Afrigo is certainly Uganda’s most resilient pop band. It has been around for 38 years, in which time many music groups have been dissolved or left the country due to its turbulent political history.
“We have gone through all the troubles Uganda has gone through and we did not go into exile,” said band leader Moses Matovu. “We have survived because of the discipline, dedication and commitment by the band members.”
This may have been because of their relationship with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who loved their music and supported them.
But James Wasula, the band’s chief executive officer, attributes the band’s success to its management model: It is run as a business.
“Why music bands come and go is because they are run as entertainment groups, and if four star performers leave the group, then it collapses. But, as a business, it’s not about a personality, it’s a company. We take our time — it takes us two to three years to complete an album,” Wasula told The Independent magazine.
Afrigo celebrated its 38th year with two shows in Kampala on August 31 and September 1. In the first event, they held a Ush100,000 ($38) VIP dinner show at the Uganda Manufacturers Association showground. The second concert at Ggaba Beach cost Ush10,000 ($3.8).
On their repertoire were the superhits Afrigo Batuuse I, Afrigo Batuuse II, Olimujja wa and Enneyisa.
Their energetic choreographer, composer, arranger and vocalist Rachael Magoola kept the crowd on their feet with her songs Inhaife, Vooto and Emaali, while the graceful Joanita Kawalya sang Jim and Suzana.
On the lead guitar was Frank Mbalire on the bass was Sammy Kasule, who flew in from Sweden.
Moses Matovu, who is a composer, arranger, saxophonist, flutist and vocalist, is respected by the band members as a disciplinarian.
“He is very serious about what he does. I have worked with him for a long time and if he were a bad band leader, I would have left,” said percussionist Herman Ssewanyana, who joined the band in 1984.
Afrigo Band has 21 albums, including Afrigo Batuuse I, Jim, Genda Osome, Vincent, Mp’Eddembe, The Best of Afrigo and Julie. The 22nd album is being mastered in the studio. Jim, their 1995 album, sold over 500,000 cassettes in Uganda, with the title hit Jim topping the local charts for over three months.
The band’s music has been heavily influenced by Congolese rumba, which continues to define “Ugandan music.”
But Matovu says theirs is a blend of Ugandan traditional rhythms and folk songs.
“Most people in East and Central Africa like rumba, which is part of our musical heritage,” he said.
According to The World of African Music, a Stern’s guide to contemporary African music by Ronnie Graham, Afrigo was one of the top pop bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“They play classic rhumba with the usual fine guitar work and trenchant brass associated with the style,” wrote Graham.
The band has 15 members, including Eddy Ganja (songwriter, vocalist and guitarist), Said Kasule (saxophonist), Charles Busulwa (vocalist and bass player), Abby Katongole (vocalist and trumpeter), Julius Nshaba (drummer), Eddie Yawe (vocalist and songwriter) and Jacinta Nabusayi Wamboka (choreographer).