Uganda has had very many entertainment groups over the years however, few have stood the taste of time. Most have not lived to see their first 5 years anniversaries, today in our Friday #LISTS series, we look at the Top 5 entertainment groups in Uganda that have beaten all odds to stand the taste of time. Enjoyyyyyyy.
Uganda’s oldest and finest band, Afrigo band, which has for a long time served East Africa with Uganda’s culture flavored beats
The group was found 47 years ago in 1975. Today, only band leader Moses Matovu survives of the original eight members. But that hasn’t stopped the band from maintaining the highest level of live performance that has seen them survive several music storms and today, they are the most booked artists in the land. In its 40 plus years of its existence, the band has come up with over 20 successful albums. They have released songs about HIV from the 1980s, songs about the pressures of marriage in the 1990s, songs about the political instability of the 1970s and 1980s, among others.
On why they have kept together as a group, James Wasula one of the directors had this to say, “We manage it as a business, with a board of directors. Why other groups come and go is because they are run as entertainment groups, and when you do that it means that if four star performers leave the group then it will collapse. But as a business, it will remain. It’s not about a personality, it’s not a one-man show, its Afrigo – it’s a company. We take our time with each album. It takes us 2-3 years to complete an album.”
The original members of the group included Jeff Sewava, the founding band leader. He led the split from Cranes band months before the formation of Afrigo. He was a saxophonist and a vocalist but left the band towards the end of 1977 and relocated to Germany, where he lives to date. He is best remembered for composing Betty, a popular song then. Moses Matovu came up with the band’s name ‘Afrigo,’ which is a short form of their self-motivating slogan, ‘Africa-Go in music.’ Matovu took over band leadership from Sewava and is the remaining member of the pioneers and one of three band directors alongside James Wasula and Sam ‘Kapeera’ Tamale. Apart from being the band’s lead vocalist right from its inception, Matovu also plays the flute but is best known as the unrivaled saxophone maestro. Also an accomplished composer, Matovu is the brains behind some of the band’s biggest hits such as Nantongo, Sirina Anantwala, Afrigo Batuuse 1, Speed, Bagikwongere, Mundeke, Tondeka Awaka, Ngenze N’ono and Sirina Reverse, among others.
Another founding member was Charles Sekyanzi (RIP). A trumpeter, Sekyanzi’s was one of the most recognizable figures in the band due to his sheer vocal refinement. His calm style endeared him to fans and rubbed off well Matovu’s precise singing on several hits. He composed songs like Musa, Rose Guma and Onnemye, but his Enneeyisa stands out to this day as one of the band’s greatest hits. Sekyanzi died in March 2009.
Other founding members included, Paddy Nsubuga (RIP): A vocalist, he also played the rhythm guitar. Nsubuga stepped out of the shadows in 1985 with his composition Express, a hit that celebrated Express FC’s Uganda Cup triumph that year. Nsubuga passed away in the late 1980s. Anthony Kyeyune: Originally the band technician, Kyeyune learnt on the job to become a trumpeter. He left in the 1980s and became a businessman. Fred Luyombya (RIP): Luyombya was the band’s bass guitarist and lent his vocals on several hits. His biggest composition was the hit Christine, in the late 70s. He left the band in the 1980s and passed away in the late 80s. Paul Serumaga (RIP): The multi-talented Serumaga made his name as a lead guitarist as well as a vocalist. But for all his attributes, his Oswadde Nnyo remains one of the most popular hits the band has ever made. He passed away in 1989.
40 years ago, Ugandas oldest dramactors started as a secondary school friendship at Kampala High School. The group was started by three inseparable literature friends Andrew Benon Kibuuka, Aloysious Matovu Joy and Charles James Ssenkubuge.
Aloysious Matovu who was already of kampala dramactors spotted the talent in Benon and Charles as the trio acted their debut play in “The Road”.
The group has stood the taste of time and scooped awards both on the local and international scene . The group has nurtured many in the industry hence keeping their legacy moving. The group recently celebrated 40 years of service. The group was thrown out of its home, got another (Pride Gardens) which is now extinct. Although some of its promising actors joined other groups as freelancers. Their more than 50 plays, mostly written by Charles Ssenkubuge and directed by Andrew Benon Kibuuka, have been favorite for men.
Established in Kampala, Uganda in 1977, The Ebonies is Uganda’s oldest, best known and loved drama and TV group. At the time, it was called Jimmy Katumba with the Ebonies, and proceeded under that name as a musical drama outfit until 1989, when majority of the group’s singers emigrated to the UK and US. The few remaining members transformed themselves into The Ebonies, recruited new members and started making stage dramas and TV series.
The Ebonies’ flagship production, That’s Life Mwattu, a TV series that delved into the contradictions of day-to-day life, first aired on the Ugandan national broadcaster in 1993. It was the first time Ugandans were seeing a home-grown series on local TV. That’s Life Mwattu easily became a deep national obsession that would make fans of today’s South American TV soaps look lazy. That’s Life Mwattu would go on to be voted Best TV Drama programme between 1995-2003. And The Ebonies have been continually voted the best Drama Group from 1995 to date. One of the group’s lead acts, Sam Bagenda, was voted as Actor of the Millennium and Best Drama Actor for the years 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 2003, 2004, and 2005
The Ebonies style from day one had been not only clearly spelt out, but consistent, too: the group strove to feed its large army of fans with quality yet decent leisure and entertainment that were all laden with educative themes. In That’s Life Mwattu, societal issues such as prostitution, rural-urban migration, class conflict and the place of women in society were to be demystified to the Ugandan public. And so real did it look to the fans, many found it hard separating the actors’ stage personae from their real lives. In the early days of The Ebonies, a new crop of instant celebrities was born in Uganda. These celebrities were the larger-than-life characters that acted in the series. The first crop of such celebrities had names like Sam Bagenda, aka Dr Bbosa, Dick Katende, Cissy Muwanga, aka Matron, David Kute, aka Corporal Kute, Lindo and Nakawunde, a naïve village character whose name soon became a byword for the TV drama.
