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Unsweet voices: A chaotic symphony erupts as Ugandans find voice

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By Nathan Kiwere

Going by the sheer number of artists, the Ugandan music industry appears to overflowwith talent. It is a contrast to a few years ago when the local scene was awash with ‘imported’ music. Congolese Lingala maestros monopolized the few radio stations and patronised Ugandan revelers with their live shows replete with raunchy queen dancers that were usually the main attraction.

Today, Lingala only gets occasional play on a few FM stations that cater to the old-timers. Whether, after the cleansing or is it ouster of mercenary performers from the Ugandan platform, revelers have been delivered safely to their entertainment Mecca, is another question.

Did the harbingers of the revolution of the local entertainment industry indeed serve a better dish than the devil people had gotten so used to? Why then does one sometimes get the temptation to liken the Uganda music industry to Libya before and after Col. Muamar Gaddafi; or Iraq before and after Saddam Hussein?

The revolution produced some refined performers. Like their gifted luminaries all over the globe, they are revving their vocal codes in glorious symphony and these must be lauded. But many of these keep a low profile and safe distance from the ‘unwashed’ loud gongs of masqueraders who rip off audiences, using vocal comics and antics in music that is typically and uniquely Ugandan.

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Suzan Kerunen, the celebrated world music whiz who has graced the local stage with her renditions in her Alur mother tongue with a sweet voice, is quite liked.

Among her accolades, she was a double nominee for the Best East African and AfricanArtist 2008/09 KoraAll Africa Music Awards 2008-2009 in South Africa. For her excellence and congenial demeanor, she was appointed in 2010 as National Goodwill Ambassador of Tourism by the Uganda Tourist Board.

Elsewhere, however, whereas Ugandans are now deluged from all sides by an army of musicians falling over each other to capture their attention, questions arise as to the legitimacy of the new music.

Call it nostalgia or sheer escapism, the ghosts of the coarse Congolese queen dancers have been repackaged and reincarnated as part of the new stage craft, but this time laying bare their private wares to a degree that makes their Congolese models look like choir members in an evangelical church.

I am reminded of the time, about early 2000s when the leadership of Comoros Islands confounded the whole world when they sent an official letter inviting the French to return and re-colonise them, decades after handing them independence. The Comorians cited failure to govern themselves. Have our musicians failed to govern themselves?

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