Babishai Poetry meets Buganda Culture | Francis Mukisa

The Luganda Poetry Workshop kicked off with introductions and welcoming remarks from one of Uganda’s finest Luganda poets, Nakisanze Segawa, but unlike any of the other past events, it was clear that the mode of communication was different, all messages and conversations were packaged in Luganda, the commonest local language in Uganda. Nakisanze introduced Babishai; highlighting that from inception in 2009, Babishai awarded Ugandan women poets through an annual competition, promoting and expanding platforms for publishing and performance. Nakisanze is a 2010 Babishai award-winning poet who has since published a novel titled The Triangle which tells a story of a kingdom on the verge of losing its independence.

The workshop facilitator, Lule  Ssebo Lule, took to the stage to speak about the origin of poetry (ebitontome) in Buganda and how it has continued to manifest in all aspects of our lives, still buried deep in our roots.

Lule Ssebo Lule facilitating the workshop.

Ssebo Lule described poetry as a wonderful play of words or sentences with a hidden meaning and that has rhythm, lovely to the ear. He gave examples of traditional sayings and proverbs, songs, clan anthems, lullabies and children play-songs. Even though not many people think of them as poetry, they are.

Bannaffe abamu baali tebamanyi bulungi kuwandiika lulimi Luganda naye baafuba ne betaba mu mirimu gy’okuwandiika ebitontome gye nabawanga. Nze nga omusomesa, waliwo ebintu bye nayiga okuva mu kunoonyereza kwe nakola nga omusomo tegunnatuuka. – Lule Ssebo Lule

Luganda poetry makes use of techniques (entunnunsi) similar to those in English. For example, the repetition of certain words and sounds (okuwaawaanya), similar end of word/sentence  patterns, freestyle (no clear pattern or a mix of styles), fables (enfumo) which is the use of animal characters, and the use of dialogue.

Majority of poetry in the past was mainly created for the amusement of the royal family, as well as to preserve culture through constant re-education of the children, It was also used to express the way in which the Baganda perceived different aspects of life. Some of this traditional poetry was actually used to hide and obscure messages like when adults spoke amidst children but didnt wish for them to understand and also in war times, for the same reason against enemies.

Nakisanze and Ssebo Lule then recited some of the work from their collections; demonstrating the different styles of wordplay that exist in the Ganda vocabulary. Even those  who did not understand the Luganda language still enjoyed the songs, vivid demonstrations and transformation of the poems into life.

Mu musomo ogwo, tetwayogera ku kuwandiika bitontome kwokka. Abantu baatubuuza ebintu nga; engeri y’okutereka ebitontome mu bwongo, engeri y’okubifunamu ekigulira magala eddiba, engeri y’okutontoma, engeri y’okuteeka ebitontome mu mizannyo ku siteegi, n’ebirala. –Lule Ssebo Lule

Nakisanze performed some politically-sensitive poems that she had only performed once. She attributed this to the audience reception and post-performance comments. She however called upon poets to be brave and take risks because poetry is one of the avenues to address social-political matters.

Ssebo Lule then stressed how just anyone could make a living through Luganda Poetry; citing examples like making music, cultural or poetry audio books, Selling your own poetry & performances, story writing, Radio &TV announcements, and emceeing at traditional events among many others.

The tables soon turned and the audience that was charged with creating short 5 – 10-verse poems in short 15-minute breaks. They then had to recite them to demonstrate how just anyone can be a poet.

As Ssebo Lule concluded the program, he addressed the matter of poetic license (olukusa lw’omutontozi) which he said allows the poet to achieve their poetic goal without necessarily observing grammatical or poetic rules. For example, linking words in different verses or even by cutting the words shorter and using jargon, the intentional imbalance of sentences / word length between verses, borrowing words from other languages; especially when there is no alternative / matching word, and the intentional imbalance of stanza length can also be excused due to poetic license.

Some of the certificates handed out at the workshop.

The Baibishai Niwe poetry foundation will be celebrating 10 years on the 25th of March! We are so proud of all the good work they have done in the poetry space and are looking forward to what else they have in store!

