Using music to pass political messages

Saturday March 02 2019

Uganda's newest political star Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi’s transformation has been dramatic in recasting the role of music in politics. About two years ago, he won a by-election in Kyadondo East constituency to enter parliament.

His critics have been keen to draw a line between Mr Kyagulanyi the MP and Bobi Wine the musician, using police to block his music concerts, accusing him of hiding behind music to do politics. But Mr Kyagulanyi seems to be harnessing and exploiting the symbiotic relationship.

While music has always been used to mobilise political narratives, only on a few occasions have musicians stepped directly into the political scene.

“Music is our lowest hanging fruit. I think music will be a major driver of political messages because people want entertainment, and with music that is where they can get both — messages and entertainment,” said Democratic Party president Norbert Mao.

Another rap

Even President Yoweri Museveni’s released the hit You Want Another Rap prior to the 2011 general elections.


In the past, Constitution Square located in the heart of Kampala was a common place for addressing political rallies. On one side of the square lies the Central Police Station and behind it is the High Court building.

A crowd would form but moments later, police would swiftly pounce, unleashing teargas at the crowd, sending them scampering for safety.

But since the acrimonious elections of 2006, when throngs of supporters of longstanding opposition figure Kizza Besigye jammed the Square, the space has been out of bounds to any political gathering.

No political events especially for the opposition can take place there.

Then FM radio stations started ekimeeza (outdoor talk-shows) that attracted the members of the public from across the political divide. Politics, economy and social issues affecting the common man were talked about.

The government then banned ekimeeza when the talk shows became popular, but that vacuum only lasted for a short while.


Bobi Wine’s latest song, Tuliyambala Engule (We Shall Wear the Victor’s Crown), is growing in popularity. It sounds like a church hymn, but the words allude to social, political and economic problems that many Ugandans are experiencing today — the injustice and brutality the military and police unleash on the citizens, corruption and poor service delivery.

“Listening to Tuliyambala Engule, one clearly understands the real foundation of our opposition politics. Tuliyambala Engule can literally be interpreted to mean an era where all will be perfectly happy, no toil, no stress but jubilation. The copycat song outlines the challenges facing Uganda, directly blaming the current leadership,” said Thembo Nyombi a Ugandan economist and politician, and former state minister for information technology.

The seven-minute video was posted on YouTube on the eve of 2019, and has now reached over one million views.

In recent presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo for example, singer Felix Wazekwa was commissioned to compose a song praising the government’s candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The song was played frequently during rallies.