Kadongo Kamu from Uganda

Posted February 5th, 2008 at 12:47 am (UTC-4)

Kadongo Kamu, or ‘one guitar music’, is a style of narrative song from central Uganda that dates back to the early 1950s. Over the last fifty years the genre has gone through many transformations, but has never strayed from its central purpose: communicating traditional wisdom and morals through anecdotes, stories, and social commentary. The earliest ‘Kadongo Kamu’ musicians accompanied their stories only with the Endongo (the bowl-lyre of the Baganda people), while later generations have turned to drum machines and electric guitars.

Although Kadongo Kamu has always attracted listeners in Kampala, it was, and as far as I can tell, remains, more popular in rural areas. When performing for appreciative audiences, Kadongo Kamu performers- especially in the past- would devote fifteen to twenty minutes to the telling of a particular epic; stretching and embellishing them as narrative twists caught the attention of their listeners. Some of the early pioneers of the genre were Christopher Sebadukka, Elly Wamala, and Fred Ssebatta. One of the few Kadongo Kamu performers to be noticed outside of Uganda was Bernard Kabanda, who passed away in 1999.

The 1970s were, for Kadongo Kamu performers, and most Ugandans, a difficult time. Idi Amin Dada’s repressive regime did not encourage political commentary by popular artists, and Kadongo Kamu musicians, for the most part, turned to singing love songs. But if the Kadongo Kamu recordings of the 1970s do not represent the genre’s poetic golden age, there are plenty of singles from the era that are very musically satisfying. We have quite a few of these 45s in our archive and I’ve picked out a few of my favorites. This is music for listening, not dancing, and the clear, repetitive guitar parts have a restrained charm.

In ‘Namusoke’, recorded in 1975, Chrizestom Ssebuziba announces: “I have a secret to reveal”, and goes on to tell the story of how he met the woman he loves.

The B-side of the single is ‘Ndowoza Suzanne’. Chrizestom tells the story of Suzanne: she abandoned him and now he wastes his time thinking about her, he doesn’t where she went or what to do with himself.

This single is my favorite of the bunch. In ‘Nakabiri’, Gerald Kaboggoza sings about one of his girlfriends. She is annoyed by his frugality. The moral of the story is ‘you should be generous to those you love’. It must not have worked out with the girlfriend in question.

The musicians accompanying Gerald Kaboggoza (Gerald may be one of the guitar players) remind me of Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbee, and Jamaladeen Tacuma when they were the heart of Ornette Coleman’s great 1970s Prime Time band. Every time I listen to ‘Anyize Lwa Butamuwa’ I hear parallels to the harmolodic interplay of Nix, Ellerbee, and Tacuma: pay attention to the guitars in the intro, and to the bass player-Jamaladeen could be playing those lines!! Interestingly, both this single and Ornette’s Prime Time masterpiece ‘Body Meta’ were released in 1975.

We have a handful of singles by Leo N. Ssekamanya. These next tracks are my favorite sides. He seems to drive his musicians a bit harder than Kaboggoza and Ssebuziba.

Our final selection always gets a nice response from our more nostalgic radio listeners in Uganda. It is by the late great Eclas Kawalya. It is not, however, Kadongu Kamu music. This is an example of the dance-band music that was played in the clubs of Kampala in the 1960s.

Eclas Kawalya had a very long career and just passed away several years ago. His daughter Joanita inherited his musical gifts and has recorded many songs with the Afrigo Band. In ‘To Nyiiga’, which translates roughly as ‘don’t be annoyed’, Eclas tells the story of ‘Esther’ who, although they are not married, gave him a ring. Every time he looks at the ring he things of Esther. Eclas sings: ‘Esther, it is difficult for a man to shed tears.’

Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn anything about the three Kadongo Kamu singers featured above, or about the Mukwano record label. Please, if you know anything about the record label or the singers , get in touch!!

30 responses to “Kadongo Kamu from Uganda”

  1. Anonymous says:

    A message from Spain.
    I have discovered your blog few weeks ago, and I think it is fantastic.
    In Spain we do not know too much African music and your blog is an opportunity to approach us other cultures and very interesting musics.

    • Bakulumpagi john Bosco says:

      hello editor, am a ugandan based in China and i was pleased to find some of these song after searching the net several times, my humble request ; is it possible to make it downloadable off your website, or could you atleast send me a sample collection of these songs, i will be very grateful.
      John Bosco,
      Changzhou China

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just another thank you. Incredibly melodic stuff this round, quite moving. Would of course love to hear more. Your efforts are massively appreciated.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello Charo… thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you found us. African music seems to be slowly gaining an audience in Spain.
    Pol Sapene… in preparing this post, I went through a few dozen Ugandan singles. The ones I posted were the ones I preferred. Thanks for your steady encouragement .

