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Kampala’s Conscious Hip Hop Scene In a Rap

“When I heard Luganda rap for the first time, I knew I had no limits,” says hip hop artist Abramz confidently. He is one of the rappers who battled for a stage during the 1990s in Kampala. “You went to a show to perform your unrecorded rap. But when somebody did an American hit, nobody wanted to listen to you anymore.” Today, the Pearl of Africa is home to a unique, multilingual rap scene that is pushing urban borders. Three UG rappers reflect on the identity, language and realness of Ugandan hip hop.

American Cassettes

It is busy as usual in the Ethiopian bar in Kabalagala where I am meeting Abramz (33). Hawking children approach our table to fist bump him. “The banana crew,” he smiles. Abraham Tyeka accounts for half of the hip hop duo Sylvester & Abramz and reaches youth all over Uganda with his organization, Breakdance Project Uganda. Orphaned at an early age and raised by family members, he developed a particular interest in the cassettes of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, phonetically rapping to their lyrics. Until he heard Philly Bongole Lutaaya, Uganda’s legendary musician.

Hip-Hop Activist and B-boy Abramz (right). © Nomadic Wax -

Hip-Hop Activist and B-boy Abramz (right). © Nomadic Wax –

“I think Philly’s cassette came around 1989,” he recalls. “He was rapping about respect of a woman. For me it relates to reality. But also to see that he was expressing that in Luganda made me realize that I had no limits.”

Exposed to underground rap from Big Daddy Kane and RUN-D.M.C., he discovered that he as well, with unresolved issues in the head and the heart, could speak his mind.

Since the 1990s, hip hop has become the texture of youth cultures in many African cities. Young Africans have enthusiastically embraced, transformed and appropriated the genre, and easily weave local specificities into their lyrics, instrumentals and style. Dr. Samy Alim, Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, describes how African rappers experiment with style, dress and language, and as such demarcate themselves within the global hip hop Nation. An intricate component of hip hop is language:  Senegalese rap in Wolof, Kenyan hip hop and Tanzanian Bongo Flava in Swahili, Igbo rap in Naija (Nigerian) style result in unprecedented mixes that come with very personal – and collective – signatures.

Criticism On Air

A few weeks before the presidential elections, Survivor (42) is sipping his macchiato at the other end of the table, his dreadlocks tucked in a crocheted hat. National politics are a circus to him, although the conscious hip hop veteran cannot detach himself entirely from it. He announces that he will upload his new clip on Youtube later that night, when the Internet is faster. Today, Honorable Muuki has over 2000 views. For non-Luganda speakers, subtitles come in handy.

Ancien Survivor indicates decades voice to the underground hip-hop circuit in Kampala. © Emilie Dewitte

Ancien Survivor indicates decades voice to the underground hip-hop circuit in Kampala. © Emilie Dewitte

I am the greedy Bassajja kulya at your service (…) I put on a show after every five years/ spending my money to buy votes/ I am as corrupt as they come, check my credentials/ I use every opportunity to embezzle public funds/ I destroy every institution under my care/ corruption is my domain.

I ask him if he risks getting arrested over this creative prank, but he seems undisturbed. Censoring Uganda musicians has become a hazardous task: the furious rise of mobile phones, Internet, private radio and TV channels and the popularity of online platforms like ReverbNation and Soundcloud has caused a total landslide in the distribution of hip hop music. Songs “move” with the speed of data bundles and new formats constantly appear. A trending hip hop news show on NTV, for example, for which Survivor is a rap-orter. “I think one of the things that has pushed hip hop in Uganda is Newz Beat,” he states. “Because now people have hip hop on their mainstream TVs. That never used to happen.”

Rapping For A Soda

The creation of a specific style and identity was a nerve-wrecking search for many Ugandan rappers,  Abramz recalls. The teenage versions of his brother and himself used to perform at events in rather gloomy neighborhoods: Kisugu, Kisenyi, Katwe, Bwaise.

“It was too much exploitation,” Abramz sighs. “The organizers said, “we‘ll give you a free soda, but you have to pay to get in.”

At the beginning of the 2000s, performances at international schools marked a new step in their career, although the rich kids couldn’t care less about two school dropouts rapping in Luganda.

“The colonial mentality was pretty much embedded in everything,” Abramz says. “They were like, “Oh you’re rapping in Luganda? You’re so uneducated.” And that broke our hearts.”

The few lyricists who gave Luganda a go experienced a real language struggle, and tried to hold on to English rhymes.

“Every rapper started off in English,” Abramz explains. “We went back and forth between English and Luganda all the time. It was a transition. And then we were like, how can we rhyme as to make sense?”

