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Remembering Philly Lutaaya
Form part of the lyrics to the late great Philly Bongoley Lutaaya’s hit single ‘Born in Africa’ released in the late 80s. This song and its accompanying album recorded at B10 B10 studios in Sweden in the same period is still a favourite in Uganda over fifteen years after it was released. According to Dr. Alban Nwapa, the Nigerian-Swedish musician who made his musical mark with Denniz Pop a few years later, Lutaaya was one of the greatest African musicians of the 80s.
Unfortunately the world purely out of his tragic demise did not get to fully appreciate the man and his works as his life was cut short in December 1989 before a logical conclusion of an otherwise promising international (globally recognised) music career. Alban who released a song and album (his fourth) coincidentally titled ‘Born in Africa’ in 1996, which was an afrocentric medical student who graduated into a professional dentist and was equally a disc jockey who had successfully made the transformation into a musician. Alban occasionally met Lutaaya at the Kilimanjaro Club, Stockholm where the latter performed with the Savannah band in Stockholm Sweden. Alban in proceeding years was based at the Alphabet Street club in Stockholm.
In Uganda Lutaaya is eulogised and his legacy continues as a surrogate patriarch of Ugandan contemporary popular music who is still envisaged as an eternal legend with works (especially the afro-reggae single ‘born in Africa’ and the poignant ‘alone and frightened’) that are local classics. His work as a renowned anti-HIV/AIDS activist fostered a dual legacy and throughout the western hemisphere it is this point that he is remembered for. Fondly referred to with reverence as ‘Omugenzi Philly’ (the late Philly), he is a guiding beacon to the careers of many musicians in Uganda.
At the 1st annual Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) awards, 4th October 2003 at Speke Resort Munyonyo Kampala, he received a nomination for Life Time achievement and though edged by the evergreen and ever present Elly Wamala (passed away - RIP), many believe this year or anytime soon Lutaaya will posthumously win the coveted award. Angela Kalule, a leading female vocalist in Uganda also recalls Lutaaya in two contexts. First his public declaration of his sero status (HIV positive) at the time when it was a risk of public animosity for such circumstances or revelations and the accompanying anti-HIV/AIDS campaign that he assumed. The second was his unique style of music, which she says has not been matched up to this day in Kampala.
Before the enhancement of the Internet as a global form of popular culture and the local proliferation of musicians in the 90s, Lutaaya, Samite Mulondo (based in America) and Geoffrey Oryema (based in France) were the three symbols of Ugandan popular music in a global context though there were occasional mentions of the Afrigo band. Oryema with frequent classic remakes of folk songs from his home area Acholi land and the association with Peter Gabriel is a public name in western capitals. He contested at the inaugural Kora Awards ceremony in 1996. The interesting bit with Lutaaya is that whereas his name has resounded globally, it is as aforementioned more to do with his work as an anti-HIV/AIDS campaigner than the masterpieces he delivered. The sole reason being in my presumption that it was not easy to distribute his works at the time he passed away as it would have been if he had released those works today.
Lutaaya had not yet attained those major record label deals that propelled the careers and sounds of artists like Papa Wemba or Youssou N'dour.This not withstanding his public testimony about his own experience with AIDS first unveiled on April 13th 1989 at Makerere University Kampala as he spoke to students and his accompanying work (including an album ‘Alone and Frightened’ released 29th September 1989 along with an audiovisual documentary ‘Alone: The Life and Times of Philly Bongoley Lutaaya’) on the same note sent his name running through global capitals at a time when the AIDS epidemic was still some kind of mystery and had turned Uganda into an advancing health disaster area.Indeed it was about this time that the only two things Uganda was known for were Idi Amin's reign of terror in the 70s and the scourge of alarmist proportions.
