Home » Issue 021 Jun '12, Music, Opinions

Does luga-flow symbolize Ugandan hip-hop / rap music?

Posted by start 30 May 2012 15 Comments

“Welcome to Bataka Underground … Uganda’s hip-hop founders”. This is a quote from Bataka’s official website. But is it really the case? In this article I will try to get one step closer to the truth by trying to analyse the recent history of hip-hop in Uganda.

Written by Lutakome ‘Felix’ Fidelis

Babaluku (aka Silas Balabyekkubo), one of the pioneers of hip-hop in Uganda.

“Babaluku (aka Silas Balabyekkubo) is one of the pioneers of hip-hop in Uganda and the originator of the luga-flow,” states the Bavubuka Foundation website. I agree.

“Luga-flow, is rapping in native tongues, is Uganda’s definition of hip-hop; a form of music used to advocate truth for the future of the youth and the people of Uganda,” the Bavubuka website further proclaims. Really? “Uganda’s definition of hip-hop”? Honestly?

In my language there is a wise saying that goes; Bwotamanya gyoova toyinza kumanya gyoolaga, which could be translated into something like; Without the knowledge of where you’re coming from, you can never know where you’re heading.

Perhaps this will make more sense after a brief—but hopefully insightful—revisit to some pretty essential historical facts regarding the subject.

Philly (R.I.P) – the first rapper

In any case, as far-fetched as this might sound, verity is; traces of the first Luganda rap lyrics occurred as early as 1989, attributed to the late protagonist Philly Bongole Lutaaya (R.I.P).

Ok, I know it is not “stated in any history book”, but to put your skeptical minds at rest; the song is entitled Nakazaana and here are some lines from that song:

“Mwanyinaze, Nakazana, tuulawano nkubuulilile, Osaana otye nga omusajawo, dala omuweenga ekitiibwa kye, yakulonda mu bangi nasalawo obeere wuwe abeere wuwo. Tokiliza abo abakulimba, banoonya kubuza banooya kuwubya.”

To listen to the song, please feel free to check it out on YouTube, you will find the above-mentioned excerpt starting at 6:18.

“The first person I heard rap in Uganda was Philly Bongole Lutaaya,” says Abramz, one of the Ugandan hip-hop music pioneers.

The class of the nineties

Subsequently, in the 90s after the passing of Philly, rappers such as Young Vibrations, Dj Berry, MC Afrik, Prim & Propa, D & D Slam, Chain Thought Reaction, Sylvester & Abramz, Viboyo, Survivor, Honey & Crazy Rhymes, Yalla & Milka, Bataka Underground, Zak 40—this list is long!—Nizzy X, Da Squad, DOA, DEPPI, Playa, Capture, MC Cool, Simple G, Swamp Kamp, and Rule Smalls & Dr Propawho quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

Abramz & Sylvester at the Blood Brothers live concert at Sharing Youth Centre in Nsambya, 2003.

These were the pioneers of Ugandan hip-hop. Even though a lot of people do not know some of these names, records will show that they were the first breed of practitioners of Ugandan hip-hop music.

In my opinion, they own the privelige to say “we were there” ab initio.

The early 2000s saw the birth of even more local rappers; among them were names like Snooty Fredo & Easy Moze, BSG Labongo, Lady Slyke, Klear Kut, Bavubuka All Stars, GNL Zamba, Urban Legend, Rugged, New Hope Squad, Lethal, Abenganda, Batabaazi, Moran & Lambert, and Saint CA.

Saba Saba aka Krazy Native

“Great video. It is the history of Ugandan rap.”

This is a comment on YouTube—and there are plenty like this one from other online users—that was posted five years ago by someone with the nickname 3rdi. The luga-flow video entitled Tuja Babya by Saba Saba aka Krazy Native from the Bataka Squad has (per May 2012) been viewed almost 28,000 times. 33 likes and 3 dislikes.

It is a great hip-hop track with a great video and a true representation of luga-flow. But here is the thing; just like the luga-flow trend, this song is a part of Ugandan hip-hop history, but it is not the history of Ugandan rap.

Krazy Native, Babaluku, and Tshila from the Bataka Squad.

The roots of Ugandan rap goes back to about a decade and a half before the release date of the track, and just to clarify—and maybe prevent a widespread illusion about the luga-flow trend—luga-flow does not symbolize Ugandan hip-hop!

