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Can Ugandan music make it big on world stage?

"Big is big", a pumped-up and proud Bebe Cool describes himself.

But how big is he? Are the Eskimos in Iceland singing to his music? His nemesis Bobi Wine says he defeats "all [Ugandan musicians] lyrically" in his song Mr Kataala.

But if he is top of the range as he says, how come Australians are not enthusiastically bobbing their heads to his Mazzi Mawanvu or Adam ne Kawa hits?

Why is it that when Rick Dees or the presenter of Top of the Pops on BBC is sampling number one hits from around the world, none of them is Ugandan?

In all fairness, I haven't heard an African song on any of the aforementioned lists but is it impossible for African or better still Ugandan music to make it internationally?

Stephen Budd of Stephen Budd Management and Africa Express (he has more than 30 years' experience in the music industry) says it is not.

"Uganda has quality musicians but their music cannot appeal to international audiences if musicians are making copies of Western music", Budd says.

Are Ugandans making Western music? One musician attending a workshop facilitated by Budd at the National Theatre last year, said Ugandan music cannot be distinguished from others.

"You cannot confidently say that yes, that is Ugandan music", she said during the workshop aimed at giving Ugandan musicians tips on marketing themselves.

Budd says: "You can't export cold where cold already exists just as you cannot sell ice to Eskimos".

Few people outside Uganda would be interested in a Ugandan version of Beyonce Knowles. The original is still very much available and in appeal.

Just as Bobi Wine in his song Mr Kataala says: "Amazina amakoppe gamenya omugongo" loosely translated to mean, "Aping someone else's style can be disastrous".

What are Ugandan musicians to do to make it internationally? Jose Chameleone and others have expressed this ambition.

Budd, part of the team that formed Africa Express because they felt "that African music was not getting the respect it is due", emphasizes mixing the ethnic sound with modern sound.

For instance, a mix of the ethnic sound with modern rock music would boost international audiences. "Amadou and Mariam [from Mali], Femi Kuti [Nigeria] and Youssou N'Dour [Senegal] are doing this and succeeding", Budd says.

Budd's dream is to see Ugandan music become as big as Nigerian, Malian and Senegalese music.

Africa Express attempts to popularize African music internationally by introducing popular Western artistes to African ones.

"If these popular Western musicians become interested in African music, they can perhaps introduce their fans to it", Budd explains.

Collaborations often arise from these meetings and this further popularizes African music. Fat Boy Slim, Martha Wainwright and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers are some of the Western artistes that have been introduced to Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam and Bassecou Kouyate.

Is Budd or Africa Express going to jumpstart international music careers for Ugandan musicians this way? Perhaps.

Late last year, he was in the country with Ruth Daniel (facilitated by British Council) on a scoping visit for the Bayimba Festival 2012.

Daniel is from Un-Convention, an organization that organizes festivals for grassroots music.

Un-Convention, in collaboration with Budd, is organizing a festival and factory event in Uganda in April this year where the music production process will be demystified for musicians.

"Local musicians will also collaborate with international ones to produce an album at the end of the Un-Convention workshop", Daniel says.

Daniel also says Un-Convention is on a mission to create musical identity for East African countries.

dnabiruma@observer.ug

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