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February 5, 2008

Kadongo Kamu, or 'one guitar music', is a style of narrative song from central Uganda that dates back to the early 1950s. Over the last fifty years the genre has gone through many transformations, but has never strayed from its central purpose: communicating traditional wisdom and morals through anecdotes, stories, and social commentary. The earliest 'Kadongo Kamu' musicians accompanied their stories only with the Endongo (the bowl-lyre of the Baganda people), while later generations have turned to drum machines and electric guitars.

Although Kadongo Kamu has always attracted listeners in Kampala, it was, and as far as I can tell, remains, more popular in rural areas. When performing for appreciative audiences, Kadongo Kamu performers- especially in the past- would devote fifteen to twenty minutes to the telling of a particular epic; stretching and embellishing them as narrative twists caught the attention of their listeners. Some of the early pioneers of the genre were Christopher Sebadukka, Elly Wamala, and Fred Ssebatta. One of the few Kadongo Kamu performers to be noticed outside of Uganda was Bernard Kabanda, who passed away in 1999.

The 1970s were, for Kadongo Kamu performers, and most Ugandans, a difficult time. Idi Amin Dada's repressive regime did not encourage political commentary by popular artists, and Kadongo Kamu musicians, for the most part, turned to singing love songs. But if the Kadongo Kamu recordings of the 1970s do not represent the genre's poetic golden age, there are plenty of singles from the era that are very musically satisfying.  We have quite a few of these 45s in our archive and I've picked out a few of my favorites.  This is music for listening, not dancing, and the clear, repetitive guitar parts have a restrained charm.




In 'Namusoke', recorded in 1975, Chrizestom Ssebuziba announces: "I have a secret to reveal", and goes on to tell the story of how he met the woman he loves.

 Chrizestom Ssebuziba 'Namusoke'


The B-side of the single is 'Ndowoza Suzanne'. Chrizestom tells the story of Suzanne: she abandoned him and now he wastes his time thinking about her, he doesn't where she went or what to do with himself.

 Chrizestom Ssebuziba 'Ndowoza Suzanne'





This single is my favorite of the bunch. In 'Nakabiri', Gerald Kaboggoza sings about one of his girlfriends. She is annoyed by his frugality. The moral of the story is 'you should be generous to those you love'. It must not have worked out with the girlfriend in question.

 Gerald Kaboggoza 'Nakabiri'


The musicians accompanying Gerald Kaboggoza (Gerald may be one of the guitar players) remind me of Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbee, and Jamaladeen Tacuma when they were the heart of Ornette Coleman's great 1970s Prime Time band. Every time I listen to 'Anyize Lwa Butamuwa' I hear parallels to the harmolodic interplay of Nix, Ellerbee, and Tacuma: pay attention to the guitars in the intro, and to the bass player-Jamaladeen could be playing those lines!! Interestingly, both this single and Ornette's Prime Time masterpiece 'Body Meta' were released in 1975.

 Gerald Kaboggoza 'Anyize Lwa Butamuwa'




We have a handful of singles by Leo N. Ssekamanya. These next tracks are my favorite sides. He seems to drive his musicians a bit harder than Kaboggoza and Ssebuziba.

 Leo N. Ssekamanya 'Zamufuula'

 Leo. N. Sskemanya 'Kabuladda'


Our final selection always gets a nice response from our more nostalgic radio listeners in Uganda. It is by the late great Eclas Kawalya. It is not, however, Kadongu Kamu music. This is an example of the dance-band music that was played in the clubs of Kampala in the 1960s.

Eclas Kawalya had a very long career and just passed away several years ago. His daughter Joanita inherited his musical gifts and has recorded many songs with the Afrigo Band. In 'To Nyiiga', which translates roughly as 'don't be annoyed', Eclas tells the story of 'Esther' who, although they are not married, gave him a ring. Every time he looks at the ring he things of Esther. Eclas sings: 'Esther, it is difficult for a man to shed tears.'