 

Laugh Out Loud James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein | A review by John Kato

Have you ever had a dream that seemed so wild it made others laugh? Not just laugh, but laugh out loud? Then you’re in good company. Here is a story about a fellow dreamer, Jimmy of, “Jimmy’s books.” Jimmy has a dream so wild it seems unachievable, especially to the adults who think they know how the world works. A young book lover, Jimmy is faced with a problem; he hungers for books that don’t seem to be readily available. Books for children written by children. So when, for his English class they are required to work on different projects and present them, he decides to start a book company that does just that. His friends are as excited as he is, sharing their ideas and offering their skill sets to make the dream come true. The adults on the other hand aren’t as enthusiastic. From the children’s parents that consider it a waste of paper, most of his teachers that are also opposed to IT, worst of all, a Mr. Quackenberry who believes “big ideas lead to nothing but big disappointment!”, they all seem to think it’s a bad idea. Jimmy’s friends stay excited though, sharing their ideas for an ideal working space, complete with a bouncing castle and slides, while exploring what they can offer to the book company, with authors coming from the English class and illustrators from the art class. The dream seems within reach and the team soon gets to work.

Laugh Out Loud books company puts out its first book, “a deep and thought provoking tale of childhood coping mechanisms and everyday school and family realities.” Four copies and a pizza-party launch later, the group soon discovers how costly it is to make books. The price of printing enough copies to circulate coupled with important things like energy drinks to keep the writers going seem to be costs only an adult can afford. The company soon runs broke and has to seek external funding to work. They check with their parents, their teachers and finally the bank. Does the bank lend to children? Follow Jimmy and find out, as he tries to win over disbelieving adults in a bid to pass his English class presentation.

In the African context, the story might feel a little abstract but is useful for exposing children to a ‘school’ world outside their own. As they read, they might need help in understanding some of the references used such as the TV show ‘Jeopardy’ in one chapter, or typical American classics such as ‘Because of Winn Dixie‘ or ‘Bridge to Terabithia‘ referenced in another. This book is most suitable for 10 – 13 year olds as it contains many big words and a limited number of pictures, requiring a high level of attention. The book is available at Aristoc Booklex.

“So guess what? That big dream I had? It came true!

Hey, Maybe yours can, too! Just never ever, ever give up!”

Know a child (four years through to 12) that would love our children’s book club, The Fireplace: Tot Tales? We have chapters in Muyenga, Ntinda and Bugolobi. Send us a message/Whatsapp on 0705711442 and we will get in touch with all the details. 

 

Anansi and The Bag of Wisdom | A review by Dushiime Kaguliro

Anansi tales originate from Ghana and were commonly told orally to children. Anasi means spider and the tales are about a skilled and wise spider that is cunning and beloved. His adventures teach children moral lessons and virtues. The tales were told in many languages and are filled with a lot of symbolism and wise sayings.  These fables have existed for generations and have been passed on for centuries. Anasi and the bag of wisdom is one of these stories.

This particular story is about Anansi, the King of all spiders. One day he gets a bag filled with all the wisdom in the world from God who asks Anansi to share this with all the animals in the Jungle. Anansi does not want to share it and chooses to hide the bag and keep all the wisdom to himself.  He soon realises that it is not as easy as he thinks and ends up accidentally fulfilling the wish of God in the end, giving a little wisdom to each animal so instead of just him knowing everything, each animal knows something.

The book is a short and colourful story that teaches children the virtue of sharing with others and being obedient. It also teaches children that everyone knows something but not everything and we are all wise in our own way. The book is wonderful for young readers and helps children that are starting to read to learn to identify bigger words and follow stories. It is also bright and has great pictures that aid in read along sessions.

Variations of the Anansi story include;

  • Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti
  • Anansi and the Box of Stories: A West African Folktale
  • The Story Thief
  • Spider and the Sky God: An Akan Legend
  • Anancy and the Sky God: Caribbean Favourite Tales
  • Ananse
  • Ananse in the Land of Idiots
  • The Magic of Ananse 

Have you heard about our children’s book club, The Fireplace: Tot Tales? Join us every first Staurday of the month in Ntinda, Bugolobi or Muyenga as we discuss Anansi and other stories for children. Call/text us on 0705711442 to book a spot for your child. 

Patchwork by Ellen Banda-Aaku | A review by Esther Nshakira

We are in Lusaka. The year is 1978. With the Rhodesian Bush War (The Second Chimurenga) as a distant backdrop, Ellen weaves together a beautiful tale of family; of the ways in which love and hate can mirror each other right to the point of sameness.

