RK: We are very excited to hear from Mzee Moses Matovu, a music icon in our country. This year, Moses celebrates 45 years as a musician having started his career in 1967. He’s been at the centre of the oldest band in the country called Afrigo and we are so honoured.
Moses welcome to #360Mentor
MM: Thank you Sebo for having me.
RK: Moses, I wanted to say something to you before we start.
MM: Yes please, go ahead.
RK: On behalf of all of us Ugandans in particular, we thank you for bringing incredible enjoyment in our lives by giving us the best music we have enjoyed over the last 45 years. Sebo tukwebwaza nnyo. Webale kutusanyusa.
MM: You’re welcome sir! Nange neyanziza nnyo olw’okumpagira n’okuwagira music waffe.
RK: Moses, let’s start at the beginning. When did you, as a child, realise that you wanted to do music?
MM: When I was about 7 years old, we enjoyed music of those days. We had a gramophone at home and I used to be the operator. You can call me the DJ.
RK: At years old, you’re already a DJ!
MM: Yes. I love music so much. I started listening to the radio. By then we had only one radio station; Uganda broadcasting channel.
RK: Where was home?
RK: Eh, you’re a city born?
MM: Yes, I am.
RK: Did you go to school and where?
MM: I went to Namirembe Primary School. That’s where I started my p.1. I was staying with my mother. On Sundays, we would go to church for prayers. But at the time, I was starting to love music so I joined the school choir. But I was only there for one year and I was moved to Kibuli Demonstration Primary school.
But at Kibuli, to join the choir, you had to be in p4. So I tried my best to see that I join that choir. When I reached P4, I joined the choir, nemba wakabi nyo! I loved singing cover songs like Elvis Chrisly, Jim Reeves and even our own local songs especially the late Elly Wamala and Ssebaduka.
In P6, we started our Primary Leaving Examinations and I joined J1. That time, we had junior secondary school, JI & J2.
I joined Kibuli Junior Secondary school for J1 & J2. Thereafter, I went to Pillars secondary school, it was an Asian owned private school. I did my S1-3 there. Unfortunately, there was political instability around that time in 1966. I was studying on a Buganda government bursary. The Kabaka was attacked in his place in Mengo, I could not continue with my studies. It was sad on my side and my parents. I decided to do other things.
RK: What other things did you do?
MM: I played football and music. In 1967, ii was about 18, I joined a band called Thunderbirds. It used to perform in Katwe around Kibuye. That night club was very popular. We used to perform every Saturday and Sunday from 8pm and 2pm. We were playing for teenagers. By then, they had introduced teenage dances around Kampala at White Nile club and at Newlife club in Mengo. We performed there for a year and the management stopped us.
RK: How were you performing without music instruments?
MM: The night club had its own band. Every night club had a resident band. So, those night clubs used to buy musical instruments so that the band could play. We used to use their equipment. But the senior musicians did not want us to perform with their instruments. The management decided to stop us from that club. Then I joined the Sports Band in 1968 as well as the Uganda Police Football Club. I was playing football as well as singing in the club. I left the band after a year. Thereafter, I joined the Cranes band.
RK: Had you started playing any music instrument or you’re just singing?
MM: I had mainly singing but I had learnt to play a music instrument called the “kongas”. The long drums. I joined Cranes Band as a singer in 1969. I met the late Charles SEKYNAZI, Tony Ssenkebejje, Bosco Bumoozi, Sam Kawuma. Eddie Ganja, Jersey Kasirivu and Joseph Mungaya.
RK: What made you leave Cranes and when did you set up Afrigo?
MM: When we left the Whitenile Club, we got a contract with Silver Springs HOTEL, Bugolobi, as a resident band. We were playing there from Tuesday to Saturday. In 1974, the management of the hotel stopped the band from playing. But the rest of us decided to continue with music. What we did to look for the people who could buy the instruments for us.
We decided to continue with the music. But we could not use the Cranes name. We had to come up with a new name. We decided to name it Afrigo Band.
RK: So who are the people who founded this band, and what year was this?
Mm: That was 1975, we had Charles Sekynazi, Tonny Senkebejje, Jersey Kasirivu, Jeff Sewava (now based in Germany, was a singer and saxophonist).
RK: How did you get the equipment?
MM: Haha, it was not easy. We spent a whole year without instruments. But we decided to stick together. We thought if we did, we could get a sympathiser who could buy for us the equipment. Unfortunately the president had chased the Indians. Those Indians had about two shops on Kampala Road, the post office. There was a shop called SHAKARADAS, which was managed by one of the Indians. The second one was another called Sanand’s and sons. They used to sell music equipment. After they had been chased from Uganda, there was no one who could run the business of these equipment. So we had to wait until a gentleman, the late Leonard Mugwanya. Mr Mugwanya was the secretary of Uganda electricity board but, at the same time, he was the owner of Bat Valley bar and restaurant. We asked him to allow us to start performing at his place but the only challenge was we didn’t have equipment. He tasked us to look for any equipment that we could land on; new or old. He was willing to pay.
