Friday 26, 2019 04:04 AM

Katumba’s journey through the years

Jimmy KatumbaHis deep velvet voice has echoed around the world in shows staged around East Africa, Britain, Italy, America and Germany. To his fans, Jimmy Katumba is still one of Uganda’s leading vocalists. He was even nominated for the Life Achievement category in the 2005 PAM Awards.

His music career started in the numerous church choirs to which he belonged as he moved with his father from one church to another. Over 50 years ago, Katumba was born to Reverend Blasio Katumba (RIP) and Alice Nakyagaba who still lives in Bweyogerere. Katumba said that as his father changed places a lot in his work, he inevitably changed choirs and schools.
By the time he was done, he had been to eight schools including Makerere College School and Lubiri Secondary School.

Today, Katumba has sons of his own and a daughter. He is a single father.
Rowland, 25, is a computer software instructor and artist and lives with his father and grandmother in Bweyogerere. Brian, 23 and Olga, 20 are still studying in the UK. but “Thank God for they have been so understanding during the tough times,” he speaks of them proudly.
They were born in the comforts of the peak of his career. When he hit a snag, their mother left and Katumba raised the trio on his own.


jimmy katumbaThe last of eight children, Katumba says they would sing as a family with their mother as the conductor.
“She had the best voice, and read music,” Katumba applauds her.  “My earliest [recollection] of my singing is that I was the only 8-year-old in a church choir. I sang in many choirs, though I didn’t think I would make anything serious out of music then.”

He also sang with the Eschatos Brides, an Anglican choir who performed at different functions on weekends.
Leaving church music to adopt “secular” music was one of the biggest challenges he faced because it led to clashes between him and the group’s management. He had to leave the Eschatos Brides to form Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies. He chose the name Ebonies – from ebony (black) – from a proposed list of ten.
But to venture into a music career he also had to quit the teaching profession. The policies of the education ministry didn’t approve of his extra-curricular activities. So in 1973, he left to study Life and Re-insurance. His first job as an insurer was with East African General Insurance Company (EAGEN). And soon as he had saved enough money, he sought to answer his true calling, music.


In 1976, one Bob Assaules, one of former President Idi Amin’s henchmen asked Katumba to move along with the president’s entourage as an entertainer. But the Ugandan audience did not readily accept his kind of music. He sang in Luganda and English at a time when Congolese music was predominant on the Ugandan entertainment scene.

In 1977, Katumba and the Ebonies were singing Twalina omukwano ne gufa, Zizinga and Viola – Elly Wamala's song, among renditions of Jim Reeves’ songs, which appealed to the then small corporate group.
Their very first performance was at Fairway Hotel in 1979. The gig was held with the aim of fundraising for the Church House, a Church of Uganda project, which is still underway.“The show was a success and out of the [about] 6000 people we managed to collect $15,000 and we handed over the cheque to the late Bishop Danstun Nsubuga the next day at the former Prison Officers Mess at Buganda road,” Katumba said.
Most of the money that he and the group collected from their commercial shows went to charity organisations.

It is ‘big men’ like the then Cooperative Bank’s General Manager Perez Bukhumuneh (RIP), the late Mayor Ssemaganda (RIP), outgoing city Mayor Ssebana Kizito that supported the group. Then in the insecurity of 1979, his home at Uganda House was robbed and all the musical machines were taken.
He recalls that in the trying period, the late Yafeesi Sabiti and Charles Nyonyintono Kikonyogo (RIP) of Bank of Uganda helped them replace the machines. Then in 1983, he went to perform for late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere then President of Tanzania. He was asked to sing the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party song, the congress of the people (in praise of Nyerere).
But this was against the apolitical ambitions that he had set as he embarked on his music career. He refused to sing the song That didn’t sit well with the political bigwigs. On return from Tanzania, all his machines were confiscated at Entebbe airport.

“I had to knock on each and every minister’s door looking for assistance, until I got a response from [former president] Dr Apollo Milton Obote who directly ordered concerned officials to release my instruments,” narrates Katumba. And for that favour, he was instructed by the then Interior minister Dr John Luwuliza Kirunda (RIP) to sing the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party song in Jinja during the Ebonies show at City hall.
This time, he obliged.

On stage

Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies were known for the wonderful live shows. “The most important step in staging a show is [the] planning an artiste and producer do, [and this] is always reflected in the show,” he notes. He adds that he would make sure that the show started with a bang, and ended in a climax.

“We would put in the programme as much variety as possible, which included original compositions [Ebonies’ songs]. We used to join together several songs chronologically to make an interesting story.”
The music aside, the Ebonies were very selective when it came to costumes for the performers.
“We also gave a lot of attention to the lighting of shows and used to rehearse a show and come out with real clean sound out of the machines. Even the [lyrics] were professionally produced by the experts.”

Peter Clever Lwanga would go through all songs to ensure the lyrics were suitable. Andrew Benon Kibuuka, an actor with the Bakayimbira Dramactors says, “For those of us who have been in the music industry for long both as fans and performers, Jimmy left a great challenge, which no one has beaten.”

Going downhill

Jimmy was starring on the Ugandan Musical scene until 1991. Some of the songwriters like Peter Clever passed away, and other members left the group.
Without giving details how or why, Katumba says: “We lost some of the group’s assets like the Ebonies home that was located in Najjanankumbi, the infant school that was in Kabowa among others so the group got so disorganised.”
Members left concentrated on drama (That’s Life Mwatu).
The music faded away. But Katumba wasn’t giving up easily.
Immediately after the group broke up, he left for the USA and supposedly met Jim Reeve’s widow, Mary Reeves Davis, who granted him permission to redo Jim Reeve’s songs. He lived in the USA between 1991 and 1995 before returning home.
Though he didn’t return into the limelight, Katumba was still involved in the music industry. Using his experience in the field, he was teaching a number of today’s musicians and organising bands.
He also has been doing promotional work for companies like MTN, Nile breweries and British American Tobacco.
Alongside this he was performing for private parties.
But even more important were the songs he was writing.


jimmy katumbaKatumba is planning on a big comeback. He has written the songs and is busy in studio producing them. Soon, he says, they will be released. And now, he says, he is older and wiser and has set a good strategy to raise his music career to even greater heights than it was before.

Since The Ebonies that he founded have cut their niche on the theatre stage, Katumba has formed a new group: Jimmy Katumba with the Breves (the longest musical note). The group has one soprano; Becky Namutebi, one alto; Allen Sanyu and one tenor; Charles Wasswa.
“We are going back to the style [fans] know or have heard of; where a number of songs are woven together to make a chronological story that can be followed by the audience,” Katumba says.
They are working on songs like Fakukyolina, Akomyewo…

But before he does come back, Katumba is occupied by his job at Prime Radio and caring for his ailing mother – most of his siblings are abroad.

[ Article By Aisher Ahmad - WEEKLY OBSERVER ]


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