Story by Steven Tendo
Through the years, The Obsessions have moved from being back-up dancers to other artistes to holding their own shows. At first, they would hold shows to just dance and the public knew enough about them to part with their money to watch dance moves. “Through the hard times, our fans have stayed firm because they see something they believe in. They know that they can trust us to give them value for their money,” Lubega says.
The Obsessions were unique because even if they were mostly doing dance routines copied from the boy bands of the west like Backstreet Boys, as has been argued by critics, there was also a great number of people who were not seeing those boy groups. The Obsessions brought a new kind of dance to our stages. When this group started dancing, they were a real novelty and their fame grew in leaps and bounds throughout the Pearl of Africa nation.
Another reason they got the publicity they did was their creative costumes. Even their bitterest critics will agree that if there is one thing that this group is excellent at, it is their costumes. They always have some new style and it always is a winner. Their creative designers have always been brave enough to push the limits and the result is that they have influenced the way artistes dress on stage. Even after all the years they have been on stage, even after many of their members have moved on, they still dazzle in their dream-like costumes.
In the video for their new society conscious song, Weekuume, which means live responsibly, the girls opened another chapter in bold dressing. The girls appear super-imposed on a white background, sitting on a big white couch with no tops on. They cover up their breasts with their hands throughout the song but they leave nothing to the imagination. No artiste has been that daring, except for Iryn Namubiru, another recent returnee on the music scene, who went on stage in 2005 without knickers on and made sure that the hundreds of fans saw everything.
Some argue that the music industry in Uganda is becoming too demanding and many artistes are getting desperate because they know there is money to be made but there are simply too many good artistes. The next best thing for them to do is shock the masses into taking note. That is supposed to explain the continuously disappearing apparels. Namubiru and The Obsessions will invoke artistic license, saying it is perfectly normal in this fast changing world for artistes to come on stage in various stages of undress.
The Obsessions have been doing drama for some years now. The acting was always there from the beginning although they concentrated mostly on dancing. What the public did not think they would do was sing. With their first album, 1AAT (One At A Time), which came out in 2004, they started on a journey. Their songs like Nod Ya Head, Housegirl and now, Weekuume are right up there with the songs of other artistes like Raga Dee that cause revolutions in the way Ugandans think. Such songs become anthems and for many of the fans who are always looking for a new way to express themselves, one catch word will remain in their minds and it will be associated with some social issue. That is the power of the music the group is making.
In the beginning, they were singing and acting in English. The target group was the upper class fans and students. But that has changed of late.
“We realised that most of the people who come to our productions are not necessarily the people we thought would come,” Mulindwa says. “The so-called upper classes do not part with their money as easily as the man and woman on the street. So now we are doing productions and music that appeals to the hoi polloi.” That should explain the Luganda in their plays which were originally wholly in English.
For Weekuume they employed the services of the most sought after producer in Uganda now, Silver Kyagulanyi. That he accepted to pen all their songs and even perform at their celebrations on June 2 says a lot about the power the group still holds.
On this day, a number of artistes turned out to celebrate with this new-look The Obsessions and they made the show worth the USh20000 (about US$13) that the fans paid to enter the Kyadondo Rugby grounds.
Among those present were Sara Zawedde also from Kyagulanyi’s growing stable, Meshach Semakula, the 2005 Pearl of Africa Musician of the Year, Namubiru, Bobi Wine of the Wendi (I’m still here) fame who did his Adam ne Kaawa (Adam and Eve), and Buchaman.
All these people came to the grounds knowing that this was as good a chance as any to showcase their own talent because the fans of The Obsessions are also their fans. More so, they should be courting such fans.
But The Obsessions has changed a lot. The men who made it very famous, Michael Kasaija, Martin Mugonyi, Charlie Muzahura and Arthur Kanyesigire, have long since left to pursue other interests. That explains why suddenly, the girls who were previously seen only to be pretty mannequins and ‘queen dancers,’ the people who always got secondary roles even in the plays, are now running the show. The remaining men, Mulindwa and Lubega, appear to be being pushed to the fringes every passing day. The girls are singing and the fans have been pleasantly surprised. Even if they had not done that scandalous video, they would still have got the attention of their fans.
Sharon Salmon, Cleopatra Koheirwe, Jackie Tusiime and Brenda Nambi have grown up and they are handling their new responsibilities well. They realise that they are now the face of The Obsessions and not in the background any more. They are holding out with grace. From a group of more than 15 girls, the remaining few have a big task cut out for them.
Caesar Abangiarah, a Kampala entertainment critic says: “Those girls cannot sing. Maybe they have to try harder. First of all they have been thrust into the fray too suddenly. But with the help of the top producers in the country, people who believe in them, they can come out triumphant in the end.”
Abangiarah is one of the revelers who went to the show to see for themselves what the girls could do. There are many like him who have set the bar a little too high, expecting the girls to deliver perhaps even better than their male counterparts used to. But then, in this competitive era, The Obsessions should expect no slack from the public.
There are now many dance groups in Uganda. There is Kombat, formed by Michael Kasaija and Natasha Sinayobe, both formerly of The Obsessions. Kombat has been getting a number of contracts mainly because of their acrobatic dance moves and model looks. Kasaija seems to be a hot item at the moment and many people making videos and can afford him are employing him. We saw him in Jose Chameleon’s Kipepeo and recently in Juliana Kanyomozi’s Nabikoowa.
There are other groups like the VIP Dancers and Maisha Dancers, all doing a different brand of contemporary creative dance. One thing these groups have in common is that they bear a lot of resemblance to The Obsessions. No matter what they say, there will always be a comparison between them and the originals. The Obsessions started out in a market that was virgin. That is why their impression is likely to stay for a long time even with the changes and the effects of time on its members.