At that time, Uganda was due to host the OAU Summit. In preparation, the Uganda Hotel band collected all their old equipment to be disposed of. Someone tipped us off and we went and chose what we wanted. We went back to Mr Mugwanya who gave us the money. It was UGX 25,000 at the time. That was a lot of money at the time.
We started paying at Bat Valley from Thursday to Saturdays. From there we went to Cape Town Villas in Munyonyo. We had a friend working at Villas who gave us a gig on Sundays.
After playing there a couple of times, we were told the president wanted to meet us. Idi Amin used to reside near the Villas and he had heard us play. And he enjoyed our music. He wanted us to perform for him.
We went back to Mr Mugwanya and asked for permission to let us use his equipment for this other gig. He allowed us. We spent about four to five months using his equipment. It was around that time that we did not get an invite from the president’s office. The State House had bought the equipment. Together with the late Sewava, we went and selected the equipment that we wanted.
We started playing at Cape Town Villas from Tuesday up to Sunday. We will rest on Monday. We had quite a following. And the music was good. In 1979, Amin was overthrown. Unfortunately all the equipment was looted. We are back to zero.
But we stayed together as a group. We were lucky we survived the war and went back to look for other sympathisers. There was a gentleman called Oman Atta and Salongo Samwiri Kapera Tamale, he was one of the officials of Sports Club Villa. Then there’s another gentleman called James Wasula who joined us. Amin was overthrown in April, 1979 and we reunited in October. We started playing at a restaurant called Slow Boat on Kampala road every Saturday and Sunday from 2pm to 6pm since there was curfew. The curfew used to start at 7pm.
We were there for some time, like two years. Then we shifted to Crusade House where we used to store our equipment.
RK: Did you ever play elsewhere apart from hotels?
MM: Yes, when we left Cape Town Villas. There we were restricted to only play for the president and at state functions. When the war happened, we left and started to play at other functions.
In 1983, we moved to our current home in Kibuli. It is where we do all our work. It is also my home as well.
RK: did you have a studio where you would practice or record your songs?
MM: when we formed Afrigo Band, it took us some time before we could record. The country had poor recording studios. We used to go to Nairobi for our recording. Before, during Amin’s time when we were playing for the state, we were never allowed to go and record from Nairobi. So I never recorded a song all that time.
In the early 1980s we went to Nairobi but it was not that good.
When we came back, we started playing at Crested Towers. At that time, it was known as Kukasisira.
RK: That’s where I first saw you.
MM: Ohh! From there we went back to Bumuli/ Little Flowers at Bat Valley. From there we went to Entebbe Lodge, in Kajjansi for a year. Then we went back to Little Flowers. It was there after that we established Club Obligato where we stayed until 1999 before going back to Little Flowers.
After our landlord lost the place and we didn’t have another place thereafter. We started playing at events and concerts.
RK: You said you have a bad recording at Nairobi, where did you go to do your first good recording?
MM: We went to the UK. But before we went there, one of our colleagues called Hope Mukasa was in exile in Sweden. He had his partner called Leonard with whom they brought very good equipment for recording and other music equipment. So in 1989, we got a chance to record in their studio. We recorded the album called Volume 8; Afrigo Batuuse.
We’re lucky the music came out very well. Everyone liked that album. After that, we were approached by a company called African Cultural Promoters. We signed a contract where they were supposed to take us to the UK for a tour once a year. We made it a point that whenever we were in London, we recorded at least an album. Every year we would record a very good album. That marketed us well. The songs were very good and the sound was very clear. We ate hot cakes around town.
We later went to Denmark where we linked up with a group called Images of Africa where we also did an album. From then on, we never looked back.
RK: Let me tell you one thing, one of my memorable performances of you are two incidents. In 1996, you curtain raised for Lucky Dube. You played a song, one of the American Blues. Someone was singing in English as you spoke in Luganda. Do you remember that incident?
MM: I do. I remember it was a cover song but I can’t remember which one it was.
RK: The second one was in 2018 with Malu Dibango at the Isaiah Katumwa concert. You played Makosa with Isaiah and Dibango. I remember standing up and watching on in great admiration.
MM: Thank you.
RK: Let me ask you, how have you been able to remain young both physically and maintain a top creativity act band. What’s the trick?
MM: Actually there are a number of reasons. First is discipline. You have to have good conduct but also take good care of yourself. I play football with the ex-internationals at Lugogo. We do two touches only. That running around helps with shaping the body so that we don’t easily age. It is always good to be fit. Even when you get a fever or flu you can beat it. It also helps that you eat well. it is a good thing for you to sweat.
RK: How about the compositions?
MM: The first thing is practice. The band has to practice. In fact both practice and rehearse. The two are different. When you are together, it is rehearsing. When you are alone, it is practice. Both of them are very important. As a saxophonist, I have to practice for not less than three days. Through practice you learn new things.