Phillip Bongoley Lutaaya, born October 1951 (a year before Ignatius Musaazi formed Uganda’s first political party Uganda National Congress) to Mr Tito and Mrs Jastin Lutaaya in Mengo (the seat of the Buganda Kingdom from where he hailed), Kampala was literarily born into urban life. Buganda was at different times referred to as Buganda province interchangeably with central province and was the headquarters of the British administration before independence. Philly Lutaaya started school in Mpigi District a few kilometres from Kampala where he did primary section at Kasaka Primary School, Gomba. Gomba is also the ancestral home of Philly Lutaaya and forms one of the three counties that form the district of Mpigi which is in the Buganda region.The others are Mawokota and Butambala.Lutaaya's parents were teachers.His dad taught at Kasaka boys primary school while the mother was a headmistress at the neigbouring Kasaka girls primary school.
After this period, in 1959 he was enrolled into Budo Kabinja Junior School in Kampala where he spent a couple of years till 1969 before moving on to Kololo Secondary School within Kampala. He got involved in high school bands before breaking out to seek a professional career. At Budo, Lutaaya studied with the late great Ugandan-Rwandan guitarist Dede Majoro who at one point influenced the incorporation of the lead guitar into the Ugandan soundscape. It was at this early stage that the two artists attained their first contact with western instruments like the piano and the guitar which they never separated from till their demise. Many of the christian-run schools of the day had high school bands. These included Namilyango College, Kings College Budo and St.Mary's College Kisubi.
At the age of seventeen, Lutaaya like many of Uganda's popular musicians got his start as a nightclub band singer. The clubs are cited by acclaimed musician Fred Kanyike Buwule (1989) as a base where musicians can play as residents and present some kind of security of consistence for the musicians. Which implies security of income and career. Lutaaya revolved around New Life Club (Mengo), Kololo Night Club (which was not far away from his former high school, now known as Angenoir Discotheque) and Arizona Club (Kibuye), and at these locations, he still paid particular attention to the guitar revolution of the Congolese rumba and Afro Jazz traditions that were doing rounds in East Africa at the time. His Other influences came in the form of popular rock ‘n’ roll stars Elvis Aron Presley, Cliff Richard (aka Harry Roger Webb) and The Beatles (Paul James McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Richard ‘Ringo Starr’ Starkey). In 1981, he named his newly born last born child John Lennon Kabogoza after the Beatles member. Robert Mayanja, a former member of Elly Wamala's 'MASCOTS' band where Philly sojourned at one point Lutaaya used to commence his rehearsals with a rendition on drums and vocals of the Beatles' 'let it be' single which he loved.
The period between which Lutaaya was born and the period when he began performing were both sides of Uganda’s pro-independence struggle and the aftermath of independence (independence came in 1962). These foreign influences were played on radio, played by bands and stocked in retail shops for the colonialists, a situation that affirmed such songs within the local populace as well. The Beatles in 1964 had begun their elongated conquest of ‘both sides of the Atlantic’. This wave and its influence rivalled by the influential congas and guitar-driven Afro-Cuban scenario were radical incentives to the young Lutaaya. At home, Wasswa ‘Rocky’ Birigwa (Kampala Mayoral aspirant in the 90s and now ambassador designate) and his brother Geoffrey Nsereko, Elly Wamala, Fred Masagazi and other notables were breeding a home-grown sound though with foreign sonic overtones pegged onto them.
In the clubs, Lutaaya worked with various bands including Eko Jazz band and the prolific Congolese Vox Nationale Du Congo Kinshasha that was also based at New Life. The bands influenced his metamorphosis from an amateur musician to a more versatile and professional musician (singer, songwriter and instrumentalist). Professional in not only practise but in the commercial context of performing for a paying audience. In 1968 when he was still with Vox Nationale, he released his first recording ‘Philly Empisa Zo Zikyuseko/Flora Atwooki’ on A/B sides respectively. Lutaaya also recorded ‘Tugira Tulinda’,'Baasi Namakwekwe’ and ‘Bw’oba Osiimye’ during this period with the band.