The line between drama, dramatic license and reality soon became blurred to the collective public eye. The group has since acquired a fresh crop of actors to support its expanded productions, as well replace those that have since passed on, most notably Cissy Muwanga and Dick Katende. Many of the current crop of Ebonies fans actually know nothing of this first crop of dramatists. Instead, they seem to connect better with the current team, with such names as Sam Bagenda, Julie Underwood Kalema, Julie Nakiboneka, Paul Jingo, Nsubuga Mayombwe and David Kute.
TV dramas aside, The Ebonies also cut out a niche in the area of TV productions, most notably Dollar The Queen (1997), The Diamond Ring (2000), The Victim (2001), Inextricable Dilemma (2004), Excruciating Conundrum: Kalibobbo (2005), Daisy 1998), Enigmatic Palpitations (2006/2007) and Obnoxious Abomination (2006).
Afri-Talent is a professional drama company started by Abby Mukiibi who is their artistic director with Bat-Valley Theatre as their “home”. Mukiibi has been directing and acting for theatre since 1994. He has acted and directed over 30 plays acted by his acting company. Mukiibi is also the Programmes Manager of CBS Fm and also a presenter of Kalisoliso, a very popular radio comedy with CBS FM. In 1993, three students of performing arts sat in their cubicle contemplating their future. They had all been supporting actors with ‘The Black Pearls’, one of Uganda’s theatre outfits that rose to fame under the stewardship of Omugave Nduggwa. Something had been brewing in Abby Mukiibi’s head. He wanted to break away from the Pearls to form another group, one which would give a platform to young and vibrant actors and actresses. Nduggwa, his uncle, had nurtured him into acting. University had sharpened his skills. In 1994, he won the year’s accolade as Best Actor in Uganda at the Uganda National Cultural Centre popularly known as the National Theatre. So, the zeal to start out and establish a group was ignited.
Before Mukiibi and friends made up their minds to leave ‘The Black Pearls’, Kato Lubwama, Mariam Ndagire and Ashraf Ssemwogerere formed the Diamonds Ensemble. Something had been brewing in Abby Mukiibi’s head. He wanted to break away from the Pearls to form another group, one which would give a platform to young and vibrant actors and actresses. Nduggwa, his uncle, had nurtured him into acting. University had sharpened his skills. In 1994, he won the year’s accolade as Best Actor in Uganda at the Uganda National Cultural Centre popularly known as the National Theatre. So, the zeal to start out and establish a group was ignited.
Mukiibi had interested a few individuals in his idea of forming a group. Two of the first people he shared with were his friends, one a roommate in B221, in Lumumba Hall, Michael Sserwanga Mabira and Kennedy Ssekisambu (now in London), who bought into the concept. The three belonged to different theatre groups; Mabira was Impact International while Ssekisambu belonged to Bakayimbira Dramactors. Mutual friends later got on board. These included Hebert Nsubuga, Solomon Kaweesa, Ndagire and other like-minded individuals that shared a passion for acting and theatre on the whole. Ow’ekitiibwa Nuwa Nyanzi, whom the group chose as patron, helped them come up with a name.
At the back of the minds of young men was selfless determination, one which would push someone on an empty stomach to go downtown Kampala to promote the play and convince people to go to theatre to support them. The actors, then university students, needed the money to rehearse and put up productions at theatres. They could account for the allowances later, because they were vital in enabling them do their academic research and coursework. They would be given a stipend of Shs180,000. After using the allowance, they would have to fumble through, sometimes selling personal properties like radios, flat irons and television sets in order to pursue the academic requirements as well.
Unlike most of the groups on this list that span over 25 plus years, Fun Factory is way younger than that but its credited for its solid existence in the modern times, something many groups of this era have failed at. One of Uganda’s leading comedy group, Fun Factory Uganda turned 12 years on 5th January 2022. This weekend they will be live in their Grand Return show at the Kampala Serena.
Back to their roots, led by Hanningtom Bugingo, Fun Factory was created by 14 breakaway members of the original Theatre Factory that was led by Phillip Luswata. In their genesis days, the group hosted their weekly show every Thursday at Pan World, just opposite the National Theatre where their former mother team of Theatre Factory hosted their comedy show on the same day. Thursdays were serious soul searching days at the amazing open theatres – Fun Factory and Theatre Factory. Every Thursday night, revelers have to choose between the two comedy shows along Dewinton Road (National Theatre and Pan World) and at the same time for the same price. In an article by the Observer Newspaper in March 2010, the Journalist who comfortably attended both shows said that at Pan World, the ‘breakaway kids’ of Fun Factory were really amazing. Giggles filled the audience as the young actors disposed of the sad feelings any fan could have come with.
“It was full entertainment at the Fun Factory base especially and there was a huge crowd to show for it. With the presence of ladies such as Veronica Tindicebwa and Ann Kansiime, it was really passionate acting, singing and dancing at its best for Ugandan theatrical lovers who storm the parking yard for the show. Most people go and park at the National Theatre where the ‘mother Theatre Factory’ do their thing, and then cross the road to watch the ‘baby Fun Factory’, which for now has shown no respect but only signs of killing the mother that once fed her.” he wrote.
Fun Factory has experience and unmatchable wit , its combined potential has over time attracted more fans. Though Fun Factory and Theatre Factory’s bitter rivalry was barely rehearsed – both groups stated that there were no hard feelings (yeah right!). Over the yeares, Fun Factory desperately clings on to attract more people and well wishers, today they celebrate over 10 years together.