Various other challenges slowed down the development of UG hip hop Skeptical music studio owners, Survivor remembers.

Blast from the past: Sylvester & Abramz (left) during a performance in Kampala, 2000. ©

Blast from the past: Sylvester & Abramz (left) during a performance in Kampala, 2000. ©

“Between the mid-1990s and 2000s, there was no studio that recorded hip hop,” Survivor explains. “They didn’t regard it as music. It was a time for dancehall, Afrobeat and reggae. Studios owners told us to go back and practice (laughs).”

The new millenium was marked by trial and error: recycling American beats was a common practice, CDs were expensive, and studios that did allow hip hop recording had an improvised feel.

“I remember Derrick’s garage studio,” Abramz says. “That was drama, recording from where his family was living. Sometimes you were in the middle of a one take verse, and a kid cried.”

Nevertheless, various creative souls undertook important endeavors in the 1990s to put Ugandan hip hop on the map, although much of it remained undocumented. In 1993, Silas Babaluku, Big Poppa Momo Mcee and Saba Saba formed Bataka Underground, later renamed Bataka Squad and joined by artists like Lyrical G, Shillingz and Chagga. Shortly after that, Swedish-based Ugandan collective Young Vibrations released their rap song Waampologoma Saawa Meeka. Importantly, pioneering female MC’s like Lady Slyke, Lady Twiggy and MC Yallah had a significant influence on the emerging hip hop community, of which the late Paul Mawandha, Geoffrey Ekongot, Krazy Native and Xenson were also part.

The perseverance of these visionaries has cocreated the contemporary hip hop landscape in Uganda. Today, the capital is dotted with professional music studios and hosts a blooming music industry where hip hop is getting its share. Hardcore hustling has paved the way for new kids on the block.

Grannies Allowed

St. Nelly-Sade (27) has the day off when I visit him at the small Urban Aksent Music studio in Ntinda. A couple of rappers have occupied the outdoor pool table and chairs. Nelly had a busy weekend, with gigs in Kampala and Entebbe. I remember his performance at Breakfast Jam, BPU’s yearly breakdance competition. A swarm of euphoric youngsters, gathered on a basketball court, was screaming to his lyrics. With almost 1000 copies of his latest album sold, he’s doing alright in a country where music is distributed via flash drives and hard disks. Stories of Elevation is a collection of exemplary songs, like moral stepping stones that levitate listeners, he explains.

St. Nelly-Sade's performance during the breakdance contest Breakfast Jam, 2015. © Kibuuka Photography

St. Nelly-Sade’s performance during the breakdance contest Breakfast Jam, 2015. © Kibuuka Photography

Growing up, Nelly listened to African pioneers Kwesto and Ibra, Sylvester & Abramz, Lyrical G, Saba Saba, and African-American hip hop icons like Nas, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. His own rap career took off with the Bavubuka Allstarz Foundation, founded by Canadian-Ugandan hip hopper Silas Babaluku. In 2011, he founded his own rap formation, Luga Flow Army, together with Burney MC, Fasie MC, Cyno MC and Forever MC. The group was named after the term LugaFlow, coined around 2005 by rapper Babaluku to catalogue rap in Luganda, a marketing technique that fueled attention towards an upcoming genre.

Conscious hip hop as a music genre in Uganda has been heavily influenced by the local folk music Kadongo Kamu and the practice called Okutontoma, poetic Luganda recitals in primary schools.  Sources which Nelly, a self-declared storyteller, has also drawn from.

“I used to perform poems for my classmates in high school,” he remembers. “I was more of a lyricist than a rapper. I could tell stories through my songs and stuff.” The core of his art has not changed since. “I tell people that my intention is to entertain, to educate and to inspire. So at my concert, you are free to bring your kids, or your grandparents. (smiles)”

As Ugandan ambassador of End of the Weak, an international hip hop competition, he unites MCs in battles, cyphers and freestyle sessions. His vision is inclusive.

African Lil Wayne

An interesting phenomenon occurred after the branding of LugaFlow: Young artists all over Uganda gave rapping in their mother tongue a go. Rap in Runjankole, Rukiga or Lusoga became RunjaFlow, KigaFLow and LusoFlow. Ugandan English rap continued to exist and became UgaFlow, represented by rappers like Navio, Ruyonga or Enygma. The latter recently released the song “African Mzungu,” praised by Abramz for its realness. Brought up in the diaspora, Enygma raps about identity and belonging:

Now I’m back to my homeland/ I’m prepared for cultural shock (…) From vegetation to women, Africa’s blessed with wealth/ Like taxi drivers I didn’t know how to conduct myself.