At the age of nineteen, two years after exploration of the clubs, Lutaaya moved by road to Kinshasha the capital city of Congo Kinshasha to base with Vox Nationale that had returned home. The Kinshasha odyssey through and through was a milestone to the career of Philly Lutaaya who was exposed first hand to the vibrant Congolese music scene. His later recording ‘Likambo La Falanga’ was influenced by this trip to Congo. Lutaaya returned at the age of twenty-one to join the Cranes band led by Sam Kaumba that was based at Silver Springs Bamboo gardens. Other members of the band were Jeff Sewava, Tony Senkebejje, Charles Sekyanzi and the late Jesse Kasirivu. Lutaaya joined Sam Kaumba and Eddy Ganja in the Cranes after this group of musicians left the band to form Afrigo band (Sewava after sometime left Afrigo to form Afrigo Waves based first in Mombasa and then Germany). Lutaaya due to personal experience always believed bands were integral not only to the evolution of a particular musician but the broader musical culture of Uganda.
After Cranes band, Lutaaya was recruited by Fred Kanyike Buwule the leader of the 16 member Rwenzori band. He joined Rwenzori’s sister band River Nile Band. In River Nile, he met bassist Shem Makanga who he later worked with in Savannah band in Sweden. Rwenzori band included Eclaus Kawalya (father to Afrigo band vocalist Joanita Kawalya), Geoffrey Nsereko, Fred Sebukima, Alex Mukulu, Sempaala Kigozi, Fred Masagazi, Hadija Namale Kalyango, Mansur Akiiki. Lutaaya only joined the main Rwenzori in 1975. With Rwenzori, he released the album Ashiita. The band underwent a split which introduced new members Frank Mbalire, Billy Mutebi and Fred Kigozi. Rwenzori shifted its performance base to the International Hotel (presently named Sheraton Hotel, previously named Apollo Hotel but changed by Idi Amin who did not cherish the association with Apollo Milton Obote who he had overthrown on January 25th 1971) attracting massive crowds.
After this band, Lutaaya formed a loose group with friend Frank Mbalire incorporating a number of other seasoned musicians that included Fred Kigozi. Their meeting and rehearsal point was at Namirembe road where Philly Lutaaya's parents owned a flat and also ran a shop. The band rehearsed upstairs and started performing in different places in Kampala. Inspite of their commensurate talent and experience, the band faced recurring difficulties. They hardly got admirable gigs and this was frustrating to Lutaaya who envisioned a departure from Uganda to improve his fortunes as a musician. The band, which also had a stint at a place called Katis in Lungujja Kampala owned by the father to Betty Kamya Turomwe who is presently opposition group Reform agenda spokeswoman began nurturing thoughts of a new strategy executed abroad which shall be tackled later.
The period 1971-1979 was chaotic for Uganda that had got independence in 1962. Idi Amin, an ex-Kings African Rifles officer and Uganda Armed Forces general had taken over power from Dr. Milton Obote in 1971 and imposed a ruthless genocidal regime in Uganda, where citizens all and sundry were tortured, mutilated or murdered for all kinds of reasons. In 1978/1979 the first post-independence war of liberation waged by Ugandan exiles (who were mobilised at the Moshi conference) with the aid of Tanzania’s then president Julius Kambarage Nyerere dethroned Idi Amin. The post war era was a relief but one of the most fragile in terms of political, social and economic stability, a fragility which the military commission overseen by Paulo Muwanga struggled to cope with. There were enormous challenges and security was elusive. To musicians, not only was it unsafe to perform night shows (which would bring money), but the money was not available as the economy was bad and in any case, people would not attend performances after which getting back home would be accidental.