That said, it serves as a perfect example of Ugandan hip-hop. So please, do not get it twisted people; Ugandan hip-hop existed way before the term luga-flow was coined by Babaluku, Saba Saba and Bataka Squad in 2005.

Luga-flow trend, Lugha-flow flava confusion, Lwaali, and Uga-flow

Lots of things have happened in the history of Ugandan hip-hop. Many events and issues have occurred and elicited a lot of controversies over the years among rappers—mostly the underground ones—and the people who claim to understand the philosophy behind hip-hop.

Writers and journalists have by and large ignored some facts and the authenticity of the scene when reporting on the hip-hop culture, merely perpetuating the false information that the media already have publicized on the few hip-hop figures which have made it into the spotlight.

Ever since the mid-90s Ugandan rappers have had challenges to define Ugandan hip-hop. The identity of Ugandan rap music would not have been such a big problem if all rappers had the same style or rapped in the same language.

For instance, at some point rappers wanted to call Ugandan rap music ‘Lwaali’. Ideologically, this was imported from Tanzania by Saba Saba of Bataka Underground, inspired by the prominent ‘Bongo Flava’, which is the most popular style of music in Tanzania.

The idea of calling Ugandan rap Lwaali was opposed by rappers, especially by the socially conscious ones, who at that time were rapping about serious, radical issues. Lwaali is a slang word from the local language Luganda, which means “mumbo-jumbo”.

In 2005, a new rap style called ‘Luga-flow Flava’ emerged, which later became just ‘Luga-flow’. “Luga” is derived from the word Luganda, which is one of the most widely spoken native languages in Uganda.

Luga-flow is rapping in Luganda, even though its originator Babaluku claims—or describes it as—“rapping in native tongues”.

It started to play a significant role from 2005 and on, after the word was coined, at a time when more rappers became aware of the value of their mother tongues. But you might as well need to know that all the years prior to 2005, since 1989, many rappers were already rapping in their own native languages.

New trends arose out of rivalry

That same year, 2005, saw the start of a new initiative where fresh rappers embraced their own background even more—representing their tribes and using their native languages. It increased the diversity due to more rap artists developing their own style and identity. But was it a good development? Maybe not; it soon provoked a feud and caused antagonism among the local rap artists.

It is fair to say it both excited and inspired new genres. Rappers from different tribes became almost obsessed with identity and the question of “who is better than who?” It manifested itself in novel styles or trends such as Runya-flow, Kiga-flow and Luso-flow, identifying rappers from Ankole, Bakiga and Busoga tribe, respectively.

Da Squad.

This misled—and still does—a lot of rappers who did not fathom what hip-hop was/is about, and gave birth to a rebellious attitude among themselves. In my opinion, this contradicted with the norms and the values of the hip-hop culture. As a result, the actors were destroying something that was bigger than themselves, without even noticing.

Later, the originators of Luga-flow described it as “rapping in languages”. This attracted even more protests from rappers, especially the ones that were alien to Luganda because they came from tribes like Acholi, Ankole, Busoga, Bakiga, etc. None of them were ready to call themselves something they were not.

Could the redefinition of the the word ‘Luga-flow’ to include all local languages be justified?

A right word for “languages” is the Swahili-word “Lugha”, spelt with an ‘h’, not  as “Luga”. ‘Lugha-flow’ would therefore have been the perfect phrase to suit the reality and style of the Ugandan rap scene at that time.

But essentially, Luga and Lugha are two different words with different meanings. If Lugha in Swahilli simply means languages, then why do we even need to have Lugha-flow? Languages flow?

All the same, Luga-flow is an accepted style of rapping today, because many rappers are expressing themselves through it.

To make matters worse; rappers who did their thing in English felt a little left out. Klear Kut, one of Uganda’s most prominent hip-hop crews, started what they termed ‘Uga-Flow, which represents a cadre of Ugandan artists who rap in English—though the initial blueprint of the word was to bridge the division caused by the luga-flow conflict.

The Myth, Sylvester, Lyrical G, and Abramz.

Present day: What’s the future for our rap music?

I was listening to a hip-hop song on the radio the other day—or a rap song to be more specific—and wondered; what on earth is happening to the rap scene in Uganda?

Our rap music has become insipid and technically pathetic. It has lost the flavour.