We are introduced first to Pumpkin’s home, Tudu Court. Pumpkin (The main character and our narrator) is a pudgy 9-year old living with her alcoholic mother Totela Ponga in one of the Tudu Court apartments. She is friends with Bee, the care-taker’s daughter, and Sonia and Daisy too who are sisters. Pumpkin’s father, whom we know as Tata for most of the book, is a rich business man that had an extramarital affair with Totela and Pumpkin is the child that resulted from the affair. Totela is clearly a troubled woman seemingly as result of the way Tata treats her. Totela’s mother, Grandma Ponga clearly hates Tata for it. Later in the book however Ellen seems to suggest that there was more to the venomous relationship between the two. 

Because of Totela’s issues with alcohol, Tata comes and uproots Pumpkin from her home in Tudu Court and takes her to live with his family on his farm. Her step-mother, Mama T, makes it very clear from the beginning that she despises Pumpkin and her brothers are quite indifferent to her. Pumpkin fortunately finds a confidante in Sissy (my favourite character), the house maid who becomes a mother-figure to Pumpkin as her own mother deals with her alcoholism. Totela finally recovers and winds up marrying one of their Tudu Court neighbours, Uncle Oscar.

The second part of the book begins with a grown Pumpkin, assaulting a woman that she suspects of having an affair with her husband. We go on to find that Pumpkin is married to Tembo and has a son, Junior and a daughter, Mufuka. This part of the book explores the effects that Pumpkin’s troubled childhood have had on her. Her and her father are very close, but we see Pumpkin’s husband paying for all the damage inflicted on her during childhood. 

One of the things I loved most about the book is that Ellen doesn’t polarize her characters. Tata, who right off the bat can be seen as the book’s antagonist, is actually a very generous man. If ‘Tata could feed the whole world he would,’ as Sissy puts it. We fall in love with Pumpkin from the beginning of the book but later we see she can be incredibly vindictive and we are not sure whether her troubled upbringing excuses it all. 

We also see the effects of a ‘blended family’ in the story. There are many ways in which Pumpkin is robbed of her childhood because of Tata and Totela’s situation. The way she covers for her drunk mother, making sure people don’t know about her problem, the conversations she has with Sissy, her general outlook on life; there are many ways in which we see that Pumpkin has had to grow up before her time.

“I can’t control my heart. Pumpkin, one day, when you grow up, you’ll understand. Love and hate is same-same.” 

Love and hate and the line in between are explored beautifully by Ellen in the book. From Totela’s destructive relationship with Tata, Pumpkin’s own relationship with her father, even Grandma Ponga who for most of the book clearly loathes Tata, but towards the end it is suggested that the hatred stems from a broken form of love. 

“You can’t make me what I am not. I won’t womanise, or date girls young enough to be my daughters, or have children outside my marriage. I am not your father.”

My review cannot end without a special shoutout to Pumpkin’s husband Tembo. Although Ellen only briefly explores their relationship, it is clear that he has made a decision to love Pumpkin inspite of her brokenness. He sees how damaged she is sometimes, but he chooses to rise above it, to be steady ground for her. 

With that being said, I think the second part of the book really brought to light the effects of Pumpkin’s scattered upbringing. What annoyed me a little about her character was she did not seek help. She could tell she was broken inside and needed to be fixed but she didn’t even attempt to fix it. I have allowed myself to believe it was because of the times. There was probably no space for her to even acknowledge her problem let alone seek help for it, but trauma victims are also burdened with the responsibility of attempting to heal themselves, to at least avoid hurting people if for nothing else.

Patchwork at it’s very core is about the complexities of being human. Ellen Banda does a fantastic job of reminding us that humanity is grey. That we all come to the table with flaws and virtues. That before anything else, we are human.

Carol and Dushiime joined me as we discussed more on Patchwork on our YouTube channel, #MEiREAD. Come and see what they thought of the book:

Versus, an Anthology by Huza Press | A review by Dushiime Kaguliro

“We learn a country by its stories and, in a country as huge as our Africa is, we can learn about other people, our brothers and sisters further away from our homesteads, by reading their stories.”- Richard Ali

Louise Umutoni looked at the Rwandan literary landscape and saw the need for a change. Even after establishing Huza Press and Huza Books in Rwanda, there was still ‘the pressing need to reclaim our narrative,’ as she puts it. This is what the Huza Press Prize for Fiction looks to do. Established in 2014, the winner receives $1,000 with the shortlisted writers receiving $500 each and workshops with renown authors such as Taiye Selasi and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Versus and Other Stories is the prize’s first anthology and is featured in our second #MEiREAD episode.