Rappers who tackle themes too far from their personal reality are prone to reactions ranging from mild mockery to plain criticism.

Lady Slyke rapped her scriptures at school and then built an impressive career as a female MC from. © image from the video "Blue Uganda" for the NGO Viva con Agua -

Lady Slyke rapped her scriptures at school and then built an impressive career as a female MC from. © image from the video “Blue Uganda” for the NGO Viva con Agua –

“When I was hosting a hip hop night, this guy did a rap,” Abramz remembers. ““Yo honey, I’m gonna pick you up in my beamer/ we spend a night at a five star hotel…” and after the show, he’s like, “Can I borrow 2000 shillings for a matatu?” For me that’s not realness. It doesn’t matter what language, but is it the life you lead? Do people relate to it? You can never tell a New York story better than a New Yorker. It’s a failed imitation.”

Survivor too is proud as well of his unique sound. His genre, Afro Jungle – a mix of jazz, hip hop and African instrumentation – has ripened to a kind of perfection that is entirely his own.

“I love my sound. I’m taking the art back to where it comes from,” he clarifies. “I don’t want it to sound American, because that is not the reality. [American hip hoppers] came up with an art form, surrounded by a reality, now I also have to come up with an art form surrounded by this reality.” He emphasizes how important authenticity is. “You get rappers who try to be Lil Wayne here. That is, you are losing your identity, and you are being a poor version. It limits your ability to be heard.”

Loud And Real

For UG rappers, it’s all about lifting yourself above the crowd by being yourself, on the condition that you are  a part of that crowd and you express this connection. Little wonder that this realness has incited fierce debates. Abramz never felt the urge to define his music as LugaFlow, a label that, according to him, pushes rap into ethnic categories. The Mith’s message in St. Nelly-Sade’s song Tutandise hints at clashing perspectives: “LugaFlow, UgaFlow, the move is gold (…) UG hip hop making progress / I know yes, stories elevate / So you can hang on to the hate while we move this genre to another place”.

Despite disagreements between rappers, which are seldom absent in hip hop communities, Kampala’s contemporary hip hop scene is fabulously vibrant and energetic. Collabos between UG rappers are the result of common sorrows, collective imaginaries, friendships. Visions prevail, the language seems to become less of a matter.  What bonds contemporary conscious UG rappers is the belief in hip hop as a voice for Ugandan youth’s personal and collective dreams, constructed on the foundations of Uganda’s reality. Better put your hands together for loud social change, yall. 

Contributed by: Emilie Dewitte





Uganda set to host the East African festival- JAMAFEST 2017

Uganda is set to host the third edition of Jumuiya Ya Afrika Mashariki Uamaduni Festival (JAMAFEST) in a bid to promote social economic ties, tourism, and trade among the East African Community  Member states.

The Festival is slated for a week starting on 7th September and ending on 15th September which will incorporate a cultural fashion show that’s expected to attract over 3,000 people on the 14th. The festival will be hosted at three venues; Kololo Independence grounds (main event grounds), The Pearl Of Africa Hotel (Fashion Show and closing dinner gala), and at the National Theater (film festival, comedy and drama).

The festival will also have a carnival that will be running through select parts of Kampala city. Other activities to run during the festival include; live musical performances, theatre/comedy, arts and craft exhibitions, literary works, film shows, poetry, storytelling, acrobatics, workshop/symposium, culinary art, fashion show and children theatre. There will also be a cultural market place where cultural goods will be sold.

The JAMAFEST 2017, will run under the theme, “ Culture and creative industries: An Engine for unity and Employment Creation”. A theme Song has been composed and will be played throughout the festival period as part of the publicity campaign of creating awareness of the role of arts and culture in regional integration.

The East African Community (EAC) Partner States under Article 119 of the EAC treaty, undertook to promote close co-operation among themselves in culture and sports, with respect to the promotion of cultural activities, including the fine arts, literature, music and performing arts and other artistic creations as one way of creating an East African as one Community.

JAMAFEST was instituted by the 20th Meeting of the East African Community Council of Ministers held on 20th March 2010 and subsequent Council of Ministers’ Meeting held in September 2011, which directed the EAC Secretariat to organize regular EAC Arts and Culture Festival in the EAC Partner States on rotational basis. The first edition was held in February 2013 in Kigali Rwanda and attracted an audience of over 17,500 people, the second edition was held in Kenya in 2015 and it also attracted a significant number of people.




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15 Moments that Made us Feel Proud to be Ugandan In 2016

“…And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful,” wrote Ruskin Bond.

