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HERMAN BASUDDE: portrait of a musical prophet

Herman Basudde (L) and Matia Luyima in Lukwata Guitar Singers

It is hard to imagine that 19 years have passed since Herman Basudde died. Famed for his powerful lyrics, Basudde was one of the most recognizable figures in the kadongokamu genre and left a legacy that puts him among the legends of Ugandan music, writes ANDREW KAGGWA.

Ugandan music has, indeed, come from a place of deep thought, sorrowful and immerses talent. There was a time artistes mostly went to studio not because it was an obligation to record music but because they had something to say; and that’s the story of Herman Basudde’s classic, Bus Dunia.

Played on three guitar codes like many of the kadongokamu songs, Bus Dunia also thrives on a delectable piano skill backed by bass bed on the classic song that lasts about 14 minutes. In the song, Basudde seems to talk about the world full of problems that are visible even to the little children, then he likens it to a bus that has since lost its way and changed lanes, he notes that the two leaders of the bus, the driver and the conductor, have disagreed about its actual stage that at the moment, they seem to be driving the passengers into an abyss.

Basudde talks about the bus’ reckless driver that won’t stop even when they hit a hump; it is becoming so severe that when it hits manholes, some people are thrown off by the force, only to die as they land. It is surprising how Basudde used a vehicle collage for the world we are living in – using the different scenarios that happen on the road to paint the turmoil Uganda was probably yet to experience.

But above all, it is shocking that he chose to use road accidents to present the deteriorating livelihood only to end up dying in a real accident in 1997, more in a manner of the bus he sang about. I recently linked up with Aisha Nakitto, the widow to Basudde and the first shock I learnt was that Bus Dunia, as long and informative it is, was written in less than two hours.

“He started writing Bus Dunia at around 10pm and was through with it at 11:30pm. That’s how he wrote most of his songs and, surprisingly, by the time he was done writing, he had the lyrics on his mind that he never needed a book to memorize during recording sessions,” she says.

But before all the glory that saw Basudde and the likes of Paulo Kafeero, Fred Ssebatta and Matia Luyima, among others, catapult kadongokamu to greatness, he had come to Kampala in 1985 from Bubondo, Butenga sub-county in Masaka.

True, it has been said that he had performed for more than ten years in areas of Masaka and its surroundings during the seven- ties, but little of this has been documented; in fact, he is mostly known to have launched his career with the smash hit Mukyala Mugerwa in 1986.

While talking about the history of kadongokamu, late Mark Makumbi, a former presenter at CBS FM, said that Basudde may not have inherited his musical gifts from the dad, but he gave him his first guitar.

It’s said that the late Elia Kizza Katende, a World War II veteran, had acquired the guitar as a souvenir from a white soldier friend, but since he had nothing to use it for, it stayed idle in the house only for Basudde to pick it later and start teaching himself. Later, when the young music enthusiast dropped out of primary school, he would start performing at parties for gifts, tokens and money that he, in turn, would take home.

However, the popularity he was gaining in the village soon got him in trouble with the other youths in the area and this being a time of the insurgency, he would be accused of having a gun which saw him getting arrested and later tortured to near death.

“After that ordeal, his father asked him to leave the village if he wanted to live, and that’s how he came to Kampala,” said Makumbi in one of the programmes.

Born on December 5, 1958 to Katende and Dimitiria Namyalo, Basudde in Mukyala Mugerwa, talks about a woman that kills her husband to be with him, even when she had just met him; even when the song was done in 1986, like many of his songs, it mirrors things that are actually happening today.

A young fan tips Basudde

Basudde recorded Mukyala Mugerwa with Lukwata Guitar Singers, since this was a time when many of the kadongokamu songs were staged as theatrical productions; such musical collectives like Kulabako Guitar Singers, Kadongo kamu Super Singers, Bazira Guitar Singers and Matendo Promoted Singers were common since their concerts ended up being serialized as plays.

Lukwata belonged to one Moses Katende, mostly referred to as Basudde’s Kampala parent. “When Basudde came to Kampala, he had neither a friend nor relative; thus the person he went to was Ka- tende,” says Nakitto.

The group had other artistes such as Immaculate Nabiryo (Basudde’s sister), Moses Ssengooba, Rosette Nakubulwa, Cissy Nakku, Sauda Nakitende, Livingstone Kasozi and Nakitto, who eventually became Basudde’s wife. Nakitto recalls that a perfor- mance would go on from 9pm till 1am but it would include random songs by the members of the group and the longer ones acted out.

“We would use skits to bring the songs to life, at times those songs even had special attires,” she says.

Most of the skits Nakitto did were of course about marriage and were with Basudde, not because they were lovers but also due to a fact that he was one of the prolific writers. In fact she notes that much as many kadongokamu artistes pen their own songs, Basudde would write for himself, Nakitto and Nabiryo.

“With the knowledge Basudde had, he could write four good songs in one day,” Nakitto says.

Even when he left Lukwata to start his own outfit, Kabuladda Professional Singers in 1993, Nakitto and Nabiryo were the first to join him, alongside Sylvester Busulwa and Mbalire Kateteyi, among others.

With Kabuladda, it was more a change of address but he continued working with many of the people he had worked with even when he was at Lukwata. For instance, besides the last productions he did with Kasiwukira, he continued producing music with Nick Studio’s Alex Ngabaye, the same man whose skill he had used on his debut album Mukyala Mugerwa.

He would go on to surge to greater heights with songs such as Enimiro Y’okubuganga, Priscilla, Mukyala Kandida and Ekiwala Kye Busega. Others include Obwavu, Ekyali Mu Ssabo, Bus Dunia, Abakazi Ba Beeyi and Abayimbi.

Like Bus Dunia where he talked about his death, in Abayimbi, he seems to talk about the artistes that die and are buried without the attendance of fellow artistes; the song further talks about artistes not having a home or an office that at times they die because they can’t access treatment or even die and people only learn about it when the burial has already passed.

“Many people have continued to call him a prophet because many of the things he sang about, they have come to pass,” Nakitto notes.

Last month on June 11, 2016, fans that love Basudde’s music poured their hearts out to commemorate 19 years since his death by visiting his burial site. Nakitto says that she always travelled with Basudde whenever he was going to visit his parents but this one time she didn’t go with him, he didn’t come back home.

“They were about four of them in the car, him at the front with our daughter and two others,” she says, adding that Basudde is the only one that died and their daughter was the only one that didn’t get a scratch.

In a concert that was done in his memory, Nakitto says that she was humbled by the number of young people that sang along to her husband’s music even at the time when less people are warming up to kadongokamu.


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