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Kampala Taxi Sessions: Babaluku and Ugandan Music
By Hillary Muheebwa
Uganda has many foreign-based artists. This week I sat down with one of them, Babaluku, to discuss Ugandan music and its future.
HM: So tell us who is Babaluku?
B: Babaluku is a down to earth community activist, youth revolutionary movement founder in Uganda, a Lugaflow originator, a member of the legendary crew, the conscious hip hop founders in Uganda, Bataka Squad. (Bataka means Native). I am a Ugandan, but my family migrated to Canada when I was 11 years.
HM: Can you give us a little history behind hip hop in Uganda, and your involvement in that scene?
B: Historically, hip hop has been a part of Uganda’s culture. It was only interpreted in different ways, like recitals and poetry from different tribes. It took the influence of American hip hop empire to set us off lyrically. And lyrically, Bataka Squad, started in 1994, is the legendary squad. We started, with the likes of Chagga, Lyrical G., Ntiga, Saba Saba, miming around town during school holidays. In 1996, we were invited for a hip hop conference in Mwanza, Tanzania. We found guys rapping in Swahili. It was cool. Here we were Ugandans, rapping in English. It was a challenge. When we returned, we started rapping in Luganda. And in 2005, on my initial return, we decided to start the Lugaflow movement. Luga is a Swahili word meaning language. With Lugaflow, we wanted everyone to feel confident doing hip hop in their mother tongue. And now years later, it’s big in Uganda. The Lugaflow movement has given the youth a holistic understanding of music. This is through community outreach programs under the Bavubuka Foundation, where we visit ghettos, orphanages and street kids. That’s a big repertoire for our generation.
HM: How did moving abroad affect your music?
B: It gave me a closer understanding of music, especially Hip Hop. When you look at international artists, it’s more than the music and videos but a dynasty, an empire. It’s a holistic concept of using the gift you have to impact society.
HM: Do artists in Uganda share that view?
B: Most Ugandan artists have a misconception of what music is. People want to earn from music without learning the craft. They have lost track of the concepts, artistry, and appreciation of music. Instead hype is the essence.
HM: And why do you think that is?
B: We have come out of a lack of definition of what we do. We are emulators. We have even failed to define the Ugandan sound. When you go to Democratic Republic of Congo, they will tell you Lingala is ours, in Tanzania there’s Bongo Flava, and Kenya has Gengal. All that our artists wait for are concerts and shows, and thereafter ask where the next show is. Some of our big artists pride themselves to get on stage and mime. Music is supposed to be a transformative tool for society.
HM: But people here like the music.
B: People do like this kind of music because the listening ear has been compromised too. It’s what the ear has come to get used to. They listen to the beat, not the message. By now we should have had a thriving industry. That’s why some of Uganda’s renowned world artists like Chinobe, Maurice Kirya are winning international awards, when Ugandans know little about them.
HM: Where do you see the problem?
B: We haven’t had institutions training artists. Artists are more of a secluded sector of the nation. We have to realize that it’s an institution that needs to be educated and guided towards developing a legacy of its own. Artists should learn their influence and use their power to benefit the country and the economy. It’s just sad that we don’t have the mechanism to push it to those angles.
HM: Do you see Ugandan artists making it global?
B: It will be hard for Ugandan artists to make it globally because they are emulators. Even most artists that go for performances outside Uganda, they go to perform for Ugandan communities living abroad. This gives a perception that Ugandan artists are going global. That’s different from going out to perform at an international festival or tour. In order to go global, your music is supposed to cross over the boundaries and be able to stay relevant, and mend bridges.
HM: Which music do you see emerging to hit Uganda?
B: The urbanized sound of our traditional tunes, the indigenous sounds of the land, will definitely go places.
HM: Thanks for your time, insight, and musical gems.
ugpulse (02 May 2011 06:49 AM)
Love you Babaluku... but this is just your opinion (when it comes to Ugandan Music). There are different categories of music and for their category of music, the likes of Kinobe, Oryema and Maurice Kirya have done well, and we appreciate them for that. It goes to show that the music industry is progressing and the world is noticing... and as it notices, it pulls out the best artists like Maurice and Kinobe.