Uganda: A Year in Entertainment

30 December 2020

The year 2020 has been a tough one for the entertainment industry due to the diverse effects of a pandemic that led to its shutdown.

For Ugandan artistes that mainly survive on concerts as opposed to album sales, the ongoing lockdown on bars, theatre and live shows has been punishing. ERNEST JJINGO & NATHAN ATILUK look at what Covid has meant to the sector.

Musicians who 'made lemonade'

EEZZY

The 23-year-old Eric Opoka aka Eezzy is the hottest musical item in Northern Uganda and is currently trending nationwide like hot cake with his cheeky song, Tumbiza Sound.

Unfortunately, the ministry of Health has asked Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to ban the song, claiming it is misinforming the public about the coronavirus; however, the ministry may be doing too little too late, since the Director General's letter to UCC only blew up the song and increased its streaming numbers.

AZAWI

She signed to Swangz Avenue in November last year and at the beginning of this year, Priscilla Zawedde alias Azawi released her first song, Quinamino, which was a banger. It was not long before she released a five-track EP with songs such as Repeat It, Lo Fit, Crazy Lover and Mbinyumirwa, which have all been a success in a strange year.

Azawi has previously written songs for Eddy Kenzo, Lydia Jazmine, Nina Roz and Vinka.

DRE CALI

Real name Andrew Stephen Katende, Dre Cali had his breakthrough this year after signing with Mpaka Records owned by Ykee Benda.

The singer behind amazing songs such as Zigi Zaga, Ewaluma, Onanagiza with Lydia Jazmine, Ebisooka n'Ebisembayo and Ekifuba has seen musical success in the midst of a pandemic.

ZEX BILANGILANGI

From Fire Base Crew came Zex Bilangilangi, real name Mayega Tadeo. The raga singer is also a visual artist especially in the ghettos where he grew up.

The singer has his unique style of music and reminds us of the late AK47 (Emma Mayanja, young brother to Jose Chameleone, Pallaso and Weasel). Zex has done very well this year, performing on different television shows since the lockdown started.

And while the big drums fell silent, smaller drums including Zex sounded loud and clear. The singer has trending songs such as Ratata his breakthrough hit, and his latest, Nalinda, is also hitting hard.

CRYSTO PANDA

He bagged the most awards at the just-concluded Buzz Teeniez awards, including Teens Artiste of the Year. Crysto Panda has surprisingly captured the ears and hearts of many music lovers this year and utilized his TV career to promote his music.

However, on a sad note, Crysto Panda lost his one-month-old daughter this year, but he still came out of mourning fighting. The NTV Dance Party and T-Nation host released a six-track EP on top of songs such as Kyoyina Omanya with Sheebah, Bino Byebiluma Abayaye, Open De Bars, Tuli Mu Struggle, among others.

All these songs are working well for him and have marketed him.

VICTOR RUZ

Discovered by MC Kats, Victor Ruz, real name Victor Wajja is a Ugandan RnB/afrobeat singer and songwriter, whose smooth vocals and lyrical abilities have earned him a legion of fans. The singer is young and talented, behind Kikomando and Love Legend.

ZULI TUMS

Former Producer Zuli Tums is mostly known for Boom Party, the song he produced for Cindy, but he has since started singing. His debut album, the 12-track Invictus, was released during a white, invite-only party.

The album is the first project of the singer and his new management Blacq Harvey Records, a record label in Nigeria with offices in Uganda.

ONLINE CONCERTS

With the ban on music concerts, many artistes lost their main entertainment platform and switched to performing online. Navio, Jose Chameleone, Spice Diana, Kenneth Mugabi, Slick Stuart and Roja, Iryn Namubiru, Afrigo Band, Cindy, Kabako and Bobi Wine all organized online concerts for their fans.

Also, corporate companies including Club Beer, Swangz Avenue, MTN and NGOs staged well-choreographed online concerts. Vinka, Lydia Jazmine, Sheebah, B2C, Winnie Nwagi, Fik Fameica, Karole Kasiita and many others have benefitted from these platforms.

However, the big question has been whether artistes can earn from online concerts as much money as they used to earn from physical shows, and if such concerts will maintain relevance post-pandemic. Swangz Avenue director Julius Kyazze says if artistes want to earn from these shows, they have to put in a lot of time, effort and hard work to build a huge online following and constant presence on streaming platforms.

He, however, notes that the virtual shows cannot replace traditional concerts because the live show experience cannot be got online. Kenneth Mugabi, one of the singers who organized one of the first online shows, agrees with Kyazze, but says both formats can co-exist after the pandemic.

"We shall still be doing these concerts even when the ban is lifted but we are going to incorporate the traditional shows we have been doing and be streaming them online at the same time so that those who can attend in person come to the venues and those who can't, just enjoy from the comfort of their homes," said Mugabi.

MUSIC ALBUMS

Though majority of Ugandan artistes prefer to release singles, this year has seen a number of music albums and EPs, with artistes using streaming platforms to sell their music. We started the year with an EP from Azawi's Lo Fit EP, which produced major hits for her like Quinamino, Repeat It and Lo Fit.

Azawi said the EP was only the start of the great music she has lined up for 2021; she is ready to release a full-length album. Hip Hop fans have also been served well by Navio and GNL Zamba, released full-length albums. Navio released Strength in Numbers, becoming the first Ugandan artiste to launch a music album online.

The 15-track album mainly comprises collaborations with continental stars including Burna Boy, Khaligraph Jones, Ice Prince and Seyi Shay, among others.