The Congolese sound still manifested influence in Uganda and surprisingly Michellino Mavatiko, who was rumoured to have been a one time band leader of Tabu Ley's L'Afrisa International and composed the single 'Salima' had following altercations with Tabu Ley had set up an East African base at Hotel Equatoria with regular performances at a club close to Black Lines house (Kidukuulu bar) under the auspices of the then interim Government and fully sponsored through the national budget. Mavatiko performed in Swahili, Lingala and Spanish. He only left after the elections which Milton Obote won. His departure was rumoured to have been a consequence of ruthless treatment he underwent with his band members after the Government crack down on hotel guests when guerilla leader Yoweri Museveni was said to have slept at Equatoria on one night. Mavatiko did not like this treatment and found his way out. His brand of Afro-Jazz and Soukouss music influenced Lutaaya and friends for the period before instability that was mounting and eventually drove them into the diaspora.
Lutaaya predictably like many other Ugandans left the country for Kenya. Kenya, which was a cradle of stability though the early 80s had a quelled threat to in the form of a military coup attempt against former president Daniel Arap Moi. The major challenge of living in Nairobi Kenya was the suspicious attitude held by the Kenyan security towards Ugandans living in Kenya falling on the background of possibility of the turmoil in Uganda spilling over into Kenya. Philly was arrested at the popular Lidos Bar in the Musakos swoops before leaving for Sweden.
The gifted Lutaaya's new life in Kenya began as a session player for different recording studios. He also collaborated with another Kenya based Ugandan musician Sammy Kasule of the outfit Orchestra Jambo Jambo who was later to work with him in Sweden. Other musicians from Uganda based in Kenya at the time were Tony Senkebejje who left in 1982 for Mombasa Kenya. In Kenya, Lutaaya was able to proceed with nurturing his musical ambitions in the process recording ‘Nsunzi Watali’, ’Asaba’ and ’Univumie’. The Nairobi years were an asset to Lutaaya who was exposed to a more multi-cultural environment that Kenya encompassed. This experience prepared him for the journey to Sweden, which he took in 1984. Upon arriving in Sweden, Lutaaya spearheaded the formation of a band named ‘Miti Mito’ (small trees: figurative for young ones).
This band was the foundation for the monumental Savannah band, a congregation of some of the best musicians Uganda ever produced. Members of the band included bassist Joe Nsubuga, Fred Tebusake Semwogerere, bassist and vocalist Sammy Kibirige Kasule, Richard Mudhungu, Frank Mbalire, Joe Nsubuga, keyboardist and vocalist Hope Mukasa (formerly of the Mixed Talents and who pioneered the Karaoke culture in Uganda in the late 90s), percussionist Gerald Nadibanga and bassist and saxophonist Shem Makanga. According to Lutaaya, the band was actually formed between Uganda and Kenya and each member was destined to move to Sweden after the preceding one had arrived. Though the band members had mastered different roles in regular band formations, they were reorganised by Lutaaya to achieve the multi-cultural and achievement goals of going to Sweden.
The move to Sweden, unveiled many opportunities. Sweden is a country that has by predictable coincidence accommodated the highest number of Ugandan musicians in the Diaspora. Charles ‘Charlie King’ Twodong, Swahili Nation, Luther Martin Kintu, Maddox Semanda Sematimba and Young Vibrations all got their acts straightened out in the environs of Sweden. Whereas the trend started with Lutaaya and friends, the Swedish cultural policy (including a strong copyright law) was an extra weight to their ambitions.
In 1974 the Swedish parliament enacted a policy for government support for various kinds of cultural activities including music and musical production. This included a provision for funding areas of cultural exchange music inclusive, which was crucial to Lutaaya’s objectives. In fact one of Lutaaya’s most popular records ‘Born in Africa’ was partly funded by the Swedish council for Cultural affairs. It was also produced by Lutaaya and Sten Sandhl who was the director of the Swedish National Concert institute ‘RIKSKONSERTER’, A Swedish government agency supportive of music of all kinds. This institute not only receives public funding it also runs a record label ‘Caprice records’ through which it releases records. Lutaaya and friends had also got into various cultural festivals in Sweden: Gothenburg annual carnivals, and the Falun Folk Music festivals.
