The nomenclature Kadongokamu, sometimes Kadongo Kamu, is a Ganda expression and it literally means “Little Guitar”.
It is known to be a tune of the middle 1900s. It is the renaissance genre of contemporary music in Uganda.
Whereas Africa’s amusement heritage was always enormous, when the continent opened up to the outside world, perceptions and attitudes were so predisposed to influences – some good, and among them, the music prospect.
As change crept in, a certain bit of conservatism was bound to clear off to give way for the new Africa – an Africa where lone ethnicities would cease to be states but constituents of a larger domain – also known as “country” and consequently members of the community of nations.
There was hence need to expand music talent to the world; outside tribal precincts and this didn’t come without challenges that needed immediate solutions.
It started with the question of mobility – how day after day, be able to bring in and bring out the entire ensemble that comprised a number of performers, a large set of bulky music instruments and the liveries yet with no ready means of haulage? The crux of the quandary lay with inadequacy of resources as with lameness of infrastructure at that time.
Yet there was also the issue of means [and unambiguousness] with which to convey the message of the music to an audience that was getting rather busier by the day as well as open to the elements of the imported brands of melodies.
Besides, what kind of tune was fit for a radio opening; and how universal would it have to be to embrace the diversity of consumers who had dissimilar cultural inclinations! Needless to say; the artistes were bamboozled!
But music is a universal language and dialect would not as much be a hitch as what you sang about and how it sounded like. It was indisputably de rigueur to walk away from the mode of art that pleased a section of people while alienating others.
There are over fifty tribes in the country and cultural music which was rather hidebound, not only limited the market but also undermined the spirit of a new Uganda – the spirit of oneness – the spirit of patriotism. There was need for what would encompass all people’s needs and that would be Kadongokamu, for a transition.
What is Kadongokamu?
Uganda communities are very characteristic of the continual chorusings of happy people; at drinking spots or other social events – by and large, an ebullient people is what Ugandans are.
In the 1950s however, you’d begin to unprecedentedly see solitary performers wielding a tube fiddle or any other simple sound-producing instrument, trekking, and going door to door offering a singing, if you had the time and didn’t mind to part with some coinage. Musicians took to singing for cash on the streets!
The sophisticated ones [entertainers] adopted the exotic white man’s non-electric aural guitar; mostly because it was portable and it was an easier way of recreating the traditional sound without having to have a drum set. This enabled them to move between various towns and villages while playing the music! It suffices now to assert that the little guitar music had rolled up at Uganda’s door step and it’d be a largely collective and most revered brand of all time. As it grew into a full-fledged genre, its customary name would be deciphered as One-man’s Band conjuring up its earliest street form.
Truth is; Kadongokamu music vending evolved into big stage gigs which were more of experiences than exhibitions.
It consisted of guitar playing expositions, poetry, rhyme recitals, riddle-breaks, comedy, play acting and ultimately the singing.
The song pattern was not always instantly recognizable as the choruses were so protracted and convoluted. Kadongokamu simply was not as much tailored for dancing as for listening. That’s why the singers were generally very perspicacious, and well able to convey side-splitting lines while at the same time being obligatorily proficient. Reminiscent of the original music from which it came, edification is the motivation.
The peculiarity was with how musicians could be so relevant in the society! It was a package with good observation of the community’s behavioral trends, analysis, and admonition. The genre boomed and it enthused the artistes to put these awe-inspiring lyrics on record. It was informative, educative at the same time inspirational. It was to be proud of; a Ugandan art innovation being such a total success was unmatched.
It was cherished; even next to the belittlement that it was an obsolete tune.
Kadongokamu music had its shortfalls though; certainly the reason it never stayed on for long; it soon struggled to keep its space in the market with the emergence of imported brands from the Western world and other parts of Africa – South Africa, that is, and D. R. Congo, formerly Zaire, the cradle of the popular Lingala.
Before long, Uganda would also begin to bring up a tune that could favorably fight for the market. Ragga Dee, a contemporary music mistral admitted, during an Interview with Star TV, “…and it was not anything like Kadongokamu. It was a groovy, dance, zouk tune with African sound inclination,” he explains.
Slowly the one guitar brand dwindled in its strength until when Ugandans could do even without it.
A number of musicians nonetheless always remained loyal to the genre. Herman Basudde was a very popular Kadongokamu musician in the 80’s and 90’s. So was Bernard Kabanda. Dan Mugula is one of the few surviving pioneers of the genre. Fred Sebatta and Paulo Kafeero made their mark in the 90’s. Today, the genre is marginalized in favor of more recent styles of music. But because the music is loved by cultural aficionados, especially in the Buganda region, it is certain that there will always be an audience for Kadongokamu.