How Poor Are Ugandan Musicians?


    Music has been tagged “an international language”, a cultural instrument often used at festivals, funerals, dances, dinners, parties, weddings and political rallies.
    Music also adds spice to life, is considered food for love and the philosopher’s companion.

    But why are most Ugandan musicians poor? These vital parts of our society make good cash but die poor.

    Poor, as defined by the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, is having little money and/or few possessions. The opposite of the word is rich.
    I hope by now you are asking how much is ittle and how many is few. These words are not as vague and relative as you may think. Let us not grapple with knowing how much money makes one poor or otherwise. This is because in a very large auditorium lit by a candle at one end, there is no place where one can say it stops being dark and starts being light. But that does not negate the fact that there is a difference between the darkness and the light.

    The fact that we cannot draw a distinct line does not mean there is no obvious difference in the extremes. In our various communities, we know the rich and the poor. So although there are not stipulated parameters of telling affluence from penury, the difference is obvious to everyone.

    Since time immemorial, at least from when I was growing up (mind you I`m not some nonagenarian), I have always heard people cry over the fact that things are hard. Those who repose their hopes in governments get disappointed as successive governments fail to fatten their pockets.

    Amidst all these difficulties and hardship, a lot of people, including most of those who remonstrate about poverty are building mansions, buying plushy cars, having expensive weddings and doing all the other greater things you can think of.

    It appears no one is satisfied with what they have. Everybody is complaining. Workers are always crying for better working conditions. Today, doctors are on strike, tomorrow its teachers and the list goes on!


    Ugandan musicians have almost invariably bemoaned certain maladies in the music industry, adducing as factors that have caused their poverty. They portray the music industry as one that is not lucrative at all. Yes, they say they don`t get royalties, are suffering from payola, piracy and are as a result becoming poorer by the day.

    So why are more people doing music in spite of the numerous ills in the industry that are supposedly making them poor? Does it mean more musicians want to be poor? Okay, maybe its because they have a surfeit of money to splurge on their musical works in exchange for fame. But don`t forget that fame without money is shame?

    Anyone who tells you music is a non lucrative venture is telling a big lie. Not everybody can make it big in music, as is the case with other fields, but the fact is that a majority of our musicians are rich. Unless one would want to tell me that the mouthwatering endorsement deals, the expensive houses, luxurious cars and clothes our musicians have are signs of poverty.

    Some charge as much as 10,000,000 Ug shs for a show. It is true some of them have other businesses but it is also true a majority of them made it solely by doing music.

    Singer Palaso parading his newly acquired cars recently

    Musicians in Uganda (or Ugandanmusicians if you like) are not being honest with their financial status because they think by so doing the government will have mercy on them and grant their wishes. Superstitious as Africans are, our musicians fear to say they are rich, lest they are bewitched by their enemies. It is possible they also do that to ward off friends and family members who will be coming in for financial help. Or maybe to scare up and coming artistes from joining the music industry take a portion of their livelihood.

    We are all aware of the ramshackle nature of systems and structures in the music and arts industry but you would bear me out that, that is synonymous with some other professions. Even when copyright laws are stringently enforced ,payola and piracy reduced, huge sums of money allocated to the creative industry, the well-being of the Ugandan musician will depend on how they plan and manage their lives. As they stock their wardrobes with expensive clothes, spend their monies on drinks, women and other unnecessary things, they should remember money has wings.

    We know they are rich, they should not deceive the public by saying they are poor. No! we wont accept that lie but the biggest shortcoming is” Inadequate financial literacy”.

    This is the main thing killing our artists. We have several local examples of musicians who rise from abject poverty and taste gracious characterized by uncontrolled flamboyance and arrogance. These men and women are shocked when money is drained by fake friends and managers. The company they enjoy vanishes once their monetary taps run dry. Some resort to suicide.

    Another monster that is dimming the future of our local stars is lack of support. The government and local fan base is extremely poor to keep musicians at a level where they can compete with their counterparts from Nigeria and South Africa or even our neighbours from Tanzania. The government has also weak policies that lead to piracy and discouraging loyalties. This factor leads to low earnings coupled up with aping of other African stars and eventually failing economically.



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