The anthology takes us on a journey through Rwanda.  It is a collection of stories by Rwandans about love, family and loss, showing a different side of Rwanda that is not often written about. We see the country in another light, beyond the genocide which is the narrative often told.

The book explores various themes, diverse characters and ordinary stories of everyday Rwandans going through life. It gives a platform for more stories about Rwanda to be told. It has eight short stories that were shortlisted for the Huza Press Prize for Fiction in 2015.

The opening story, Impanga by Akaliza Keza Gara, was my favourite in the whole anthology. The story is set in a futuristic alternative world and explores the idea of a connection with a twin-like being from another world. It was a great opening story for the anthology and was one of the stories I felt could have been its own book. It shocked me that it wasn’t the winning story.

Girl by Charity Agasaro was also another favourite. It is a story about an elderly woman who comes across a young girl that she feels a special connection to. Because of the unexplainable connection she sits and shares her life story with the girl. The simplicity of the story and how the journey the woman’s life takes you on were incredibly compelling and made for a good read.

The Little Red Car at the Gusaba by Eva Gara was a wonderful and simple read. After the heaviness of Impanga, it’s lightness and simplicity was appreciated. It is a story of love, culture and how forgiveness can go a long way in healing pain of the past.

I Leave You Today by Jean-Claude Muhire was a story in form of journal entries about a woman in an abusive relationship and her struggle to free herself from it and find peace. I found the style of writing refreshing but struggled to believe in some of the characters as they were depicted as extremes of their nature.

I struggled with a few of the stories like The Exit of Fear and Guilt by Darla Rudakubana, a story of two sisters who are completely different but bond over the hate they have for their boss who is in an affair with one sister and sexually assaults the other.  The characters for me were not believable and neither was the presentation of the assault. Normally such stories will trigger particular emotional reactions for me – maybe shock or pain – but this one didn’t. Nomansland by Dayo Ntwari another sci-fi, afro-futurism story was really hard for me to get into. As a fan of sci-fi the story to me was lacking in the excitement that fictional worlds bring.

The anthology was a great stage for young Rwandan writers to shine.

Have you read the Versus anthology yet? What was your favourite story?

Esi, Carol and Dushiime share theirs over on our ‘BookTube’ channel, #MEiREAD. Come join the conversation!

The Velveteen Rabbit | A review by Dushiime Kaguliro

On Christmas day a little boy receives a velvet rabbit as a toy. He falls in love with it but like all children moves on from it. The rabbit starts his life in the child’s nursery.  The other toys begin to tease him because he is an old-fashioned toy and not as realistic as the more modern toys in the nursery. The only toy that is kind to him is the skin horse who has been in the nursery for a long time. He is old and wise and encourages the velveteen rabbit when he is upset for not being as modern as the other toys. He tells him of the nursery magic of becoming real; how when a child loves you for a long time, really loves you, you become real. The rabbit really longs to be real although he is afraid that if he is loved a lot and taken everywhere he will lose his shiny coat and become old and worn out.

One day the boy cannot find his usual toy that he sleeps with and his Nana gives him the velveteen rabbit. He begins to sleep with it each night and at first the rabbit does not enjoy it but begins to enjoy the way the boy talks to him and the way they play. It makes him feel real. That summer the rabbit and the boy bond and become quite close. One night the boy calls the rabbit real and this excites him as finally the magic of the nursery has come to pass.

One day the rabbit encounters real life rabbits that laugh at him once they realise he is just a toy. He argues with them and says he is real, like the boy has called him. The boy continues to love him immensely but soon he falls ill and is no longer able to play with the velveteen rabbit. The rabbit encounters a journey of his own and soon realises the true magic of becoming real.

This story teaches children about believing in themselves even when others do not, respecting people however different they are and that being different is not always a bad thing. It is a beautiful fictional tale that opens up a child’s imagination. It is suitable for early reading ages who can relate to the story as they are still at the age of playing with stuffed animals. It is a simple read but introduces the children to longer stories and moral lessons on life. A great book for children beginning to read on their own.