As we approach the end of 2016, it is quite natural to look back and search for the kind of beauty he was talking about – the beauty amidst chaos that helped us throughout the year and also gave hope for the next one.

No matter the dark times and the harsh memories, everybody seeks that hope to wake up with each day. And on several occasions this year, Uganda helped us believe in that hope, and in happiness, humanity and pride.

Many times this year, different people and incidents made Ugandans proud of being a part of this country. Here are our top 15 moments.

1.When we qualified for the African Cup of Nations after 38 years

Photocredit- KCCA

Photocredit- KCCA

This remains one of the most historic moments which almost every Ugandan alive celebrated. The Uganda Cranes did the impossible and ended the 38 year old curse. It was a long walk to AFCON!

2. The day Ugandans didn’t wait for the government to #SaveCarol

Source: Big Eye

Source: Big Eye

The day April 23rd, 2016 changed the way citizens respond to help those in need. During this campaign, Ugandans forgot their political, religious, socio-economic differences and held what became one of the most popular and successful fundraising event of this decade. The campaign was to raise over UGX 200M for Carol Atuhirwe to go for cancer treatment in the US. She has gone through a series of successful treatment sessions in India.

3. When a young Ugandan innovator won a global award

Source: Chimp Reports

Source: Chimp Reports

In September this year, Ronald Katamba who developed the Jaguza Livestock Software Application, was recognized and awarded for his excellence and knowledge in e-Agriculture at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization Forum in Nadi, Fiji. Katamba won the award after he emerged the winner of the e-Agriculture category at the Commonwealth Youth ICT Competition.

4. Then came the man won us the first ever Paralympics Medal


Source: Internet

David Emong won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500m T46 at the Paralympics in Rio, Brazil. David who was the only Ugandan in the competitions, became the first ever medalist at the Paralympics from Uganda.

5. Checkmate: When the Queen of Katwe movie put Uganda on big Hollywood screens

Madina played an impressive role as Phiona Mutesi in Queen of Katwe

Madina played an impressive role as Phiona Mutesi in Queen of Katwe

For the first time, a movie set in Uganda was not about Idi Amin, Joseph Kony, Elephants, but it was based on a true life inspiring story of Phiona Mutesi, a teenage World Chess Champion from Uganda.

6. Then Madina Nalwanga started getting global recognition

She's queening!

She’s queening!

The “Queen of Katwe” herself became the first Ugandan to be nominated for the Critics’ Choice Awards in the category of Best New young Actress. This opened her doors to more roles she can play thereby starting her journey in Hollywood.

7. When Ugandans applauded the government for the progress on the Entebbe Express Highway

The four lane Southern bypass is near completion

The four lane Southern bypass is near completion. Photo source: Internet

When drone pictures of the nearly completed Entebbe highway were posted on Social Media by the official State House Uganda Facebook page, they went viral. Many at first thought this wasn’t Uganda. Ugandans applauded the government for the excellent work it has done to improve infrastructure in the country.

8. Then came this story of a 26 year old single-handedly giving shelter to 54 children in slums

This young man's story is inspiring.

This young man’s story is inspiring.

In March this year, we wrote a story of Syrill Kiiza, a 26 year old unsung hero looking after children in slums so that they have a bright future. The story was picked up by CCTV.

9. And then the story of this woman giving teenage mothers in Uganda a second chance.

Source: Pelletier Teenage Mothers Foundation [PTMOF]

Source: Pelletier Teenage Mothers Foundation [PTMOF]

When Solome Nanvule was chased away from home after getting pregnant while she was still a teenager, she endured the pain and managed to breakthrough. When life presented her a second chance, she swore never to let any teenage mother suffer the same way she did. She decided to set up a home for teenage mothers. Read her story here.

10. When this global map showed Uganda is best known for entrepreneurs

Niger has the most child brides while Libya boasts the fattest kids

Niger has the most child brides while Libya boasts the fattest kids

Uganda is silently changing what she is known for globally. This map released by Information is Beautiful contributed to changing the global perspective on Uganda in 2016.

11. When CNN listed the Ugandan rolex among the top African foods taking off


The rolex which you thought is for bachelors and University students is going global. In June, CNN listed it among the  top African foods taking off. A Rolex festival was also launched by the Tourism Ministry.

12. When Uganda launched the largest solar plant in East Africa.

Source: internet

Source: internet

The Soroti Solar plant located on 33 acres of land in Soroti District, is made up of 32,680 photovoltaic panels, and has an output of 10 to 12 megawatt. The facility is the country’s first grid-connected solar plant and is expected to generate clean, sustainable electricity to 40,000 households. It is the largest in East Africa.

