Moses Matovu’s music journey mirrors the history of Uganda’s pop music culture and identity.
He has been in Uganda’s music industry for 49 years. He started and continues to manage Afrigo Band in Kampala. Afrigo has a unique sound of Ugandan drumbeats and percussions layered over a synthesised rumba guitar and saxophone. Matovu founded it with six others in 1974 but he is the only one left of the founders.
“The band is still strong,” Matovu says, “We recruit and nurture young people to keep Afrigo band high in ranking in music.”
His passion since childhood has always been in music and football. Although he chose music as a career, he also was successful as a professional footballer.
Born on June 19, 1949 in Kawempe Division, Kampala District to the late Abdullah Bukenya and Christine Nakitto, Matovu was one of eight children. Three have since passed on. When his parents broke up, Matovu moved to Mengo in Kampala with his mother at the age of five and spent most of his childhood there. He attended Namirembe Primary Schoo and says he hit two birds here.
“Being a Muslim didn’t stop me from joining choir at Mengo Primary school and with a Christian mother, we would go to church together from where I mastered music notes,” he says.
He then joined Kibuli Demonstration School from where he proceeded to Pillai Secondary School on the Buganda Kingdom Bursary Scheme. But this lasted only up to senior three in 1966 when kingdoms were abolished.
“I had no other alternative apart from joining football as a passion,” says Matovu. But this he did alongside singing. He played for Nakivubo Boys, Police, Express, Lint Marketing Board and others. He later chose to concentrate on music whose passion had outgrown football.
Over this period, Matovu also performed with the ‘Thunderbirds Band’ in 1967 as a vocalist. From there, he joined ‘Police Band’ in 1968 and later ‘Cranes Band’ in 1969.
In 1970 Matovu released his first original composition recorded ‘Jimmy Sasira’. The inspiration behind was a woman who was abandoned by her husband together with the children. The song is an appeal to the husband to return home. Rumba was the dance stroke of the season. He later released ‘Katonda yakola Omukwano’ and several others after.
In 1974 he and five others founded Afrigo. The sextet chose the name Afrigo to mean ‘Africa go musically’ and they performed their first gig in 1975 at Bat valley bar and restaurant which is the current Club Obbligato. It remains their official performing home to date.
Around the same time, Matovu married his first wife in 1974 and as a second one in 1985.
Matovu says Uganda’s music has evolved over the years.
“Thirty years ago, music was determined by the government of the time,” he says, “We mostly played western music but when Amin chased away Asians, we switched to African music mainly Congolese and our own composition. Getting music equipment wasn’t also easy because the Asians who previously sold them had fled the country.”
He says competition was lively and for the good of the music industry. For instance, he says, there were so many groups like the Police Band and every battalion in the army had a band. Every night club had a resident band except and payment was good.
“We performed in Uganda’s first class hotels and earned as high as Shs 900 comparable to Shs9 million today per month.
Matovu is a father of 11 with seven grand children. He says witnessing his grandchildren and having them around is one of the greatest things to have happened to him.
Two of his children have followed in the music.
“I taught one to play the saxophone although he doesn’t do it as full time employment like father. The other is a solo artiste in Uganda with whom we have recorded a song and are currently doing a video shoot,” said Matovu.
He rates his bestselling songs as Sifaayo, Sirina anantwala, Sipiidi kendeeza, Wapi Sofia, emiziro.