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ | A review by Carol Kagezi

It is 1985. Time moves forward, in four parts, as Ayobami Adebayo weaves Yedije and Akin’s love story. Yedije and Akin have been married since they met in university. Because it has been four years in marriage without a child, Akin’s family encourages him to take on a second wife and even bringthe bride of their choice into Yedije’s marital home. Shocked, furious and filled with  jealousy, Yedije knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. This happens eventually but at a cost she would never have imagined.

The narrative is largely carried by Yedije although some of the story is told from Akin’s perspective. Yedije and Akin’s marriage is unlike many traditional Yoruba marriages at the time because while they insist on having a monogamous marriage, they are still able to balance their views about their culture until it becomes apparent that they are not having children. They individually seek out solutions as they become more and more frantic. In part one we are introduced to a Yedije so desperate to become pregnant that she visits a traditional healer in the mountains who advises her to breastfeed a goat and this sees her suffer from pseudocyesis (false pregnancy). When she later falls pregnant by her brother-in-law, we are alerted to Akin’s impotence.

Adebayo’s twist on the narrative that the woman is the only carrier of barrenness in African society exposes the societal pressures placed on men to multiply. Akin withholds the truth from Yedije from the beginning because of this. The book forces us to reconsider who carries what burden in society as children carry the burden of fostering their parent’s legacies while wives, women carry the burden of covering up men’s shortcomings.

“Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone.”

The book also explores Sickle Cell Disease and how it is perceived in that society. I really enjoyed the respect with which Adebayo handles this. She weaves a message on Sickle Cell Disease so truthfully without dwelling too much on it. It is such an accurate portrayal of how we react to diseases that are not the common cold or malaria and in doing this, she raises awareness about the condition.

This story doesn’t tell us about love as we have come to know it in the fairy-tales. It exposes love for what it is, in the real world, where it does not conquer all in the affairs of human beings. For me it made clear that we are human first before we are lovers and sometimes, that human nature can force us to do those things we always thought unimaginable.

“I loved Yejide from the very first moment. No doubt about that. But there are things even love can’t do. Before I got married, I believed love could do anything. I learned soon enough that it couldn’t bear the weight of four years without children. If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.”

Adebayo dares me to examine my understanding of love and the lengths I would go for someone I love. This perspective of marriage is a first for me because while sympathise with both Akin and Yedije individually, I still believe that they are the best for each other. I am confronted with their challenges in a way that is so real that when Akin murders Funmi (the second bride chosen by his family), I understand why.

Adebayo is a daring storyteller who not only writes with genuine knowledge but with grace as she tells a story about love and loss with the possibility of reconciliation. She creates characters so flawed that there is no hero and as a reader, you are exposed to all sides of the story.

Have you read Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀? What are your thoughts?

Carol, together with Esi and Dushiime had an in-depth discussion on these issues and more! Below is our YouTube channel, #MEiREAD.  Join the conversation.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory | A review by Dushiime Kaguliro

 

Charlie is a young boy living in poverty with his parents and grandparents. They have so little but are happy and fulfilled because they have each other. Charlie loves his grandparents and the wonderful stories they tell him. One of their favourite stories is about Willy Wonka. His grandfather often regals him with tales about the wonderful chocolate maker, Willy Wonka and his mysterious factory. One day the owner of the chocolate factory, the eccentric Willy Wonka, announces that he will be putting five golden tickets in five chocolate bars and whoever gets them will be allowed to enter his factory for one day. The factory had been closed for a long time and now five lucky children will now be able to enter.

Once a year on his birthday Charlie gets a bar of chocolate from his family as a present. He wishes with all his heart that the bar he receives contains a golden ticket. He watches on television as a gluttonous boy called Augustus Gloop wins the first ticket, a spoilt and bratty girl named Veruca Salt wins the second, a cow-boy obsessed boy named Mike Teeves the third and the fourth is won by a gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde. Charlie doesn’t get the golden ticket in his birthday chocolate but as luck would have it, he finds a coin one day as he is walking and ends up buying two chocolate bars and in the second bar he finds the last golden ticket!

Charlie and the other four children, with their adult escorts, enter the factory and go on a journey like no other. They meet a rare breed of people called Oompa-Loompas and are able to see how all the chocolate and candy is made. One by one the children are thrown out of the factory because of their horrid manners and it all happens in hilarious and mysterious ways. Charlie, because of his good behaviour, remains the only child at the end of the tour of the factory. He is rewarded by Willy Wonka with a special prize.