"The album is about how much we can accomplish when we come together as Africans and that is why it is heavy on collaborations," Navio told The Observer.

GNL, on the other hand, released his sixth studio album on November 11, titled The Spear. He said he chose that title because a spear is a symbol of royalty and is how we pass on responsibility to heirs. Although he wrote and recorded the album in California, USA, GNL flew back to Uganda to launch the album with his wife Tamar.

The 11-track collection, he said, is about decolonizing the mind and recognizing our power in determining our destiny and a symphony to the dream of a United States of Africa. After almost a year without any music, Irene Ntale also served her hungry fans some music.

After signing to Universal Music Group and spending some time off in Nigeria, Ntale returned and quietly recorded a mini album of six songs, which she called Sukaali and released it on July 24. She said the album is an expression of gratitude to those who have supported her career.

Legendary songstress Iryn Namubiru was also not left behind as she treated fans to new music in the middle of the lockdown, releasing her fourth studio album, Mpulira. Its 12 songs include brand new records and acoustic renditions of some of her old hits.

Sheebah has been on top of her game the last six years and even the pandemic could not stop her from delivering this year. She released her fifth studio album dubbed Samali on August 10, comprising a whopping 18 songs. The album gave us hits such as Enyanda, Nakyuka, Ninda and Empeta.

Other artistes who have released albums this year include Crysto Panda, one of the biggest entertainers to break out during this Covid-19. In November, he dropped a five-track EP, Ayii, his signature slogan.

RnB singer Geosteady also bounced back with a 16-track sophomore album, Love Letters, on October 30, while newcomer producer, singer and songwriter Zuli Tums also released a 12-song album, Invictus, at Pearl of Africa hotel on November 27.

Concerts to remember and those that never happened

Before Covid-19, a few artistes had managed to stage successful shows while others had plans of holding concerts, before the pandemic stopped them. Spice Diana held the first music concert of the year on January 17 at Freedom City.

The show was a huge success as fans filled the venue as early as 5pm and some were even locked out. David Lutalo has been crowned the king of January concerts and as many artistes.

As others shied away from January shows, due to the fear that fans are usually broke, Lutalo went against all odds and began the trend of January concerts. This year, he did the same on January 31 at Hotel Africana where he held his Tugende concert - another huge success.

Then following a very dramatic 2019 because of her dumping Eddy Kenzo to marry Dr Hamza Ssebunya, Rema Namakula used that publicity to organise a beautifully-choreographed Valentine's day show at Hotel Africana with tickets selling out even before D-day.

The show was attended by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, as well as her husband, who excited fans. Then in March as the world began to take the pandemic seriously, Cindy went against all odds and staged a huge Boom Party concert at Lugogo Cricket Oval.

The self-proclaimed "King Herself" surprised many when she filled up the massive venue and earned the honours of becoming the first female Ugandan artiste to fill up Lugogo Cricket Oval. Cindy's was the last music concert before a ban on public gatherings was announced barely a week after her show.

This ban halted the plans of a number of other artistes and some were left counting big losses. With the ban coming into effect just one week to his much-touted concert, Eddy Kenzo probably was hardest hit when his "Eddy Kenzo Festival" was cancelled.

With Kololo ceremonial grounds already secured, adverts made and sponsors on board, it was a big blow to Big Talent management and fans. And because misery loves company, Kenzo travelled to Cote d'Ivoire to hold concerts, but all borders were ordered shut, leaving him stranded for months in Abidjan.

Artistes Voltage Music and Feffe Bussi were also planning their first-ever concerts at UMA Multi-purpose hall on April 10 and Freedom City on May 30, respectively, but they were cancelled. Singing trio B2C were also forced to cancel their second concert of September 4 at Freedom City.

Gospel sensation Levixone had plans of staging a concert. The Chikibombe hit maker had announced that this December he would be holding a concert at Namboole stadium, which he dubbed "Tujjuze Namboole mu Chikibombe".

Levixone now says he is going to wait until the lockdown is fully lifted to fulfill his dream of filling up the 40,000-seater stadium just like Lucky Dube did in 2000.

TV music show battles

With most of us trapped in our homes, there was a lot more time for television. Party animals found solace in TV music shows that ran especially on Friday and Saturday nights, bringing the nightclub to the sitting room.

With the stiff competition in broadcast media, the shows soon were a battleground on who could entertain viewers best and who trended more on social media. The most epic battles were between NTV's Mix Show and Dance Party, and NBS's Katch Up and SNL shows.

Although the shows were on television, the battle for the best was on social media, especially Twitter, where the winner would be decided by the show that had the most tweets and trended more.

The competition was not only based on the music, but also on studio setup, lighting, camera angles, sound quality and presenters' fashion.

Whereas #NBSKatchUp usually dominated Fridays over #NTVMixShow, on Saturdays, #NTVDanceParty dominated over #NBSSNL. That battle was decisively settled when NTV reached one million followers on Twitter.

The battles gave us new broadcast stars like Etania and Sheila Salta, while old names including Douglas Lwanga, Zahara Toto, MC Kats, Lynda Dane and Dagy Nyce, among others, also gained more prominence.

The shows are still ongoing, but with less hype, seeing as clubs are now still closed, yet also open - hidden in plain sight.

Kampala and other urban areas are dotted with bars and clubs holding silent discos every weekend, even as the lockdown on such spaces continues. In fact, the controversial concert by Nigerians Omah Lay and Tems only lifted a lid on what is quietly happening in so many other places.

May 2021 come bearing better fortunes for us all!

jjingoernest1@gmail.com

atiluknathan@gmail.com

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