The History, Success And Fate Of Girl Bands In Uganda.
Written by Derrick Asaba on May 28, 2021
Oftentimes, we have noticed girl musical groups come and go within a blink of an eye. Just at the mention of this, you must be remembering popular girl groups back in the day like the Obsessions, Blu*3, Dream Girls, HB Toxic, which mostly sprang up between 1999 and 2011. Some of these were popular while others never seemed to cherish the word, ‘popular’. This is not the sole point of this text, though.
What music still is glued onto their name is believably ‘good music’ but gets one to asking questions like; What leads to eventual collapse of these groups? Are these groups even beneficial to the members therein? Where do the artists therein head after taking different directions? So many inquiries of this ilk bulge up in one’s minds but answers to, never seem to show up. DERRICK ASABA writes on.
First forward, let us reminisce on which girl groups were formerly rocking and bore a name in Uganda’s musical archives right from the days of I-Jay to Obsessions and more groups that all became extinct as time grew older.
With a past tattooed in their minds, from Namasagali College Iryn Namubiru joined Juliana Kanyomozi in 1999 to form the principal R&B all-girl group called I-Jay. In 2000, they released their first single which got ‘moderate’ airplay on radio stations in Uganda. Like the rest of the groups that sprang after them, I-Jay could not run for long, eventually trading the partnership for solo careers. Soon after the release of their record, Iryn left for France and the group split up. This break up later led to wide speculations that the two separated on unfriendly terms although they both denied such rumours in their many interviews. After quitting I-Jay, radio presentation became Kanyomozi’s first job and that was at Capital FM where she started work in 2001, presenting four programmes; AM to PM, The Drive Show, The Late Date and Yo Requests on Sundays. Namubiru later came back to Uganda in the mid-2000s to promote her music, where Juliana had already consolidated her supremacy with songs like; Say it, Nabikowa, and Taata Wabana Yani ― a duet with Bobi wine. The two songbirds are much remembered and hailed for their Viva la vie relative hit and some other songs like Wait (Remix), Emirimu which seem, however, to be known by a handful.
The genesis of this group dates back in 1999 where the gentlemen who made it very prominent; Ronnie Mulindwa, Martin Mugonyi, Charlie Muzahura, Arthur Kanyesigire and Michael Kasaija started dancing in Ronnie’s mother’s garage in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb. They were joined by Pamela Basasirwaki, Isabella Nabuloli, Judith Amaniyo and Brenda Nisiime and together they transformed dance and drama as Ugandans knew it. In 2004, the Obsessions planted her reaffirmation in the Uganda entertainment books. Initially, the boys did the singing but the girls who always did the dancing took over and ran the show as time ruled. The girls were; Brenda Nambi, Cleopatra Koheirwe, Hellen Lukoma, Jackie Tusiime, and Sharon O Nalukenge. In 2007, Koheirwe left Obsessions and was shortly after followed by Nambi and Lukoma who formed another group, HB Toxic. The exit of the trio gave room for Daisy Muber, Fatuma Gulam and Sheebah Karungi to join the group, but also left eventually. In the end, it was only Sharon and Jackie that held the group’s face. Songs stamped with this group’s name include; Wekuume, Jangu, Nod Ya head, House girl among other hits.
In 2004, the TV show Coca Cola Popstar winners of Jackie Chandiru, Cinderella Sanyu (Cindy), and Lillian Mbabazi were brought as one to form the top-notch trio, Blu*3. This was an all-female band under the management of Steve Jean. The three, pinned their voices in songs like Ndibeera naawe, Hitaji, Kankyakyankye, Nsanyuka Naawe, Burn, Frisky, Tomalaako (feat Ragga Dee), Nkoye, and the popular Where You are (feat the Goodlyfe) off the lengthy list of songs. Cindy however, left the group in March 2008 to which
building up strength from this setback, paving the way for Mya Baganda to get on board which equally influenced the change in the name of the group to Blu 3 dropping the star. The eventual collapse of the group lies between a number of reasons. In an interview with Standard Media, Chandiru was reported to have said that Cindy and Mbabazi got pregnant and the group had to go for a maternity break which saw each one take a solo drive. Also, rumour had it that Cindy was heading to Spain to figure out things with her man, M
ario Brunetti who is now her ex and baby daddy. According to Cindy, the group collapsed because she was fired and replaced with someone weaker than what the predecessor originally offered. “Every group has a face, a particular face that the brand depends on. So Blu*3 lost the face which was basically Cindy at that time. When that happened, they lost identity and the group didn’t stay long. They tried putting other faces but they were not strong enough to carry the brand. I think that was the beginning of their downfall,” Cindy told Record FM.