The book teaches children that good behaviour is always rewarded in the end and that those that are pure of heart always succeed. It is a funny and engaging book that is will keep the children glued to it’s pages. The author creates such convincing and creative characters and describes them and the factory so well, it is not hard to imagine the scenes and setting as you read. This book is suitable for older readers aged eight to 12.

#MEiREAD: Daughters Who Become Lovers

 

Daughters Who Become Lovers and Other Stories

For the month of May, The Fireplace: #MEiREAD, our book club for adults read and discussed Daughters Who Become Lovers. The riveting read is a non-fiction anthology published by The Writivism Literary Initiative, in collaboration with Afridiaspora. The anthology is made up of ten stories whose topics range from finding yourself to sexual harassment. The title story however is the one that took up the bulk of the discussion because of how closely it hit home.

The title story, Daughters Who Become Lovers by Jennifer Chinenye Emelife is a story that explores sexual harassment, especially in the arts industry. The author tells her story of the sexual harassment she faced from her mentor while she was starting out as a writer. She talks about the complex relationship she shared with her mentor, who at some point gave her permission to refer to him  as “father”.  As their relationship grows, questions arise about whether  there was a line that was crossed that led to the harassment. The story opens up a discussion on sexual harassment and the abuse of power, in mentorship relationships for example. At what point should the lines be drawn when relating with your mentor? What options are there for victims of sexual harassment after it has occurred?

Sexual harassment is an issue that occurs in our society at an alarming rate and affects people of all ages, especially women. In Daughters who Become Lovers, some may argue that the author, Jennifer may have had a role to play in her harassment. She talks of the amount of time they spent together, kissing him on the lips, going to visit him in the hotel room and laying on his bare chest. We have to ask ourselves if these actions alone amount to consent. When Mr. C (her mentor) asks Jennifer to spend the night and begins to kiss her, she tells him, “This is not right,” and pushes him away. Despite the nature of their relationship, this should have been enough for Mr. C to acknowledge that Jennifer was not on board with the two of them having sex.

The Fire-place: #MEiREAD, Ntinda Chapter

The issue of consent is one that many men say they are not aware of and are most times, unwilling to discuss. For many, consent is assumed.  We are always singing about how actions speak louder than words, but can actions alone ever amount to consent?

In the text, we see Jennifer constantly going back after Mr. C crosses certain boundaries with her as a mentor. This leaves many of the readers wondering why she does so. Could it be that Mr. C, being her mentor, holds a certain amount of power over her? One of the readers of the text argues that people do not have power over you but rather you give someone that power. As communities, we should strive to raise stronger-minded children who know the power they have, especially when it comes to  young girls and women. But as we do this, it’s important that we raise men to respect women and their bodies.

Many of the conversations surrounding sexual harassment and rape are pointed towards what the woman did to tempt the man or what she did after the incident happened. There is always less conversation about the man’s actions and the consequences of his actions.

By writing her story, Jennifer shares with the world the reality of these occurrences even in spaces where people should know better. Her story shows us that  our communities are rotting with crimes of sexual harassment and many of the  victims are suffering in silence. By starting to have more conversations on sexual harassment, we begin to solve part of a very big problem. It’s an issue that is deeply rooted in our upbringing, and some of the values we hold as Africans like telling women who are being raped by their husbands to, “gguma.” How do we walk away from these toxic beliefs and establish new ones that empower women and recognize them as human beings deserving of respect?

How do we create safe spaces for everyone in our industries? How do we get abusers to pay for their abuse instead of just blaming it on their “artistic excesses?”

The Fireplace: #MEiREAD book club happens every second Tuesday of every month at Kahwa2Go at the Ntinda Complex in Ntinda. See you there soon?

 

#MyFlameMySong: Robby Muhumuza

Presidents as Role Models

Clockwise: Kaunda, Mobutu and Bongo. Presidents were fashion trendsetters.

Despite having Idi Amin as President of Uganda with a global economic embargo causing a shortage of basic necessities like sugar, soap, salt, paraffin, rice, bread, margarine, we as teenagers tried to enjoy life as best as we could.

The fashion trendsetters for us were not celebrities but politicians! It started with President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia coming up with the Kaunda suit that had a short-sleeved jacket with no inside lining, worn over trousers. However, since Idi Amin was not on friendly terms with Kaunda, (because he was friends with President Milton Obote who Amin had overthrown) the more prominent men’s clothes model was President Mobutu Sese Seko of neighboring Zaire (now renamed Democratic Republic of Congo) who came up with a long sleeved version of the Kaunda suit with large collars and a scarf worn inside the collar.