The other thing is effort. You have to put in the time. Practice for about 4 to 6 hours a day, not just minutes. And when you meet as a group, also do it together.
When we started in the 70s, our fans would then come and tell you to stop playing a song because you were playing it badly. We were playing to people who understood music. There was no cheating. Knowing our audience, we were challenged to do better. If you are doing something and someone is honest enough to tell you that you need to improve, accept. Take the advice in good faith. Act upon it and you will become better. The next time you come to perform, you will both be happy because you’re doing the right thing.
RK: How have you been able to keep a team together? You have the same Afrigo sound.
MM: Everything has its own principles. At Afrigo, we work as a team. We give people their credit where it is due. No one is above the principles of the band. It is the discipline. If someone comes and finds us behaving a certain way, they have to adapt. Having principles makes it easier for everyone.
RK: What you are saying is that Afrigo has a culture. Is that what you are saying?
RK: Tell us, how were you able to play football and sing at the same time? And by the way, how far did you go with football?
MM: After school, I played for Salumbe, a team which was based here in Kibuli. I played for Lint marketing board, Nakivubo boys, Express FC. My shirt was Number 9 much as I was a right winger. I also played for Police FC.
One time while playing for Express, I was called off the stage. The late Jolly Joe Kiwanuka was the owner of White Nile nightclub and at the same time the chairman of Express FC. I was young but skilled.
The last time I played was during the regional tournament. It was a regional cup and played for the Buganda Region.
I then realised I could continue with competitive football. When you grow old, the best you can become is a coach. With music, you just play on. You can be old but still able to sing. I am 72 years old now and still able to sing.
Comrade Tony: How have you been able to build a career over the years?
MM: In life you have to find something and commit yourself to it. For me, I had to find better musicians and learn from them. That is part of the learning. Also make it a heart not to run away from your music instrument. Learning is limitless.
We have travelled a lot and in the course I have found many people who are so excellent at the instruments that you fear identifying yourself as one. Whatever you are doing, try to make time for it. Love it. When we are writing songs, we want to give our listeners something beautiful. Let your listeners find something unique about your music. Don’t just do things and move on. Give it time. It is like sitting an exam, prepare.
But also, don’t feel proud. You are not the first person and you are not going to be the last person doing that thing. Most of the things we are doing today, many have done them before. Don’t release one song and feel like you have made it in life. Don’t release music for the sake of it, give your music time.
Brenda Ntambirweki: Until last year, we could access your music on iTunes but we cannot access it anymore, how can we access it now?
MM: We had some challenges. Some guys wanted to cheat us and we stopped them. They were circulating our music without our permission. So far we have Yantamye which is out. But we shall make sure that we put out the music.
Moses Rutahigwa: The music has evolved significantly, how have you managed to maintain your talent? 2) How are you preparing for the future?
MM: It’s not very easy but when you have rules and principles, it becomes easier. We have to have discipline. Our business is music. We are supposed to make people happy. You have to be happy to pull that off.
The future of Afrigo. I am not sure. I don’t know if I will be there but we promise to be there. Things are changing. You have to change with the times. For example, in the past, before we could go to the studio to record a song, we would first rehearse and then go to the studio. If someone made a mistake, you had to repeat the song. Today, you can record a song here in the studio and our producer Vincent Otieno who we have been working with since 1989 is based in Washington. We record from here and send him the files and he works on it from there. That is the technology today.
Recording is no longer a problem so sound has to be good. Also our producer is skilled. He has over 30 years of doing the same thing. As Afrigo we are after quality work.
Mark Namanya: How did you come up with the name Afrigo? How have you survived the test of time? Outside music, how do you go about your life?
MM: The other Moses Matovu is a sportsman. When I am not doing music, I am a sportsman. Discipline, interest and commitment are all that have kept us together.
When we left the Cranes Band, we could not use that name. What we did was to get another name. We each came up with a suggestion. I had two suggestions; AfriRaha (from Africa and pleasure) the second was Africa Go, in short it was Afrigo. And that is what we chose. It’s how we have been known all this time.
RK: What would be your final advice to a young person listening to you about life?
MM: Thank you Robert. There’s something people keep saying that things have changed. Change is not bad. But don’t force things upon yourself. Don’t force yourself to become a star. It will come automatically, but you have to work very hard. Whatever you want to become good at, respect the guys that you have met in the business. Because that is what will help you to become better. When people see us with white hair they think that we don’t know what we are doing.
There’s nobody who was born old. We all went through the process. Also, even though you are a star, respect people, give yourself respect and others will respect you too.
When it comes to money, don’t force money, you will end up in hell. You have to be hard but not stupid. Be polite. Respect people. Help old people. Have good manners. We should try as much as we can to live in harmony. Look at things like driving, our driving is very bad and it’s just because of bad manners. It’s not good.
RK: I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking off time to join us on #360Mentor. We have been blessed to live in Uganda at a time like this. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.
MM: It is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me here to share my story.