This group ran under a female manager, Judith Namazzi a.k.a Judithiana and was known for doing urban and local Kampala contemporary music genres. The group consisted of Peace Ayebale Charity (P-Tyra), Sheila Uzamukunda (shyla), Yvonne Karuyonga (Ivy), Zahara Omar (Toto) and Nabaccwa Mariam (Kubs). They used to perform at Simba Casino with songs like, Omulungi Yoono, Sexy ladies, Tosangika, Excuse me ft Ngoni among others. With a couple of hits to their name, Chilli Girls had a promising start to their career until Universal Entertainment, the company that had signed them, closed shop in 2011. Universal Entertainment had been businessman Rao Mohan’s brainchild. His sudden loss of interest in music and the related challenges he faced meant that the string of girl groups he had taken on could not carry on. The girl-group under his management was called “The Cyclones” and had, in their ranks, singers Esther Akankwasa, Lisa Namubiru and Pie B (Prossy Bulyaba).
Started by Eddy Yaawe in 2003, the group consisted of Leila Kayondo, Renah Nalumansi and Anita Tushabe (Anita Da Diva). They had songs such as Genda Okole, Nsaanuka, Wandekangawo, Weekend and Jiggy. The sudden departure of Leila and Renah in 2007 announced the group’s eventual demise. According to Nalumansi, the group collapsed because they all chose to take different directions. “We we were getting little money and we deserved much more. We thought that we were not appreciated. We left the three of us and had an idea of making our own group but still because of ego that is developed in the groups, people started to come to each one of us and that’s how everyone went where they felt better,” she revealed.
There were other girl groups that soared so high but equally so, took a gradual plummet and bid adieu to their presence in the Uganda entertainment industry. What more is left of these is the history their name carries and some few songs. These include; Viva Stars, HB Toxic, Wafagio, City Rock Entertainment et cetera.
With one or more of the girl groups living for a few years, nonetheless, what can’t be denied attribution of, is the positive impact these groups bore. At least according to what some of the former members talked to think, it revealed that girl groups act as a unifying agent for lacking and rich talent to provide a solid assemblage of people.
Nalumansi noted that since some people can’t make it alone, It is a good initiative as one gets the opportunity to share ideas and build talents together. The Obsessions founder, Ronnie Mulindwa concurs with Nalumansi noting that such groups offer an explicit ground for team work amongst members.
“There is work and a lot of shoulders to lean on plus a lot of entertainment. You work together, face a lot together. Also, for people who are watching, there is variety ― when you have five girls on stage performing, there is a lot to see, a lot of entertainment and a lot of different characteristics that come into play. When it comes to dance or performance, there is a lot of different choreography exhibited other than one artist singing for one hour and that’s perhaps one of the reasons why they get more dancers,” he explained.
To former Obsessions member, Cleopatra Koheirwe, her days in the group were wholly thrilling. She enjoyed being in Obsessions and benefited from it way too much as it drove her into other fields like TV (WBS TV) and Radio (Capital FM).
Koheirwe says that this fell in place because from performing on stage, she was seen and from the interviews, people thought that she would speak eloquently and that’s how people got drawn to her. She however adds that groups work for one, who is visionary and directional.