However the mightiest trendsetter in Uganda was Amin’s friend, President Omar Bongo of Gabon who loved bell-bottomed trousers worn on huge platform shoes that in Uganda were named Bongos. No young man who wanted to be seen as fashionable and modern missed bell-bottomed trousers and platform shoes.

Fast changing technology in music

The 1970s witnessed drastic changes in music production and presentation technology. We started with the gramophone that used a hand-wound clockwork that would slowly unwind to play music on a vinyl record disk with grooves amplified by a needle. Each winding played about two songs and the dancers had to wait while the gramophone was wound up again.

This was quickly and unceremoniously replaced by the record player that played similar vinyl records but this time using portable batteries that we called “dry cells”. An improvement was that bigger disks called albums could have as many as six to eight songs on side A and another six to eight songs on side B. One needed some really good money to own a record player and we looked with awe and admiration at the few people that owned them.

Before the close of the 1970’s the cassette player, that used cassette tapes that could play music for 30 minutes one side before you manually turned it over for another 30 minutes, became popular and affordable. These were much cheaper than the record player and in 1979 when I got my first university allowance, top on my shopping list was a small portable radio cassette and a number of music cassettes.

Popular Ugandan music

A few superstars from the 70’s.
Left: Elly Wamala Top Right: Fred Masagazi Bottom Right: Dan Mugula

The most popular Ugandan music we loved to listen to and dance to was Luganda music by artists like Frida Ssonko with Olupapula Si Mupiira, Christopher Sebadduka with Tereza, Elly Wamala with Ani Yali Amanyi, and Dan Mugula with Enkomelelo.

The jukebox, where one could put coins and select music to be played, was nicknamed “Wambuza” (You Asked Me) because it could play your request. It was also named after the same popular song by Frida Ssonko. Its lyrics were “Wambuza oba nga kwagala…amazima nkwagala era gwe namba emu” (You asked me whether I love you. Its true, I love you. You are my number 1).

Popular East African music

Tabu Ley Rochereau performing at a 2003 festival in Hertme, Netherlands.

Congolese music was all the rage in Uganda in the 1970’s. Soukous maestro Franco (François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi) of TP OK Jazz belted out hit after hit that we danced to. This was closely followed by Tabu Ley Rochereau of African Fiesta.

Swahili music played by Congolese bands or Kenyan and Tanzanian bands influenced by Soukous music was very popular. Hits like Shauri Yako by Orchestra Super Mazembe and Kasongo (Yeye mobali nanga) ; and Sina Makosa by Les Wanyika were very, very popular dance hits.

English music popular in Uganda

As teenagers, we absolutely loved and danced waltz to American country musician Jim Reeves’s romantic and spiritual music. His rich baritone voice set our blood boiling as we listened to songs like Have I told you lately that I love you, Distant Drums (I hear the sound of distant drums); Don’t let me cross over, Adios amigo, Adios my friend and This world is not my home.

We also loved Jamaican reggae music by musicians like Jimmy Cliff with inspiration danceable beats and meaningful melodies like: Wonderful world, beautiful people, Many rivers to cross, You can get it if you really want, and The harder they come, the harder they fall.

As the 1970s came to a close we discovered and fell in love with the Swedish music group , Abba with soulful songs like : Waterloo, Honey Honey, “I do, I do, I do, Mamma Mia, Fernando, Dancing Queen, Take a chance on me, Voulez Vous, Chiquita and Money, money money, it’s a rich mans’s world.

We were also absolutely crazy with the German based Jamaican group Boney M with songs like: Daddy Cool, Ma Baker, Rivers of Babylon, Mary’s boy child, Hooray, Hooray, it’s a holiday.

The writer, Robby Muhumuza, was a teenager in the 70’s.

Robby and some of his friends.

#MyFlameMySong is a series inspired by Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa’s heart-warming memoir, Flame And Song.

Do you ever wonder what life was like before 1980 in Uganda? What made people laugh, dance, cry, wail, whisper, giggle? What did they wear? Where did they party? Did they even party?

We’re looking for short stories of Uganda before 1980. Send in your stories. Talk to your parents. Interview your grandparents. Share your own story. Share your photographs. We want to archive our lives!

Send stories and photos to kaboozi@somanystories.ug