  4. Anonymous says:

    More little gems I would never have suspected existed. This is a grand musical safari through the lesser-known realms of African music – whither next? Mozambique, Cameroon, Malawi? I look forward to being surprised, again!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hello Daan…I was going through some more reels this morning. There are lots of forgotten treasures in the pipeline- Burundi, Zambia, Cameroun, Chad.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations for you site.
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  7. Anonymous says:

    Very nice. I especially love the Eclas Kawalya track–beautiful, beautiful stuff. I love that this blog really takes us well outside the purview of most reissue labels and other African music sources–Mauritania, Chad, Burundi, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger… no one else goes there, and I’m grateful for the chance to hear it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Joe, thanks for your continued encouragement. I think the next batch of 45s i’ll post will be from Liberia. We have some great tracks from another country that often gets overlooked.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this. I am of Ugandan origin living in the diaspora and this brings back childhood memories. Also my dad used to be a musician in the 60s
    but can’t get any of his tracks. he used to sing with the Kampala city
    six band. His name is Israel Magemebe Wamala. If you ever come acrross
    any of hus tracks please post. He also used to play with Kawalya.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I feel good whenever i come a cross Ugandan Kadongo Kamu.
    The beat and the words marches to the maening of the massege
    of the song.
    In Uganda, most musician originated from Kadongo Kamu, indeed
    i’m very proud to talk about Kadongo Kamua.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am of Ugandan origin currently residing in the US. I am glad to have come across your article featuring Kadongo Kamu from Uganda. The songs contained in remind me of my childhood days in the sixties. By then that was the music in style and most people in my area would listen to Sammy Kiremerwa Kigongo on Radio Uganda sending out Kadongo Kamus at the “Your Request” program. There was a Kadongo Kamu song which went like: “Tereza owebina edene, ebelelyo tena, ofanana nyabo emunye..”–I wonder if any of your Ugandan readers/audience might have ever come across it. It was very popular in the early sixties. Any one volunteer any help here? But thanks anyways and best of luck in all u do and also happy new year.

    • Fred says:

      I just came across this site and got amazed at the selections of the Kadongo Kamu’s. The song you mention was by “Christopher Sebadduka” singing “Tereza”. I do not know how I can post it for you here. If there was a way I would upload it. It is still a great song even after so many years. Thank you Mathew for this site. It wakes my memories of old music.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article. It is a treasure. Many of our (African) songs and singers just disappear without trace. The good musicians die paupers and little is mentioned oftheir talents and efforts which continue to influence the music we hear today.
    Articles like these honour our heritage.


  13. Anonymous says:

    Wo! wo wo! what a gold mine you guys have! Thanx for the spirit o sharing these games with us. It was a chance discovery of you website and music but I promise I will be visiting when ever I have the chanc. Thanx so much
    Bwogi Mpagi

  14. Anonymous says:

    proud to be Ugandan, I listened to the ugandan selection and really liked the melodies and the tunes from central; their messages about love and preservation of culture. Your efforts are highly appreciated thank you.
    Innocent Turyakira

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  16. Suleman says:


    I remember a ugandan song of the 60’s :” Gigi mutchala usuzutya etc….” It was a beautiful song sang by a male singer … please can you find it ? thanks

  17. Priscilla says:

    hi there, I am looking for a song with the following lyrics…driver yasomamu esaala nga ekiyumba kye kiwaba…my spelling might be a bit off though. I am trying to find the name of the song or the artist. Anyone, please let me know if you can help.

    Thank you.

  18. john miiro says:

    never heard none of these songs before, its quite something, we appreciate your efforts

  19. Oh! what a collection. And the narrative is so rich, it brings out the perhaps unrecorded information. Keep it safe and keep it coming.

    Long live Ugandan music


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  21. Chris says:

    I appreciate yo hard work.
    I think am the best fan of kadongo kamu music.
    Talk about Fred Ssebatt in the following songs:
    -essanyu ly’amlembo
    -maama mirembe
    -ekkyagaza omubi
    -omukwaano kirabo
    -abakozi mweebale
    -samu wange
    -ebiriga ebito
    -ekifuula nenge
    -nva kulayila
    -engo y’ekika
    -essa ly’awasa
    -and many more others.

  22. Gimei says:

    Wow! this is so cool. please give us some more kadongo kamu. I suggest you get Paul Kafeero’s music. There is more literature about him.

  23. I have liked the music, but you didn’t talk about the great singer – Christopher Ssebaduka Ssalongo.

    • Saleh says:

      Me too, I can tell that Baganda people have great singing talents, we need more of Kawalya Kaggwa, Fredy Masagazi “Zinsanze nzee…”, “Oooh nze nnali mugonvu nga sirumwa nga nze sifayo ….” Tabbisa Ssonko where can I get such old songs from our lovely Uganda !?

  24. hullo its exciting to find tour blog am a uganda Artist working with a loal radio station and ownig a performing group in jinja city(uganda) called Ghetto natives entertainment and promotions we look forwad to working with u,please feel free to vist our Face book page ghetto natives and we would like to have our songs played over your media and any promotions are highly welcome.


    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Welcome to my blog! I am happy to learn about what you’re doing.
      Keep up the great work!



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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