October 2, 2004 will be a momentous day on the Ugandan music calendar. The temperatures across the country are feverish and there is only one way these fevers are going to be doused. The cacophony will build up to a glitzy ceremony where all the artistes who have been working will be rewarded, STEVEN TENDO writes.
It will be the occasion for tears and hoops of joy for some and of course disappointment for others. But at the end of it all, Uganda will reverberate with the tremors of yet another achievement; the second annual Pearl of Africa Music Awards. Last year’s occasion was a triumph not only for the musicians but also for everyone who has the country at heart. After looking on while everyone else had their musicians honoured, Ugandans at last could look within and applaud. We did not have to wait for the American awards any more since we had our very own version. For some artistes, this is the high point of their careers. “There is nothing that can be compared to the feeling of that glass in your hand,” one artiste crows. The excitement is bright in his eyes. For others, though, maybe due to over satiety, the awards are a stepping stone to greater stages.
Jose Chameleon is not as enthusiastic as many other singers appear to be.
“The awards this year are not for me. In fact, I might not even participate. If there was a way to stop the fans from voting, I would,” he states. He believes that this should be a time for new artistes to make their mark and established musicians should give way.
But all around, when one makes his rounds, they will find that the general mood is one of excitement. The Ugandan SMS voters are busy sending their votes via their cell phones and they are in the process catapulting some unknown musicians to fame. The winners of the awards stand to win more than just the expensive piece of glass to decorate their shelves at home. They will get their albums produced in a state-of-the-art studio in the new year. They also should expect to be entered in the KORA awards and given a chance to shine with Africa’s biggest stars. “We are taking Ugandan music to higher levels with the awards. We help the winning artistes to produce better music and they can get all this free. All they have to do is win the favour of the fans,” Isaac Mulindwa, chairman of the organising committee says.
The story of the Awards is a very intriguing one. A group of young visionaries broke the deadlock and decided to table the idea. True, many people had dreamt of it and had toyed with the idea of having our own awards. But no one actually did it. The reason was simple; everyone was scared. How would they pull it off? But there was redemption after all.
Mulindwa says that the journey has been long and hard but it was all worth it. “We have come a long way. Last year, we managed to stage a successful ceremony and there was always the fear that the subsequent ones would not match. But the road to the second edition has been even more exciting.” He expects this year’s awards to propel the industry even higher. He is not alone.
Last year, phone company Celtel took up the sponsorship and put in their all. This year, other sponsors have come on board. They include, Sudhir and Joytsna Ruparelia, and Bell Lager. “But I am not going to talk about how much they have each contributed,” Mulindwa says when I try to get him to divulge some more information. And it is understandable because what they are trying to build here is far bigger than the issue of money.
The organisers of this event also include Elvis Sekyanzi, Remmy Lubega of The Obsessions and a host of others in the radio and TV business. They have traversed the country in an effort to make the awards complete. The past months have been characterised with the joy of artistes when they realised that they had been considered. Week in, week out, the newspapers told us of the parties that told of the presence of the scouts in the various districts.
This year, the categories have been increased from 23 to 27.
On July 14, 2004, journalists from the different media houses in Uganda were treated to a party and given the chance to be the first to generate the list of nominees. This was because this is the main way that these artistes get to be known. The new categories this year are Best Afro Beat Single, Best Afro Beat Artiste/Group and Best Folk or Pop Artiste. Also among the new comers are three regional categories for the Northern, Western and Eastern Musician of the year.
Ugandan musicians living abroad have proven to be such a force. In Tanzania, Ziggy D’s Eno Mic still runs on the airwaves. There are others like Ambasada who featured in the recent Kisima Awards in Kenya. Far beyond the borders of East Africa, we have the likes of Madoxx Semanda and all these can win anything any time.
Always something would try to dampen the spirits of partygoers. But that is life and we have to learn to move on. On August 22, last year’s PAM Award winner for Lifetime achievement, Elishama Wamala, 68, breathed his last after fighting a harrowing battle with throat cancer. There were very many who expected him to win the Pearl once again because of his great influence on many Ugandans’ lives but alas, he might win it posthumously.
Elly Wamala was one of the shinning stars on the Ugandan music scene and there is no counting how many young artistes would want to be like him. The Awards will no doubt be different without him. Uganda has lost a number of musicians over the years and this last one, so close to the Awards, brings the reality home very harshly. But the organisers will have to educate the masses about the strength of music because it lives on even after one has died.
The new categories presented a new problem for the organisers; how do people who live in a different region vote for an artiste in a different region? This was solved in that only people living in the specific regions would be considered. This opened the door for a group of previously unheard of musicians to come into the limelight. The most interesting artiste is East World, a duo from the East of the country. These young men have captured the imagination of music fans around the country because before their entrance, no one ever thought of listening to anything from out of Kampala. Everything that was good was supposed to be from the capital. East World stormed the charts with one single, Fooda; and with this one song, they have been nominated for five awards!
Like last year, Ernst and Young are handling the results of the voting. It was this reputed accounting firm that presented the nomination list at Angenoir Discotheque on July 28, 2004 and they will tally the votes for the winners on October 2. The voting process has been running since the lists came out. Voting is through SMS and the fans can just send the names of their favourite artistes in whichever category is being focused on for the day. From the reaction so far, this year the race is going to be tight. More people understand what this is about and they are specifically voting for their stars.
Last year, there were cases of voters making mistakes and regretting. Not this time though. The organisers have tried to make this an easy thing. Last year, it was the first time and any mistakes could easily be forgiven.
At the end of it all, this year’s winners will be announced at Speke Resort, Munyonyo, a venue that is fast becoming the unofficial place for such big events to take place. Every one will be eager to see what changes have been made from the last time and the critics may not be as forgiving.