“It can work for somebody who is focused on what they are doing and know what they want in the long run and not to stay for the wrong reasons ― as for me I knew I wanted to be a professional entertainer. By the time we were performing, it was not about being famous but it was mainly about the passion for the arts and the joy that you get when you see other people happy as you entertain them. So if you are not in it for the right reasons, you will crush,” she explained.
Slightly contrary to what others say of the topic in question, Cindy believes that girl groups are just good for the start but not good for a career to stay as a group. “Girl groups are a good way to start, a good way to launch a career. That way you are not going to be burdened alone but since you are a group, you share the labour in a way. People love watching people in a set rather than just one person. It’s a good way to start but then after a few years, people graduate, go solo and start their own journey because everybody has their personal dreams,” she said.
What leads to the collapse of girl musical groups?
“It’s not just one reason but a couple of them. Ego is a very big problem in girl musical groups. Members could be working well together in the beginning but as time goes by, the vice kicks in. This one thinks they can do this better and the cycle goes on. Even men ― a man can disorganise the whole group of girls finding that the whole group chases one man perhaps outside their knowledge.”
“Bosses ― Usually, girls come when they are young and leave when they are older. Sometimes they don’t know what they want apart from music. But then, it is the boss who creates a group. Someone says I want a group and he looks for girls, brings them together and is the same person who destroys the group. When one creates a group, he equally sets the principles: What the group runs on, payments and respect of the members. If he is the same person who doesn’t pay the girls, wants to school them, the same person doesn’t know where the country is heading, they are the problem.”
“It is usually because of personal or management reasons. If a group has been there for a long time then it might be because of personal growth of some members. Sometimes girls end up taking different paths. By the time I left the Obsessions, it was basically about my personal growth, and yet everything was going well with the group. Money and projects were there. I had been with the group for six years and left at a time when I was doing so much. I was doing TV hosting, was at a radio station, writing for a magazine, acting in movies so I felt like I was spreading myself too thin, had been in the group for a while, and now the conquest I had joined. There are some who leave because they are angry, though that is usually rare.”
“Girls reach an age and want to give birth, to get married and definitely have to move on. They are women and when you are together as a group, it’s not easy to maintain a group with mothers because their schedules change. Some quit due to payment issues, some find that in a group they are sharing too much and want to do solo careers so that they gain more and others go for studies.”
That written, the question is ‘Can they survive everlastingly?’ Speaking in response to this, Lukoma advised that girl group founders ought to start such groups on the right foundations, make it professional and pay the members ― not to bring girls in a group, fail to pay them and at the same time deny them the laxity to talk to people.
Despite the fact that she believes the collapse of girl groups is not only in Uganda and can’t have five people acting as triplets or twins, Koheirwe suggests that just like companies or organisations do to register success in their working spaces, so needs in girl groups.
“It’s all about making sure that you have meetings with other groups to know what issues could be bothering the people or have a one on one to know what one person is going through, what challenges they face and make sure members are well paid (like I was, at least),” she suggested.
Cindy, thinks that a group can’t be maintained for long because it is made up of human beings ― they grow, desires change and so do their trends. For the fact that one can’t develop alone while in a group, it makes it definitely impossible to keep a group especially a girl group.
However, for a group to be maintained, Cindy suggested this to be done; “A very strong contract would be the number one thing to do. That keeps the people there no matter what happens. They are bound to stay. If the girls are allowed to explore their own talents in the group, that should help because along the way people develop different styles. For example I was in Blu*3 but was always a lover of Reggae and Dancehall but the group never gave me the chance to do that. Even Lillian Mbabazi was a lover of R&B and world music but she never got a chance to do that in Blu*3.”
With many seeing ‘a longer stay of girl groups’ as a continuous impossibility, there is always a ray of hope in everything we do. Like the adage goes ‘A woman cooked a stone and it produced soup,’ perhaps, new things need to be tried out. However challenging that can be, suggestions like posed above can be emulated to evidence the result from then on. This, taken up, can swap the phrase ‘It can’t be’ with ‘It can be’ whenever girl groups appear in a sentence.