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From Kadongo Kamu to Digital Recording
[June 30, 2006]

From Kadongo Kamu to Digital Recording

(The Monitor (Uganda) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Without a trace of doubt, the way sound music has been packaged today in comparison with yesteryears, there has been a great leap in the quality and how that quality has been arrived at.

From the late 1960s up to like late 80s, most of the sound was scratchy and it was common knowledge to any music aficionado that many Ugandan artistes at that time would just hold a guitar horizontally, maintain a steady drum beat with their elbows while picking out ever changing bass lines, riffs and cross rhythms to accompany their singing voices and mischievous story telling. These artistes coined their style of music as Kadongo Kamu (figurative for one guitar) and the way the music was recorded reflected its quality.

Some of the kings of this genre were Lord Fred Ssebata, Fred Masagazi, Christopher Sebaduka, Dan Mugula, Bernard Kabanda, Herman Basudde (RIP) and Prince Paul Kafeero.

What was it like then?

Mr Hope Mukasa, the proprietor of Bavah Studios and a crooner in the 1970s and 80s recollects that during the 1980s and before, studios used to have two-track tape recorders whereby a band would assemble like it was performing on stage and start playing instruments. " Incase of any mistake say in the drumming or vocals, the entire procedure had to be repeated," he says.

For Ssebata who has been around for over a decade, it hasn't been an easy ride. He says that recording a song during the 1980s was a daunting task. "During our time, we faced a lot of problems to put a song together because of the poor equipment we had at our disposal," he reminisces.

NO HUSSLE: Bobi Wine putting final touches to his music in Dream Studios. File Photo

Renowned vocalist Jimmy Katumba who was part of the now defunct Ebonies Band in the late 80s tells his side of the story.

He says that the Ebonies used to incorporate all the instruments and voices through a mixer and finally put it on a tape recorder.

Just like Mukasa, Katumba who is now a radio presenter says that recording used to be a tall order for him and his band.

First modern studios

It wasn't until the late 1980s when the first modern audio recording studio was set up in Uganda. The studio, which was called Angel Sounds Studio, belonged to Mr Tony Sengo (RIP) formerly of the Bandidaz and Big Five bands.

Music followers say that it was this studio that really helped Kadongo Kamu artistes professionally record their songs, saving them from Radio Uganda studios where they had been recording. This is because Radio Uganda used to record in mono, which meant that the sound wasn't appealing in any way as compared to today's studios that have both the mono and stereo components.

Within a short spell, many sound studios followed suit and Hope Mukasa who until then had set base in Sweden set up Bavah Studios in Industrial Area, later shifting to Lungujja. It was the most modern studio at the time and Mukasa boasts that he was the first to bring a 16-track recorder to Uganda.

The proprietor of Sabrina's Pub says, "Afrigo Band's Vol.8 album was among the first to be recorded in my studios," he says.

But it was Peter Sematimba who reinvented the art in Uganda on his return in 1992. All the young and budding musicians who had hitherto failed to find their way into recording studios because of exorbitant fees at the time received an olive branch from Sematimba's Dungeon Studios.

The small studio that was located in a small garage, thus adopting the name Dungeon in Makindye brought youths like Steve Jean, Shanks Vivie D, Roger Mugisha and Simon Base Kalema among others into the limelight. The studio's first hit single Kakokolo, which wasn't of the Kadongo Kamu genre received a lot of airplay on the two private radio stations that existed at the time- Radio Sanyu (now Sanyu FM and Capital Radio and it received acclaim from many Ugandans who previously had a dislike for Ugandan music.

It's no wonder that after that, careers of many of these youngsters soon developed and are now big stars in Uganda's music and entertainment Industry. Ragga Dee who is undoubtedly one of the oldest players in the industry became an instant revelation with hit singles like Mukwano and Bamusakata that had strong beats in the mid nineties.

Steve Jean of the Semusajja Agenda fame has since established himself as a top-notch audio producer with his own Fenon recording studios. But prior to this, he had worked at Tim Kizito's Kasiwukira Studios in the late 1990s and revitalised the Kadongo Kamu music of particularly Fred Ssebata, and Ronald Mayinja among others with modern melodies.

Today, there are over 50 recording studios in and around Kampala and many of them use computer software that may not require the physical presence of music instruments. Mukasa says that modern studios favour single artistes (those without bands) in a way that one artiste can do everything from the vocals, percussion and instrumentation with the help of a computer. He singles out Sweden-based Maddox Sematimba who produced his Namagembe album all by himself.

Steve Jean says that the quality has received great improvement and blames the songs with poor sound to the artistes who release them so hurriedly.

"The quality has improved a great deal but that can't go without saying that it is still wanting," says the 2003 PAM audio producer of the year.

Changing tide

Many of the current breed of artistes have defied a popular belief that without a producer, their music can't make it to music stores. All an artiste needs is a computer with sound software that he can use to create beats. Pianos, trumpets, guitars and other instruments can all be played at a click of a computer button.

Musicians like Chameleone produce their own music. He is his own producer at his home based Leone Island studio, Emperor Orlandoh owns Fat Drums while other artistes like Bebe Cool, Mesach Semakula, Bobi Wine and Ragga Dee record their sounds with help from producers like Eddie Yawe at Dream Studios in Kamwokya. However, all production is computer based and artistes no longer walk into studios with instruments.

Also because of the emergence of fine Ugandan producers like Yawe, Washington Ebangit, Steve Jean and Joe Tabula, local artistes have given up trekking to Nairobi to have their music recorded save for Peter Miles who still has a strong link with the Ogopa Djs.

But the common thing with all these sounds is that the quality has improved and radio stations and nightclubs have now embraced Ugandan music unlike before when Western and Congolese music dominated. With the improvement in the recording regimes, Ugandan artistes have reaped big rewards and are living in the fast lane unlike their colleagues of the 80s who used to struggle to record and earn a living.

Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media. (

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