As a child in the 90s, I grew up listening to Boyz II Men’s music. Back then, the Ugandan music industry was still nascent and most of the music that played on radio stations was mostly by South African, Congolese, Jamaican and American aristes.
But it was Boyz II Men, among a few other singers, who left an indelible mark on my generation — generation xers and older millennials.
The legendary American R&B quartet, which at the time comprised soulful vocalists Shawn Stockman, Wanya Morris, Michael McCary (he has since left the group) and Nathan Morris, serenaded us with some of the most enchanting ballads of the 90s: One Sweet Day, On Bended Knee, End of the Road, I’ll Make Love to You, Water Runs Dry, Power of Love, A Song for Mama and many more.
In fact, the group's catalogue of their 90s hits is way too long — almost each song with a timeless vibe.
Boyz II Men are now set to bring nostalgia and sensual ballads live on stage in Nairobi and Kampala on June 10 and 11, respectively, and take fans on a memorable trip back in time.
Uhuru Gardens will play host to the Nairobi concert while Kololo Ceremonial Grounds will be the venue for the Kampala show.
In a career that’s spanning almost four decades, Boyz II Men first gained international prominence in 1991 with the sensational ballads Motownphilly and It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday before topping charts across the globe with End of the Road, the mega hit that was released in 1992.
End of the Road was a record-breaking hit that spent a whopping 13 weeks on top of Billboard Top 100 — a record Boyz II Men themselves broke in 1995 with the release of One Sweet Day (featuring Mariah Carey), the second single off their fifth studio album, Daydream. One Sweet Day held on to the number one spot for 14 weeks.
More hits would follow throughout the 90s and the 2000s, and the group became a force to reckon with on the international R&B music scene, releasing a total of 15 albums and winning four prestigious Grammy Awards along the way. They have also won nine American Music Awards, three Billboard Awards and nine Soul Train Awards.
Boyz II Men’s harmonies and vocal balance led them to a popularity rivalled by very few boy bands, and today they are considered the most successful R&B group of all time.
In the 90s, most secondary schools in Uganda used to organise day-time discos at least once each term, and many of us still have memories of those awkward moments when we danced what we called ‘squeeze dance’ with the girls when the DJ played one of Boyz II Men’s ballads.
When Hemdee Kiwanuka, then a local music promoter working with No End Entertainment announced in 2008 that Boyz II Men would perform for the first time in Kampala, children of the 90s like me couldn’t wait for the opportunity to relive those golden 90s memories.
Boyz II Men were to perform alongside Jamaican duo of Tanta Mentro and Devonte and Joe Thomas, another legendary American R&B superstar whose hit songs, such I Wanna Know, Good Girls, No One Else Comes Close and The Love Scene, were also a big part of our 90s R&B music scene.
On the D-Day, Boyz II Men turned out to be a no-show — reportedly because one member, Shawn Stockman, fell sick — and fans were left to eat out of Joe Thomas’ palm, who headlined the show.
Even thou gh many of us were disappointed that Boyz II Men never showed up for the much-anticipated performance, Joe put up a stellar performance, serving both as the lead guitarist and lyrical storyteller.
As the headliner, Joe kept the audience excited and too engaged to miss Boyz II Men. After the show, the headline of my concert review in one of the dailies in Kampala read: “Who needs Boyz II Men?”
Well, 15 years later, Boyz II Men’s East African concerts will also be their very first performance in Africa. They are expected to perform in South Africa later in November.
With a career that spans more than three decades, the trio are still very popular among music fans in both Uganda and Kenya as evidenced by the fact that their two shows were almost sold out two weeks before the show.
“In Nairobi, VIP tickets have already sold-out while ordinary tickets are 90 percent sold-out,” said Kevin Ajuna, digital manager at Capital FM in Kampala, which is part of the Nairobi-based Radio Africa Group, the organisers of the East African tour.
And yet, tickets for the two shows are not cheap. In Nairobi, the show will set fans back by Ksh15,000 ($108) for VIP seats and Ksh8,000 ($58) for ordinary seats while in Kampala fans will fork out Ush300,000 ($79.85) for VIP and Ush200,000 ($53.24) for ordinary tickets.
“We are targeting people who are above 35 and most of them can afford this amount,” Mr Ajuna said.
Forty-two-year-old Allan Ssenyonga, who is eagerly waiting to watch Boyz II Men live on stage, said that the American R&B group evokes a lot of memories because they influenced many aspects of many people’s lives in the 90s.
“Growing up in the fresh FM radio era (of the 90s), Boyz II Men’s music was the soundtrack of our lives. We listened to and crammed the lyrics of their songs and sometimes used them to define our early love life.”
Kenya’s sensational boy band Sauti Sol are the only East African artistes that have so far been queued up to perform alongside Boyz II Men at both the Nairobi and Kampala concerts, but Ajuna said that more local artistes will be announced to curtain raise the show.