Paul Kafeero, Kadongo Kamu Maestro, Buried Today
Kadongo kamu maestro rests his mic.
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First published: May 19, 2007
Walumbe (death) has finally taken the man who vigorously sang about it. As Uganda mourns one of its music greats, many radio stations are playing the late 'Prince' Paul Job Kafeero's songs, mainly hits the Kandongo kamu legend sang on the inevitable yet unknown destination of all human beings- death.
"Kitalo Nyo, Kitalo Woowe Woowe, Kitalo, Kitalo Nyo, Kitalo Mwana Wattu..." is one of Kafeero's songs many Ugandans are listening to and humming as they remember the passing of one of the few remaining authentic Kadongo kamu musicians.
Kafeero died on Thursday morning in Mulago hospital where he had been admitted with lung complications, according to relatives. No one knows where Walumbe (death) takes us, yet it is the ultimate destiny of all human beings, so sang Kafeero in his Walumbe Zaaya. This is a hit that ensures he will be a musician to remember for generations to come, as the world will continue to ponder the many unanswered questions on death.
Kafeero was born about 38 years ago to Vincent and Nassozi Nagganga of Kiremba, Nkokonjeru- Mukono District in central Uganda. The young Kafeero attended St. Alphonse Demonstration School. He later went to Ndogwe Secondary School in Mukono where he started singing in the school choir. Though he realized his musical talents at the Catholic school where he participated in the school choir, Kafeero was a popular singer right from his early childhood.
When his schooling ended in secondary, Kafeero engaged in coffee trade. He also started attending tutorials in guitar playing with the Makula Band in 1992, marking his active intentions of living a life and career based on music. It is said Kafeero began performing as a hobby until the demand for his songs increased, convincing him to record.
From Makula Band, he formed Kulabako Guitar Singers (that included artistes like the late Sarah Birungi with whom he performed until his death.
Kafeero rose to prominence with the release of his first album, Muvubuka Munange (my fellow youth) which was followed by Ekijjankunene (strange human-like creature) and Abatunda Ebyokulya (food vendors). In 1993, Kafeero came out with Kiwenenya Amazina, the album that launched him as a true royalty in the music scene. He was later to follow it with another wonder album in 1994, Walumbe Zaaya that elaborated how humans succumb to the certain enemy... death.
By the end of 1994, hardly 30 years old, Kafeero was already an artist to reckon with. In the same year, he became the first Ugandan to win the International Theatre Institute-sponsored Golden Boy of Africa Award, at a festival in Cairo, Egypt. He beat 6,000 contestants from Africa in the Institute d'Etudes Theatreales organized event. He won US $2,000 courtesy of the France based Institute. Stories are still told of how he performed the song Walumbe Zaaya at Cairo Opera House to a standing ovation.
"After Herman Basudde, Kafeero's death becomes a big blow. He was a great music trainer who will always be remembered. He was arguably the best composer of Kadongo kamu says Jackson Ndaula, the president of International Theatre Institute.
A real music icon
In 2003, he released his most popular song, Dipo Nazigala (I gave up drinking), a habit that was slowing down his music career and jarring many of his fans who didn't appreciate him on stage when he was drunk. In the same year, he got two nods at the Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Awards for Best kadongo kamu single and also Best kadongo kamu artiste/group.
Kafeero in 2004 won the PAM award for Best kadongo kamu artiste/ group. His music has since been a favorite of many Ugandans who appreciate original message driven tunes. Some of his biggest songs include Walumbe Zaaya (death the claimant of life) Kampala mu Kooti (decrying the sanitary conditions in Kampala city); Omwana womuzungu (white child/woman); Dipo Nazigala (I gave up drinking) and Nantabulirwa (those who don't listen to advise).
Kafeero will be remembered by many as a consummate musician with the ability to sing and compose. In recent years, Kafeero was the only Kadongo kamu musician who could sing, play the guitar and dramatize his music on stage, which endeared the hat donning song star to many fans. But Kafeero's real winner lay in his telling compositions and uniquely melodic voice, as well as the meaningful, story-like songs characteristic of the Kadongo Kamu genre, Uganda's equivalent of country music.
Kadongo kamu is the only indigenous form of popular music that can be described as 'truly Ugandan.' That is why many music lovers felt he truly fitted the shoes of Kadongo Kamu icons like Christopher Ssebadukka, Herman Basudde, Livingstone Kasozi, Jimmy Katumba and Elly Wamala. Not that he lived in their shadows, for Kafeero held his own, and has been battling Fred Sebatta for the kingship of the contemporary Kadongo kamu.
One thing is for certain though. Kafeero's was an illustrious music career as it was controversial. Kafeero surprised many when he married an American lady, Catherine Barret Gaine and immortalized her in a song Omwana w'Omuzungu (white child/woman). Though the marriage was short lived, Kafeero had dug holes in his stand as the only artist dedicated to maintaining the traditional values of Kadongo Kamu whose main roots lie in idolizing the cultures and norms of family and community life in Buganda.
He also caused a few jitters among the royals of Buganda when he declared himself "Prince" (for he was not a royal), at the height of his rivalry with Fred Sebaata who had declared himself "Lord".
But few people, if anyone, could understand how Kafeero, despite singing Dipo Nazigala (literally meaning 'I have closed the beer depots') continued his addition to alcohol. Some people even teased the artist that he had locked himself in the beer depot. The same Kafeero in one of his songs actually sang that he loved waragi (local alcohol) more than he did chicken soup. He even tried to justify his drinking in many of his songs, especially Walumbe Zaaya, where he reasoned one can drink after all they don't know when death will strike. Many Ugandans laughed and wondered on as the dear musician once again justified his love for the bottle, saying alcohol was a necessary input in his music career-to get his creative juices flowing.
Many of you might also remember that despite being well known for helping many children by paying their school fees, Paul Kafeero was in February 2007 wanted by Police for neglecting two of his children, Tony Kafeero, 11 and Mark Kafeero, 9.
By the time of his death, Kafeero was planning to celebrate 20 years of an illustrious music career, which like many local artists, has ended at a low note. In recent days, it was reported that Kafeero could hardly afford his medical bills.
Though it is said Kafeero is survived by a wife, Robinah Bisirikirwa and six children, no one factually knows how many children Kafeero fathered since he wasn't a zero grazer. His actual age in not known as he had never written an official biography.
Despite his controversies on and off stage, Kafeero remained a treasured musician in the hearts of many Ugandans. Many people on Friday flocked to Christ the King Church for his requiem mass and the National Theatre where his body lay for public viewing. Many music shops and vendors in Kampala are this Friday playing Kafeero's songs almost exclusively. Whether it is for the love of the man and his music or for making money from his fans, Kafeero is having his last days on earth in huge limelight. As has become custom for money minded individuals, calendars donning photos and description of the late Kafeero are all over Kampala. Many are buying the calendars and music to remind them of a man who sang for others to learn and appreciate the realities of life.
Kafeero will be buried on Saturday 19th May in Nkonkonjeru, Mukono. Just like he sang in Walumbe Zaaya, death has taken him to where we don't know with certainty. All we can say is Kitalo Nyo, Kitalo Nyo. May the almighty God rest his soul in eternal Peace.
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First published: May 19, 2007
Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.