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Herman Basudde: portrait of a musical prophet

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 indeed 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 kadongo kamu songs, Bus Dunia also thrives on a delectable piano skill backed by bass bed, at times it can even go unnoticed yet it plays an important role on the classic song that lasts about fourteen 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 abyss.

Basudde talks about the bus’s reckless driver that won’t stop even when they hit a hump, it is becoming so severe that when it hits man holes, some people are thrown off by the force, only to die as they land.

It is surprising how Basudde used a vehicle a 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’s 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.

According to Aisha Nakitto, the wife to Basudde, Bus Dunia, as long and informative it is, the song was written in less than two hours, in what she calls a complicated method, she notes that he sat and started writing things at about 10am and by around 11:30am, he had a complete song.

“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 Ssebata and Matia Luyima among others catapult kadongo kamu to greatness, making it the most loved and sought after music genre in the country, he had come to Kampala from Masaka, Bubondo, Butenga Sub County in 1985.

True, it’s been said that he had performed for more than ten years in areas of Masaka and its surroundings in the 1970s, but very little of this has been documented, in fact, he mostly known to have launched his career with the Mukyala Mugerwa album in 1986.

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

It’s said that the late Elia Kizza Katende, a world war two veteran had gotten the guitar as a sovenior 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 5 December 1958 to Katende and Dimitiria Namyalo, Basudde on 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.

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

Lukwata Guitar Singers belonged to one Moses Katende, mostly referred to as Basudde’s Kampala parent; “When Basudde came to Kampala, he neither had a friend or relative, thus the person he went to was Katende,” says Nakitto.

The group had artistes like Katende himself, Immaculate Nabiryo, Moses Ssengobba, Rosette Nakubulwa, Cissy Nakku, Sauda Nakitende, Livingstone Kasozi and Aisha Nakitto, who eventually became Basudde’s wife.

According to different sources, Katende also a maestro at the time, was one of the performers that popularized drama in musical performances, Nakitto says that a performance would go on from 9pm -1am but it would include random songs by the members of the group and the longer ones acted out – much of the songs acted out happened to be collaborations.

“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 to a fact that he was one of the prolific writers in Lukwata Guitar singers. In fact she notes that much as many kadongo kamu 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 Guiter Singers to start his own outfit, Kabuladda Professional Singers in 1993, Nakitto and Nabiryo were the first to join him, alongside Busulwa Silvester and Mbalire Kateteyi among others.

With Kabuladda Professional Singers, 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 Obwavu, Ekyali Mussaabo, Bus Dunia, Abakazi ba Beeyi and Abayimbi, which he released a month to his death.

Like Bus Dunia where he talked about his death which would robe the world off his voice and brains, 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 already passed.

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

In Abayimbi, Basudde wasn’t political like Bus Dunia but was just talking to fellow artistes that make big names in life but get buried in sorry states, in fact, all the things that Benon Kibuuka has spent years talking about; “buying land and making it a burial site that can become a tourist site and uniting,” he seemed to propose only a few months before his own death.

Unlike many of songs, Abayimbi is one of the shortest – it is ten minutes, yet it can somehow be stood to the end; Nakitto says it’s because the music either made sense or was entertaining to simply listen to. For instance, in Obufumbo Bwa Leero, he talks about how women are precious in all their different forms and shapes while in Bus Dunia, he talks about a corrupt and politically spoilt society.

“In fact even during the performances, there was nothing special about him, he was a tough performer, he never laughed or move a lot, people mainly loved what was coming out of him,” Nakitto says.

Last month, on 11 June 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 kadongo kamu.

But even when the genre is not a famous, Basudde’s sound and genius have continued to influence artistes, in 2012, when Uganda was celebrating 50 years of independence, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine paid tribute to the fallen maestro with a social media post; “I times like this is when I miss our heroes, oh how I wish prophet Herman Basudde could be around. You left us to accomplish your mission but father; your shoes are far too big for us to wear.”

Today, Nakitto and family are doing all it takes to take Kabuladda Proffesional Singer back to greatness; “We want to bring back an era where people get their money’s worth when they go for shows,” she says.

Even when the future looks bleak for the genre, she hopes Kabuladda will still be welcomed by the few kadongo kamu lovers and probably succeed even when the music environment is tougher and more turbulent than the one her husband sang in when he did Bus Dunia many years back.

First published in The Observer

About Kaggwa Andrew

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