16 years of Elly Wamala’s Demise

Story by Sqoop

On Saturday last week, music icon Elly Wamala marked 16 years since he succumbed to throat cancer.

Wamala was an artiste that left behind a legacy and such a catalogue with songs such as “Boda Boda”, “Ebinyumu Ebyaffe”, “Akaana Ka Kawalya” and “Leticia” most of these songs were about love, because as they say, he was a crazy romantic with lyrics.

Yet, even when his songs were about love and lovers, he always found ways of throwing a lot of social commentary with the romantic messages. For instance, “Ebinyumu Ebyaffe” would today pass for a song such as Big Trill’s “Parte after Parte”, yet Wamala sang his in a way that does not only uplift but offer a commentary on almost 10 years of Uganda’s social life.

But before this catalogue that has been a soundtrack for millions of Ugandans, Elly Wamala is credited for having recorded “Nabutono” in the 1950s. Played with a dry acoustic guitar, the song was appreciated by many people and one of them was then Kabaka Fredrick Muteesa.

By that time, Ugandans, especially those with relatives that had returned from the world war had been exposed to many things, including guitars, some had trained themselves and had started moving from one village to the next performing.

It is highly believed that was the birth of Kadongokamu as a music genre while Elly Wamala’s “Nabutono” is believed to be the first song in the genre to be recorded in studio.

Surprisingly though, Elly Wamala did not do other Kadongokamu songs. The other music he recorded after that was influenced by different Caribbean sounds such as calypso that he fused well with African sounds and storytelling.

Over the years, the weekend leading to August 22 has always been met with public lectures and concerts commemorating not just the music but the values Elly Wamala stood for.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of such events could not take place on Saturday but luckily for those that loved his music, the internet had them covered; first it was the National Theatre.

Through their Uganda National Cultural Centre YouTube channel, they shared a concert that they organized in honour of Elly Wamala last year.

The concert organized by Musicians Club 89 and graced by family and friends of Elly Wamala such as James Ssenkubuge, Moses Matovu and Kalundi Sserumaga among others, who celebrated his music but also discussed ways in which art can sustain creatives.

Besides the YouTube stream by the National Theatre, Moses Serugo, an arts journalist too held a conversation with James Muwanga, one of Elly Wamala’s sons about his legacy and ways Ugandans can work to keep his candle burning.

According to Muwanga, the family has not met as much since they held a concert in his memory in 2014 but they are dedicated to keeping his legacy alive.

The conversation that involved different artistes both in Uganda and out of the country, had people talking about Wamala’s music and how it made them feel but above it all, many noted that the job of keeping his memory alive cannot be done by the family single-handedly.

Muwanga also cleared questions about the rights of his father’s music, noting that much as things may not be very orderly with Uganda’s collecting bodies, they are aware of the ownership of their father’s intellectual property ownership.


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