In the late 80s Lutaaya went solo and released the nostalgic ‘Born in Africa’ single and album. The music on ‘born in Africa’ was in all aspects classic material a clear show of music nurtured over the passage of time. This eclectic album is what got the whole of Uganda listening to Philly Bongoley Lutaaya. Singles on the album included ‘born in Africa’, 'Nkooye Okwegomba’, 'the voices cry out’, 'tulo tulo’, 'naali kwagadde’, a remake of ‘Philly empisazo’, 'Entebbe wala’ and ‘en fest I rinkeby' (his Swedish remake of a party in rinkeby)’. Although this album drew Lutaaya into the mainstream of the Ugandan music audience, his mark was just a matter of time before it was made. The cast that worked on this album was the best of Uganda in Sweden. Kasule and Nadibanga on guitar and percussions respectively, Billy Mutebi on guitars, Swedes Mats Wester and Roger Myrehag on keyboards and synths and off course Lutaaya’s young ones Tezzie and Tina assisted by Sabina Have, Kasule and Scottie Prescott on vocals.
With the success of this album, Philly Bongoley Lutaaya’s fans expected the follow up album to be even more eclectic and far reaching than the ‘born in Africa’ project and were completely taken aback when Lutaaya came back to Kampala in April 1989 with news that dampened their hopes. On April 13th 1989, Lutaaya in a sense of altruism declared he was living with HIV/AIDS, a virus that had made its presence in Uganda in the 80s and had decimated thousands of lives.
This was a shocking revelation (because AIDS in Uganda at the time was a guarded mystery) and was an anti-climax to the preceding circumstances in Lutaaya’s musical life. All sorts of sceptical accusations arose. His project was to make money and more fame after which he would rescind the pronouncement. The year ran fast and Lutaaya took to a different direction in his career. He used his influence and popularity and got involved in anti-HIV/AIDS awareness programs with the Swedish and Uganda Red Cross and undertook a countrywide tour of the same and a recording of the ‘Alone and Frightened’ album that brought attention to the stigmatisation of AIDS patients. The lead single that Roxette (Marie and Per Gessle) perchance sampled for their 1990 single 'it must have been love' became an anthem of hope in Uganda.
The activities that Lutaaya partook were a Godsend for the Government and People of Uganda. His music and documentaries on the perilous epidemic shaped a new perceptions of the disease and though the problem became a challenge that continued, safe sexual behaviour was a policy advocated for with vehemence in Uganda throughout the 90s and accounted to a down turn in the spread of the epidemic. Philly Lutaaya’s ‘Alone and Frightened’ album was officially launched by the late ex-prime minister of Uganda Dr. Samson Kisekka on Friday the 29th of September 1989 at the Sheraton Hotel. The ailing Lutaaya returned to Uganda for the final time on Saturday 2nd December 1989 and passed away at 10:50 am on Friday the 15th of December 1989 at Nsambya hospital Kampala Uganda and was buried at Bunamuwaya on the Entebbe-Kampala road. The attendance of his burial by senior Government officials including the minister of Health Zak Kaheru highlighted the Ugandan Government's attachment to Lutaaya’s efforts against the dreaded scourge.
Saturday, December 08th, 2012
X-Mas in Kampala
As Christmas draws… the company parties begin the shows start to be announced… one cannot fail to notice the Philly Lutaaya’s music being played in shops and out loud in speakers. This is music that I personally have heard for a long as I could understand music, for all of us was a way we could remember him and celebrate his work and the festive seasons. In my earlier days, I grew up knowing that is that only Ugandan music that we have for Christmas (minus Boney M).
Click here to listen to Ssekukulu by Philly Lutaaya
Click here to listen to Diana by Juliana Kanyomozi one of the redos.
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