 Eclas Kawalya 'To Nyiiga'


Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn anything about the three Kadongo Kamu singers featured above, or about the Mukwano record label. Please, if you know anything about the record label or the singers , get in touch!!

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
A message from Spain. I have discovered your blog few weeks ago, and I think it is fantastic. In Spain we do not know too much African music and your blog is an opportunity to approach us other cultures and very interesting musics. Congratulations!!
# Posted By Charo | 2/5/08 5:23 PM
Just another thank you. Incredibly melodic stuff this round, quite moving. Would of course love to hear more. Your efforts are massively appreciated. p
# Posted By Pol Sapene | 2/6/08 7:44 PM
Hello Charo... thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found us. African music seems to be slowly gaining an audience in Spain. Pol Sapene... in preparing this post, I went through a few dozen Ugandan singles. The ones I posted were the ones I preferred. Thanks for your steady encouragement .
# Posted By matthew | 2/6/08 9:15 PM
More little gems I would never have suspected existed. This is a grand musical safari through the lesser-known realms of African music - whither next? Mozambique, Cameroon, Malawi? I look forward to being surprised, again!
# Posted By Daan | 2/7/08 8:40 PM
Hello Daan...I was going through some more reels this morning. There are lots of forgotten treasures in the pipeline- Burundi, Zambia, Cameroun, Chad.
# Posted By matthew | 2/7/08 8:55 PM
Congratulations for you site. I present mi Blog, http://africolombia.blogspot.com/ Regards, Fabian
# Posted By Fabian | 2/13/08 6:59 PM
Very nice. I especially love the Eclas Kawalya track--beautiful, beautiful stuff. I love that this blog really takes us well outside the purview of most reissue labels and other African music sources--Mauritania, Chad, Burundi, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger... no one else goes there, and I'm grateful for the chance to hear it.
# Posted By Joe | 2/15/08 3:18 PM
Joe, thanks for your continued encouragement. I think the next batch of 45s i'll post will be from Liberia. We have some great tracks from another country that often gets overlooked.
# Posted By mlavoie | 2/15/08 11:30 PM
Mathew, Thanks for this. I am of Ugandan origin living in the diaspora and this brings back childhood memories. Also my dad used to be a musician in the 60s but can't get any of his tracks. he used to sing with the Kampala city six band. His name is Israel Magemebe Wamala. If you ever come acrross any of hus tracks please post. He also used to play with Kawalya. Samuel
# Posted By Samuel | 3/21/08 9:15 AM
I feel good whenever i come a cross Ugandan Kadongo Kamu. The beat and the words marches to the maening of the massege of the song. In Uganda, most musician originated from Kadongo Kamu, indeed i'm very proud to talk about Kadongo Kamua.
# Posted By David Ssebbaale | 7/24/08 5:30 AM
I am of Ugandan origin currently residing in the US. I am glad to have come across your article featuring Kadongo Kamu from Uganda. The songs contained in remind me of my childhood days in the sixties. By then that was the music in style and most people in my area would listen to Sammy Kiremerwa Kigongo on Radio Uganda sending out Kadongo Kamus at the "Your Request" program. There was a Kadongo Kamu song which went like: "Tereza owebina edene, ebelelyo tena, ofanana nyabo emunye.."--I wonder if any of your Ugandan readers/audience might have ever come across it. It was very popular in the early sixties. Any one volunteer any help here? But thanks anyways and best of luck in all u do and also happy new year.
# Posted By Simon Kato | 1/13/09 12:36 AM
Thanks for the article. It is a treasure. Many of our (African) songs and singers just disappear without trace. The good musicians die paupers and little is mentioned oftheir talents and efforts which continue to influence the music we hear today. Articles like these honour our heritage. Bosco
# Posted By Bosco Ssendegeya | 4/16/09 6:18 PM
Wo! wo wo! what a gold mine you guys have! Thanx for the spirit o sharing these games with us. It was a chance discovery of you website and music but I promise I will be visiting when ever I have the chanc. Thanx so much Bwogi Mpagi
# Posted By Bwogi Mpagi | 10/17/09 3:40 AM