Jimmy Katumba Rests his Voice
Jimmy Katumba.

Jimmy Katumba Rests his Voice

Jimmy Katumba is dead.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: August 15, 2006

The Uganda music fraternity and music lovers will spend the next days in a somber mood over the loss of one of Uganda's music greats. Celebrated Ugandan music and drama performer, Jimmy Katumba is dead. Katumba died Monday morning from post-surgical complications. He died at Namirembe hospital where he has been admitted since 13th July 2006 after suffering from long illnesses.

The superstar with more than 50 years to his music career may be best remembered as the head the Ebonies band, a big time favorite in the 80s and 90s.

But to many people, he is the man who brought us timeless super melodies like Atalina Kigere, Congratulations, Nkwagala Nyo, Twulina Omukwano Ne Gufa, Munyambe Ntukeyo among others.

Nick-named the 'Black Jim Reeves' by former National Theatre director Christopher Ntalumbwa, Katumba has been an inspiration to many since he begun his music career that only God could have destined him for, given his enviable success in music.

Ugandan musicians like Irene Namubiru, Silver Kyagulanyi, Martin Seruga, Mariam Ndagire, Sophie and Sam Gombya among others have declared their public admiration of Jimmy Katumba, the man whose songs oozed the real meaning of soul touching music.

Well, many especially female fans will tell you about Katumba as the hunky man with a splendid time on the microphone, but it was a combination of Katumba's voice and songs that made him a favorite of many Ugandans, and indeed lovers of African music.

Katumba was mentioned in a 2006 people's survey by The New Vision, alongside the late Elly Wamala and the late Philly Bongole Lutaaya as the top heroes in Uganda's music industry. Katumba was one of the living legends of Uganda's beautiful music past that saw a number of music renditions that still galvanize hearts of many people of all ages.

According to veteran music critic, Joseph Batte, Uganda's music industry was changed forever with the advent of Jimmy Katumba in the 1960s and 70s.

He says Jimmy Katumba is one of the finest baritones this country has ever produced. Not only was his music good for the ear, it was better for the soul as Katumba used his deep sweet attention grabbing voice to sing about situations in society and families.

Whether you are a lover over country music, RnB, or Kadongo Kamu, Katumba was always enough package to make you have a good time once he opened his mouth to belt out any of his tunes. He made singing look such an easy task as he entertained his audiences with his velvet voice and good for the ear harmonized tunes.

According to a biography, Jimmy Katumba always knew that he had been born with a fortune in his throat. The veteran musician started singing at the age of eight, at Mukono Church of Uganda, where his father, the Rev. Blasio Katumba, used to preach.

"I started as an alto in the church choir but later joined bass. From childhood, I loved Jim Reeves' music. So it was just natural that I shaped my voice to sound like him," Katumba said in a 1st June 2006 interview with The New Vision.

Katumba's musical talent was evident as he sang in the church and school choirs and during school music competitions. By 1960, Jimmy Katumba was already starting to establish himself as a name in the music industry with solo albums (tapes) that were doing the rounds in most parts of the country. But his real turning point was to come when he met Abbey Kibalama, a music-loving tutor at Buloba Teachers Training Collegge. Together, they formed the Eschatoes Brides in 1973.

However, Katumba left the Eschatoes in 1977 to concentrate on his newly formed group, The Light Bearers. "We first sang gospel music, then diversified and included secular music. Subsequently, we changed the name to Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies in 1976 and concentrated on cultivating a firm fan base," he says.

Trailblazing Katumba made his name in the 80's as the brain behind the Ebonies, arguably Kampala's best stage peformers of the 80's and 90's. Flamboyant and charismatic on stage, Katumba easily won over fans with his heart-rending musicals and dramas at Theatre Excelsior in Kampala where most of their musical shows were staged.

One can surely say that Jimmy Katumba is a man who has lived his life to the fullest. He has played some of the most memorable music in the country and made a signature for himself in the music industry as the maestro with smothered melodies and church like style for all to enjoy. His later years, though, were not as magical.

Many of the people who admired his music in the 80s and 90s thought the good man had either died or left singing. He basically went into oblivion at the time the local music industry was conquering back the Ugandan audience from foreign music domination.

Probably it was his way of letting new music talent to take over the stage after many years of musical performances in which he had stamped a clear memory on many Ugandans. Not only Ugandans.

Many of you might have heard of how, in 1983, Katumba was invited to perform for then Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (RIP) in Tanzania. He was asked to sing the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party song, which he had re-arranged. Nyerere was so thrilled, and said the song sounded better than the original.

After entertaining people form the lowest to the highest, Katumba went quiet and when we all thought the master with a downy voice was done, he came back with an ambitious music project with pother music artistes and producers early this year. His last recording had been a country gospel album titled 'Beyond the Sunset,' recorded in Nashville, US, in 1991, where he met Mary Reeves, the widow of Jim Reeves.

Katumba bounced back to the music scene early 2006 with a 12-track album with a new group called Breves. The group is made up of Becky Namutebi, Allen Sanyu and Charles Wasswa. Those who have listened to the album can admit to you that Jimmy Katumba's music talent didn't fade at all with the passing years, as can be evidenced by songs, such as Nsiimye Ggwe, Onsubira Otya and the remix of crowd pleasers Akomyewo.

Well, he has gone not to come back. But thank God for the Jimmy Katumba and his music because he has left a lot of precious sound memories, which we can live with. May the almighty God rest his soul in eternal peace.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: August 15, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.