Christmas is one of the most important Christian and cultural holidays of the year. It is a time of spiritual reflection on the important foundations of the Christian faith. It’s also a celebration.
It’s when Christians celebrate God’s love for the world through the birth of the Christ child: Jesus. The Bible tells of his birth hundreds of years before, fulfilling prophecies. With Christmas tomorrow, at almost every corner in Uganda, you will hear the sound of Philly Bongole Lutaaya’s Christmas music playing full blast. Before, Boney M or Jim Reeves ruled at Christmas, until Lutaaya released his album shortly before passing on. Since then, the Christmas
music played in Uganda today is the preserve of the Osobola Otya singer.
In Philly`s Christmas songs, you can hear him sing how everything stops during Christmas celebrations – rooms are ‘spring-cleaned’, houses painted and new clothes bought and how Christmas is not just about presents but sharing love and food, and family get-togethers where everyone tries to have a chicken for the Christmas meal – usually smoked, seasoned and steamed in banana leaves. He sings about how the weather at Christmas is often hot and humid while homes are decorated with green paper and ribbons.
According to prominent artist Nuwa Nyanzi: “Philly’s music is still blazing on the airwaves. That alone shows you how powerful a musician he was, and even his productions. The fact that so many people are endeared to his songs for a quarter century is full proof of the man’s longevity. Even in death, Philly still lives amongst us, and strongly.” Eddie Sendikaddiwa, a performing arts critic at Dembe FM, said the beauty of Lutaaya’s music legacy is hidden in the ability he had to arrange his lyrics to flow so coherently. In fact, according to Sendikaddiwa, Lutaaya was the first to elevate Ugandan music to an international level at a time when good local music was hard to come by.
Sendikaddiwa believes Lutaaya deserves bigger profiling with monuments set up in his name. Abbey Lutaaya, Lutaaya’s elder brother told The Observer that in their home area of Jjanya along Masaka road, a Philly Lutaaya memorial hall has been up and running for years. It is used as a community centre, where social and public events are held like child immunization and sensitization on HIV among other health promotion activities. And yet beyond HIV and Aids, Lutaaya’s biggest inspiration came through music.
Steven Nsubuga, Lutaaya’s old friend and currently the vice-chairman of Musician’s Club 1989 said: “When you listen to Philly’s music today, you appreciate what a gifted vocalist he was. He could sing in any tone, and was as persistent at work as he was talented.” Lutaaya was greatly inspired by Congolese sounds and style, to an extent that he learnt their language and even added a ‘Y’ to his Bongole name, to sound similar to Tabuley Rochereau. In 1968, when a band from the then Zaire Republic, known as Vox Nationale came into town, Lutaaya relocated to Kinshasa for four years, as the political climate in Uganda deteriorated.
He later moved to Sweden, where his music career finally peaked, after years of hustling. It was in the Scandinavia that real breakthrough came with the hugely successful Born in Africa album and a sold-out concert at Lugogo indoors stadium in 1987. “He was perfect at several music genres. He did reggae, African pop, a bit of blues and Western
sounds among others. He was so adaptable, and whatever came to him, he excelled at it, which was
a big mark of him for many musicians to admire,” Nsubuga said. Afrigo band’s Moses Matovu, a longtime friend of Lutaaya’s, told The Observer music legends are hard to find, but Lutaaya is surely one in the history of Ugandan music. Matovu said as 25 years of Lutaaya’s death are marked, his work ethic still stands out. Lutaaya, who was an expert at drums, percussions, the trumpet and bass guitar, took time to compose, write and produce a song.
“Philly knew what he wanted to back his lyrics and made it happen. Not a single song sounded like
another. All his songs were different,” Matovu said. Twenty-five years later, we acknowledge that a legend truly lived amongst us. In October, a Philly Lutaaya day was launched after a golf tournament in his memory, spearheaded
by his daughter, Tezra Lutaaya, 37, through the Philly Lutaaya Cares (PLC) Foundation. Sadly, however, Lutaaya’s first daughter, Justin Lutaaya, 38, a nurse, is battling leukemia in Sweden, according to Abbey Lutaaya. He asks Lutaaya’s numerous fans and admirers to say a prayer for her, this Christmas.