Okay, so it turned out as a personal fight between singer Bebe Cool and DJs, but this fracas raises pertinent issues that should not be missed.
The hassle Ugandan artistes go through to get their music on the airwaves has always been a time bomb only waiting for a trigger to go off. Veteran musicians such as Afrigo band’s Moses Matovu have silently complained about it, and it looks like the time is now when musicians cannot take it anymore.
Jose Chameleone broke the ice during his recent concert at a full Lugogo cricket oval when he said: “In the 1990s, I fought Congolese music and we drove it out of Uganda. Today, I am starting a war on Nigerian music. I have so many DJs who are my friends but I have no respect for those who keep playing and promoting Nigerian music.”
The following day, his nemesis Bebe Cool took the debate online, lashing out at DJs he accused of sidelining Ugandan music in favour of foreign music. This did not amuse the DJs who shot back, claiming most of Ugandan music is of poor too quality to earn the recognition.
Their argument was best illustrated by one of their protagonists who claimed DJs are waiters, with musicians as the chefs, serving the audience.
“A deejay has a huge task of keeping people on the floor. That way, his set list has to have music that keeps people enjoying. If your music is not on his set list, it is not his fault. It’s your fault as a musician,” reads one of the posts on social media. “If a song is good, the crowd will like it and will request the DJ to play it.”
To get to the bottom of this, we decided to give it a test. We called Touch FM, one of the local radio stations, requesting for Radio and Weasel’s BET and Channel O nominated single, Can’t Let You Go. The presenter told us he could not play it, because they “play local music, but not too local.”
Whatever that means, it at first sounded understandable because Touch FM has positioned itself as a rock music station. However, what surprised us is that when we changed the choice of the song to Ice Prince’s Gimme Some More, the presenter accepted to play it. Now, Ice Prince was nominated for the same category as Radio and Weasel – Best International Act Africa in the BET awards.
Winnie Nakate, an ardent fan of Touch FM, calls this sheer hypocrisy. “If Touch FM can afford to play poor-quality Nigerian songs like Yori Yori, Gobe and Azonto, then why set high standards for Ugandan artistes?” she said.
Alex Ssemutooke, a Ugandan music fan, says: “Since time immemorial, Ugandan DJs have never been so enthusiastic about playing Ugandan music.”
“Today, they will yell about how Ugandan music in the 90s was the real deal yet at that time, they indeed frustrated those artistes that many are living as paupers presently.”
Ssemutooke notes this problem stems from the foundation that was laid by the first private radio stations.
“When Sanyu FM was at the top of the game, they championed the oppression of local music with a very foreign music catalogue coupled with borrowed accents to play it,” he notes.
Peter Kizito aka DJ Pita, a veteran disk spinner with Sanyu FM, says, “When a song is good, there is no way you can run away from it.”
He, however, notes that they usually consider the interests of their target market, which he says can only accommodate music from musicians such as Navio and Irene Ntale. But Navio is one of the many artistes that joined the debate complaining about Ugandan DJs.
For while he may find a bit of favour on Sanyu and other English-leaning FM stations, his luck does not extend to vernacular-leaning stations that nonetheless don’t blink when playing foreign music. The others that complained are Prisca Mikami, Allan Tonix, and Dr Hilderman, among others.
According to Ssemutooke, the English-speaking radio stations frustrated the first crop of Ugandan musicians that many of them ended up going for kyeyo. It took the entry of CBS FM six years later, followed by other Luganda radio stations including Radio Simba, that songs such as Fred Ssebatta’s Dole w’Omwana and Chameleone’s Mama Mia ruled the airwaves.
Then came Red Banton’s Nnoonya Money and later Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine with Fitina and Kagoma. As the competition among Ugandan musicians became stiff, some made a blunder to think they could keep on the charts using money. They enrolled DJs on their pay lists.
At the time, the role of the DJ was not that much known to an ordinary Ugandan. In fact, on many occasions, DJs went unnoticed. It is only when American singer Akon came with DJ Benny D that Ugandans’ eyes opened that a DJ plays a great role to a musician’s success. Benny D’s disc spinning skills and stage performance captured everyone’s attention that he later ended up returning with Wyclef Jean.
Ugandans began respecting the great influence of DJs such as Shiru, Apeman, the late Momo and Erycom. Veteran musician Emperor Orlando, who has since vanished from the music scene, recalls that one’s survival in the industry heavily depended on one’s good relationship with DJs.
“If it wasn’t for that, you risked not having your music played,” he says.
However, with such a relationship built on money, it was a matter of time before it crumbled. Today, foreign music has once again taken over. Ugandan musicians are scratching their heads on how Jamaicans and Nigerians have taken over, yet they managed to kick Congolese and South African music out.
According to Sanyu FM’s Fat Boy, this new trend is because Ugandan artistes have failed to be original.
“When artistes start copying a certain culture, it makes them look like wannabes,” he says. “When you struggle to sound Nigerian, shoot clicheacute videos like them, it gets promoters and DJs feeling that it is Nigerian music that people want and they will play that – real Nigerian music not the copy-and-paste material.”
But even musicians such as Maurice Kirya, Suzan Kerunen, Qwela band and Joel Sebunjo, among others, who have attempted to sound Ugandan still find it hard to get on the local charts – even as they remain respected abroad.
Broadcast consultant Joel Isabirye argues that media should give more allocation to local music than the international one on a ratio of 70:30.
“We need to protect our music industry in the interest of national development. Tomorrow, it will be DJ Beekay’s son trying to break through a Nigerian-infested local industry,” he notes.
He, however, says musicians should be trained to cope with public demand.
Well, we wait to see where this ends, but one thing is certain: local content deserves more airplay than it gets.
Source : The Observer