to schedules set by others. I refuse to settle for anyone that I don't feel is the right person just to get married - I have other things to focus on," she said nonchalantly, making it evident that marriage is not high on her priority list just yet.
Three hours and one bottle of wine later, I was finally ready to leave. And as I left Tank Hill Muyenga behind me, I thought, with Siima's go-getter attitude, it won't be long before we hear lots more from her.