Mariam Ndagire can claim to be an entertainment industry icon. Having started out as a stage actress with The Black Pearls in the 1990s, Ndagire has gone on to wear multiple hats as a movie actress, director, singer and creator of local television content.
Her formula has simply been to fill vacuums in the industry that help breed new talent. Her movies were among the first to be picked for screening on DStv’s pan-African entertainment television channels; Africa Magic and Africa Magic Plus while her TV drama Tendo Sisters has helped NTV fill a local content gap while birthing new screen talent.
The latest initiative from the entertainment princess of Bat Valley was the search for Uganda’s next music icon. The concept was a passable replica of American Idol that did what Coca Cola’s Real Stars search in 2003 did in giving us new singing talent in Kiefer Mwesigwa (RIP), Cinderella “Cindy” Sanyu, Dorothy Bukirwa and Sarah Zawedde.
The nation now has a music star, James Mugabi, the 24-year-old winner of Ndagire’s “star search” initiative and going by this lad’s resurrection of classics by Eclaus Kawalya, Jimmy Katumba and Philly Lutaaya, the music industry can look forward to a singer that will carry more than auto tunes.
The mouthful of a name notwithstanding, Uganda’s Next Music Icon mostly worked thanks to a repertoire that had hopefuls strictly delivering local songs.
The songbook at the national Theatre televised finale Mariam Ndagire hits songs, choice contemporary Ugandan pop hits like Aziz Azion’s Nkoye, Angela Kalule’s Akakondo and Iryn Namubiru’s Omukwano Gwaffe and millennium classics like Maddox’s Omuyimbi.
The winner sure took it all; a Shs 2m cash prize, record deal with the Kasiwukira label and designer shirt from Stella Atal but the top four runners-up; Winnie Nassiwa, Martin Mukooza, Sharif Mwebe and Joseph Bbosa can count on musical success if paired up with the right producers.
From a television production point of view, there was a little ingenuity that deserved applause. The improvised jib- that carne-like camera used to yield “aerial” shots was a stroke of genius.
However, the initiative could have benefited from stern house rules. The audience was every producer’s nightmare.
It lacked decorum; clapping unnecessarily, taking phone calls during the taping and walking in and out of the auditorium on impulse.
There was hardly any dissent from the judges all of whom were singing from the same hymnbook. Ndagire developed notoriety for stopping the awesome band midway songs while Patricko Mujuuka mostly parroted what the other two judges said.
Only Joanita Kawalya offered sage musical advice thanks to her stature as Eclaus Kawalya’s daughter and Afrigo Band’s lead vocalist.
Ndagire may also want to fix the low production values that recur in her other passions. Her stage acting is stellar and her divine alto is reminiscent of The Ebonies diva Stella Nanteza.
Her movies and TV series though could use a little smoothing around the edges. Study time in film school and paying a little more attention to the grammar of subtitling can fix that.