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Money and campaign songs

By Agnes E Nantaba

What happens when musicians look at the pay cheque when composing political songs?

The young woman twists her waist, lifts her foot, and jumps. The crowd roars. She is sweating and her eyes are half closed. She does it again and again. Every time inching along the street to the beat of the tom-tom sounds of the kadodi drummers. She is one of a bevy of dancers – seven if you count only those clad in the yellow T-shirts of the ruling NRM party.

But all around them are hordes of equally excited girls, men, and children dancing away in the carnival-like fiesta.

At the heart of the hysteria are just four or five wiry-looking young men in shorts, half-trousers and T-shirts and wrappers. Several layers of dried sweat line their unsmiling faces and they look quite tired and almost bored. For them, it is just another jig for the money.

So they continue hitting their tin and skin drums with short sticks to create the high pitched staccato percussions favoured by marching crowds.

It is a frenzy of yellow as the 2016 campaign season enters the critical New Year turn, and this spectacle is a prelude to a campaign rally later that day.

Kadodi is the music of the circumcision rituals of the Bagisu of eastern Uganda. But it has been adopted by politicians across the country to lure crowds to the campaign events ahead of the February 2016 general elections.

Politicians love the Kadodi sound for its high-energy hypnotic staccato beat released whenever the drums; shallow like the snare drums in modern marching bands, are hit. Always played without lyrics, the 4/4 tempo rhythmic beats are perfect for pumping up the crowds, creating an urge to dance, and creating positive energy.

Dr. Charles Lwanga, a professor of African Music and Dance renowned for his studies on the relationship between music and its effects on the public, is fascinated by the central role of music in the campaigns.

“Campaigns, as an engaging activity, require danceable tunes with a straight forward message rather than the use of slow songs,” he told The Independent in an interview. He says the chord in Kadodi has the ability to capture the hearts of all no matter where they are from.

“It reverberates in a most dramatic fashion, a rapid beat that explodes into an echo of firm sticks hitting a hard surface. The melodious beat fluctuates between deep thumping bass tunes and milder tones, accompanied with sounds of a flute and horn,” he says.

He says, however, that choosing the message and instruments to back up the lyrics depends on the event at which the song will be performed, what to communicate, and the target audience. But that is only the beginning.

Music with message

The campaign rally organisers know that while positive energy towards their candidate is important, it is crucial to have a brand of music that reflects the message of the candidate. Never has this been so revealed in Uganda’s campaign season as of now. Part of the reason for this is precedent; the other is that the 2016 election have turned out to be less about message and more about emotion. It is so whittled of message that one commentator said the vote is about whether one is “happy or angry about how Museveni is running the country”. And the campaign rally music reflects that.

In the last presidential election in 2011, the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni gathered an outpouring of positive emotion towards his campaign with his song `Mpekoni’ aka `You want another rap?’. A spoken-word rendition of tradition poetry from his Nkore tribe folklore sampled over studio sounds to create a rap-vibe. The song had absolutely no message related to Museveni’s campaign. But it was a pop hit- and was played in discothèques and parties, as Museveni’s opponents looked on with envy. That song alone has been credited with winning Museveni the youth vote in 2011.

Museveni has attempted to replicate that sensation in the 2016 campaign with another rap sampling called `Yengoma’. But the novelty of a rapping president has worn off and in spite of massive pushing on the airwaves, `Yengoma’ has fallen flat.

But Museveni has another campaign song, `Tubonga naawe’ which easily fills the void. At one level, `Tubonga naawe” is street-speak for a “We support you” endorsement for Museveni by the all-star cast of the song. But at a deeper level, it is a song to celebrate the achievements of the NRM government under Museveni- which is the central plank of the Museveni campaign. At yet another almost missed but strategically important level, the song once again makes a linguistic connection with the urban youth. Mostly unemployed and angry, most of these would be perfect recruits for Museveni’s opponents. But making that musical connection with them acknowledges their value to the ruling party and, possibly, softens their frustration with the government. It may not be a vote winner, but it is an emotion releaser.

The song would have had an even deeper emotional connection if its composition had not been mired in money fights between members of its all-star cast. The fight over the Shs400 million that President Museveni paid the artists rendered the song to be less about support and more about money. The renowned folk musician Ronald Mayinja is `Tuli ku bunkenke’ song is an opposition anthem.

Mayinja denies ‘Tuli ku bunkenke’ was a political song.

“The message of the song was about the tough financial times of our music group (defunct Eagles Production),” he says.

He says, however, his other song; ‘Africa’, which he released in 2006 right after the elections, was inspired from being disappointed by a politician whom he supported to prioritise the social agenda rather than personal gains.

“During campaigns, her message was touching to the extent that she could even make her supporters believe that at a certain point, she could offer part of her salary to cater for the needs of the people,” he explained.

“(But) within a few months after getting elected into power, she was among those parliamentarians who pushed for purchase of better cars claiming the roads were poor yet at least her constituency had fair roads.”

In Uganda, Mayinja may be the greatest political and social affiliated musician over the last ten years considering his other songs like ‘Tuwalana Nguzi’ (We are against corruption), ‘Africa! Ani agula ensi’(Africa is up for sale) and ‘Sente y’ekibi’ (evil money) among others.

The fight over money got so bad that when a remix of the song titled `Tetubonga nawe’ (We do not support you) was released, it became a sensation.

But Museveni’s campaign managers continue to play the song at all his rallies. Part of its attraction is its high energy, danceable beat, and catchy refrain.

But the song that has really captured the message of the candidate’s campaign this season is the “Besigye songa Mbere” anthem of perennial opposition candidate Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. Besigye is running a campaign of defiance and anger, and the song reflects that.

Besigye songa mbere

Fungua bara bara

Wewe towa bus

Sis tunataka kifunguo


Besigye move forward

Open the way

You take the bus away

We want the key

The key is the symbol of the FDC and the bus is the symbol of Museveni’s NRM. The message of the song is powerful and unmistakable. Its Congolese Soukous beat invites a groovy feeling. Most times the music is blasted from powerful Public Address (PA) systems, but sometimes the musicians lip-synch live on stage at the rallies. The crowds get really worked up when the candidates join in to dance.

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