Ugandan music in trouble

Ugandan airwaves are saturated with Nigerian, South African, Tanzanian, and Kenyan music. The country lacks structures and political will to support their own artists. Current situation of an emerging scene in search of itself.

Uganda has a lot of renowned artists. Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, Chameleone ... Artists known on a regional but also global scale. Artists with prestigious awards, for whom the crowds move. In March 2014 at the Lugogo Cricket Oval Stadium in Kampala, Chameleone exploded the record in East Africa, with 40 000 fans, during his "Tubonge Live". But the market for Ugandan music is also under intense competition with foreign sounds. The Nigerian, South African, Tanzanian, and Kenyan, music is at war with Ouganda.

A phenomenon that cannot be explained by the number of studios. The capital city is full of them these days. For 100 or 300 dollars, you can have your single or complete CD recorded in a day. But the quality of recordings and amateur musicians weaken productions, and pack up their dissemination. This is perhaps where one of the problems of this scene lies. It is not enough to have a record to be successful. You also have to be well surrounded. A label and a manager for example. However, there are very few labels worthy of the name in the country.

The most listened Ugandan singers had to create their own record labels. To have a chance to break through, other artists have to get close to these stars-producers. But if you are getting closer to these groups, you also become politicized. Uganda has just emerged from a hotly contested presidential election, in which music played a big role. The two main candidates created a hymn to support their country, they based their campain on musical tubes to promote their speech. An efficient politicization for the Ugandans, but it makes their music difficult to export abroad.

Lack of investment

"The government is funding us for 27 million shillings a year (about 7.000 euros). That's peanuts!", says Mark Masiko, responsible for education and research. "We really are short of funds, he insists. We are lobbying the government to understand that they (the artists) are wealth creators. The industry of art needs to be supported, just like tourism was".  This economic sector does not even appear in government statistics. In Uganda, the artist's Policy is virtually nonexistent.

"It is not their priority," adds Mark Masiko. The recent Museveni government has no position dedicated to culture. There is a political and structural hole, taking advantage of the competition in music industry. Capital FM, one of the most popular radio stations in the country, broadcast the 40 best hits of the moment. George Manyali, director of the station program, confirms that the most listened music - and therefore the most played on the air - are from Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania.

The Uganda Communication Commission asked television to broadcast at least 70% of local content from January 2014. Televisions play a big role in the distribution of music videos in particular. But recent reports emphasize that this is request from the Commission is far from being respected. George Manyali admits he does not broadcast such a ratio of local music on its channels, "but we make sure, he says, to program all Ugandan hits".

"In Uganda, the artists seem lost"

"We have plenty of good artists. You can have a good song, but not be broadcasted because the promotion is not good enough." also states Manyali. The African Music Development Programme (AMDP) noted that fact in a number of African states and proposes professionalization solutions, relying in particular on training. "This is a real problem everywhere. That is to say, musicians find themselves having to do everything. They are asked to make their own sound, their communication, their marketing," said Charles Houdart, head of this program.

The AMDP aims to help "satellite business, managers, administrators, event organizers, sound engineers ... There are few things that are done to the ecosystem, even if it is very important." In Uganda, initiatives have been implemented in this area, in collaboration with Makerere University. They include sending students to other countries to broaden the perspective and to learn in the field, through internships at festivals.

The various players of the secteur also remain critical to the artists themselves. "In Uganda, the artists seem lost. They lack culture on their own, says Alex Kiyaga, producer at the Uganda National Cultural Centre. When you listen to Nigerian music you recognize the country's rhythms. There is no such identity here." An observation shared by Mutembesa Daniel, manager of Milege, a small production company. "The composers-singers are doing copy/paste with music that runs on air. A lack of originality and identity prevents local singers to break into the regional, even international levels."

Therefore Milege is trying to promote "authentic" talent, capable of making music "near to the roots", artists that are not found elsewhere. "If people want to listen to reggae, they listen to Jamaican musicians, not Ugandans…” he adds. For him, as long as local musicians won’t include key cultural indicators in their productions, it will be impossible to compete with their African competitors.

Complete article (French) on Africultures

July 1, 2016
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