13. The day when Rugby Cranes won the African Rugby 7s Cup

Uganda captain Eric Kasiita (centre) leads his teammates in celebration after lifting Africa Rugby Sevens Cup on September 23, 2016 at Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani. Photo by Chris Omolo

Uganda captain Eric Kasiita (centre) leads his teammates in celebration after lifting Africa Rugby Sevens Cup on September 23, 2016 at Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani. Photo by Chris Omolo

On September 23, 2016, the Uganda Rugby Cranes lifted the Africa Rugby Sevens Cup after demolishing Namibia by scoring six tries to beat it by 38-19 and lift our maiden Africa Rugby Cup Sevens title at Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani, Kenya.

14. Then came the story of a girl from Ibanda reaching for the sky in fighter jets

Photo credit: Chimp Reports

Photo credit: Chimp Reports

Jacinta Kyomuhangi’s story moved many Ugandans and beyond. The Senior six dropout’s story is an inspiration to many women and girls defying the status quo and rolling up their sleeves to take up roles which society thinks are “by default”, for the opposite sex.

15. Finally, when Uganda qualified for the 2017 Netball World Cup

Source: Galaxy FM

Source: Galaxy FM

Uganda alongside Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa will represent Africa at the 2017 World U-21 Netball championship. This came after the African qualifiers held in 5 months ago in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.

We are all Ugandans at the end of the day. And we stand by each other.

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thisisuganda_).





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Nsenene: The Ugandan delicacy

Its only in Uganda that you find such tasty grasshoppers that take a full year to mature only to be intensely harvested in the month of November, despite the fact that they do fly in other months. Many people pay a hefty price to have a taste of these insects that are extremely delicious.

Coming across this delicacy is a pride that many Ugandans enjoy especially when the season is on to the extent that some Ugandans abroad send in orders so that friends back home export them to the various places in the diaspora so that they keep in up with the delicious season.

These bush crickets are very crunchy and can become addictive especially if one gets to taste those that have been well fried. They are always on demand in the season to the extent that business people find it lucrative to invest in iron sheets and electricity with hope of making a clean profit off these hoppers.


Photo credit: Deke Kincald

The price

Nsenene lovers will pay a steep price just to get a meal of hoppers. November is nsenene season especially around Central Uganda where the long-horned grasshopper is a delicacy. It is the reason why November is named “musenene” right after these bush crickets. One would think that these insects have an addictive ingredient that makes many crave for them?

It’s been of recent that women in Uganda started eating these grass hoppers. In earlier days, they were tasked to harvest them of which they would be rewarded with a “gomesi” by their husband. With the change in times and information, women too nowadays enjoy this delicacy due to its high nutrious value in fat, fibre and protein. A Ugandan lady of today would live to tell a great story of how much women of those days missed a great delicacy!

The preparation

To prepare them, the nsenene are plucked free of their wings and legs, washed and fried with salt and onions for flavor.   No oil or fat should be added as they have their own natural fat that melts away in the process. This fat flows from their juicy abdomen. The insects can also be boiled or sun-dried and eaten on their own or served alongside other dishes. In some homes, they are served as a starter.

The nutrients

At 41-43 per cent, the fat content in grass hoppers is high and is comparable to edible oil seeds such as pumpkin seeds at 41 per cent and ground nuts at about 49 per cent. The delicious insects have a higher fat content than soybean at 18.6 per cent and avocado at 12 per cent, which are some of the commonly consumed high fat plant foods in Uganda. The grasshopper meal is high in unsaturated fatty acids with omega 9 being the predominant monounsaturated fatty acid, which has been associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk.

Nsenene, whose scientific name is Ruspolia Nitidula contains dietary fiber, which is rare of any animal based foods. The amount of dietary fiber in Nsenene higher than that in plant sources like peas, bananas or avocado.

The carbohydrate content of grasshoppers, while lower than many plant food sources, is higher than that of meat and fish which have practically no carbs.

The Quick recipe:

Harvest grasshoppers- through the use of iron sheets and lights at night

  1. Pluck wings and limbs off
  2. Soak in water for 15-20 minutes
  3. Drain the water from pan
  4. Salt and onions if you like seasoning
  5. Fry until golden brown over medium heat
  6. Stir occasionally to prevent burning
  7. Add salt to taste.

And lastly, enjoy them cause they are awesomely delicious!

Nsenene have a high nutrition value. Photo credit: Daily Monitor

Nsenene have a high nutrition value. Photo credit: Daily Monitor



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