Uganda: Nanga Legend Dies At 84

25 September 2020

Fans of nanga music, a popular soulful Acholi stringed musical instrument, are mourning the passing of its icon, Philip Kilipa Ogwang.

Compositions by the celebrated artiste have graced the air waves of both local and national radio and television stations, with some adopted for documentary soundtracks

The nanga maestro breathed his last at about 8.11am on Thursday morning at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, where he was admitted a week ago, according to his daughter, Ms Fiona Akwero Ogwang. He was 84.

Kilipa, as he his popularly known, had been battling diabetes and high blood pressure for many years.

A family member said he was rushed to the hospital after complaining of body pains.

The celebrated artiste had also lost his eyesight several years ago, but this did not dim his immense talent with the nanga that he expertly strummed and continued to win droves of admirers.

"He was taken to the hospital after complaining of pains in his lower abdomen and his right chest," Ms Ogwang told this newspaper on phone from the hospital yesterday.

At the time of his death, Kilipa's staunch fans led by Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and other well-wishers were completing a house in honour of the legendary entertainer at his ancestral home in Olupe Opong Village, Geregere Sub-county in Agago District.

The plan to build him a house as a gift was conceived following his relocation in 2017 from Kitgum Town, where he was staying in a dilapidated grass-thatched structure after retiring from his medical work.

His fans, in Uganda and the diaspora, especially in the United Kingdom, launched a fundraising drive at the end of 2019, which saw brisk contributions in cash and building materials.

The construction of the two-bedroom house started in earnest in early March, just as the coronavirus global pandemic reached Uganda, affecting donations and construction.

But Kilipa passed on before he could occupy and enjoy his new place of abode, since the work was not yet complete.

But Mr William Okidi, the coordinator of the UK Chapter of the Ogwang Kilipa Honour House charity initiative, told Saturday Monitor that Kilipa had already blessed the house in August.

"Kilipa blessed it in August and thanked all who made it happen. He toured the house two weeks ago but due to ill health, he was in the hospital until he passed on," Mr Okidi said in a WhatsApp message.

Born to an Anglican catechist, Mr Nakuconi Bala, and Ms Angom Dolophina on January 1, 1936, Kilipa learned to play the seven-stringed nanga instrument in his early 20s by first watching keenly his father play at wang oo - the evening fireplace.

But young Kilipa would steal his chance whenever the elders had all gone to the garden.

He would steal his father's highly treasured and protected nanga and practiced on his own.

His offended dad would reprimand him, but he soon gave up when his child did not heed to his repeated rebuke.

In a recent interview, Kilipa told this reporter he had composed up to 458 nanga songs in his singing career, spanning well over 60 years.

His first hit was titled Bonyo Lagara in 1968.

The song chronicled the advent of a swarm of desert locust that had invaded and destroyed crops that year.

In later years, Kilipa survived death at the hands of ex-President Idi Amin Dada when he reportedly ordered for his head.

This was after the late dictator was tipped off about a song Kilipa had composed about his murderous regime.

But a friend tipped off Kilipa luckily escaped and went into hiding.

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