No offence, but its true essence has been diluted by both our big, established and the up-and-coming rap artists due to their impatient, greedy amateurism. Money represents the greed, of course, I guess that is a cliché for anyone with some commercial success.

Most often there is a lack of genuineness, you feel 90 percent is money driven and only 10 percent is passion. And the story repeats itself, you sense that almost every “big rap artist being played on TV & radio these days is in it for the money.

It is sad to say, but every week there is a new wannabe rapper fantasizing about the posh American lifestyle including the dollars, the cribs, the girls, the cars, et cetera, et cetera, like in this song I was listening to:

“I’m a rich motherfucker. Bitch I can buy you everything that you want. I have a gun – will use that to protect you.” Lyrics like this upsets me personally, but it is also speeding up the rap music scene’s way down to the grave.

And I am thinking: “How are Ugandans going to relate to such lyrics?” Perhaps the majority of the listeners will not give a damn, because they do not see any problem with it “as long as it is groovy, it rocks”.

…and who are the true artists?

The idea behind the luga-flow trend was to add identity and originality to Ugandan rap music. And—don’t get me wrong—luga-flow still exists, even though it has evidently transformed into another sort of music genre in the mainstream media, keeping the verb “rap” hostage.

Real luga-flow still lives underground, with rappers and crews such as Babaluku, Burney MC, Definitions of Togwaamu Maanyi, Cyno MC, Luga-Flow Army, Don Emcee, Saint Nelly Sade, Lady Slyke—the list is still long—carrying it out in its true form.

In my opinion, one of the best tracks from the local rappers is a song by a duo commonly known as Sylvester and Abramz entitled Kyendi Kyendi, which decodes as “I am who I am”.

This piece of work is both entertaining and educational, inspiring people to be proud of who they are and where they come from. The song epitomizes what real rap should sound like.

Just so you know, Sylvester and Abramz are underground hip-hop artists known for their conscious rap music. They are Ugandan hip-hop legends who have played a great role ever since they entered the hip-hop scene in the mid-90s.

Sylvester & Abramz performing at My World Images Festival in Skorping, Denmark, 2010.

The “big” artists

GNL

So what about the so-called big rap artists of Uganda? As a matter of fact, I think they are terrific entertainers. I listen to most of their tracks and I go; “this is a great song!” I shake my head whenever they play, I even dance to these songs.

But if you ask me whether I think a certain artist is a hip-hop artist, or whether their song is a hip-hop song, in most cases I would say “no”. Why? Because there is no hip-hop in it. Every detail is wrong; its style, its lyrics, its beats—it is like it represents a totally different kind of music genre.

The Luganda word Kidandali (loosely translated to “local party” or “celebratory function”, -Ed) would be the best way to categorize most of the contemporary luga-flow “hits”. It may be great music, but it misrepresents hip-hop as a culture and rap as a music genre. Which is a shame since the performers keep branding themselves hip-hop artists or rappers.

Navio

My respect goes first and foremost to the artists who spend their time making quality music true to the essence of hip-hop. I have listened to music from rappers such as Survivor, Abramz, Babaluku, Sylvester, Lyrical G, Xenson, B.B Muwanvuwanu, Lethal and a few others.

Lyrical G.

They embody elements of realism, consciousness and concinnity. Their lyrics are original down to the last detail, there is a richness in their messages, and the legacy of hip-hop culture can be traced in their music.

This combination is what makes their music appealing and ultimately turns them into real emcees when they are executing the art of hip-hop.

Lutakome ‘Felix’ Fidelis is a Ugandan freelance writer who mainly writes about hip-hop culture. His major focus is to create awareness of underground hip-hop artists and events.

All photos by courtesy of the writer.

15 Comments »

  • isaaka ntaro said:

    this is simply spot on i lyk it…………..abt fake rappers the influx is huge and this is simply due 2 money no other justification

  • isaaka ntaro said:

    BABOON FOREST ENT……..FAKE MCEES….MUN*G HAS YET TO TELL THE DIFRFERENCE BTN RAPINNG AND RECITING

  • liann said:

    In my opinion, i agree that hiphop in uganda has come 2 more of an entertainment and commercial industry, than it sending a meaningful, exciting message to the public and unity for a good cause to protect the future of the ugandan youth, most rappers in uganda are not keen about their lyrics and implications, this makes hiphop look so sad, 2 say and less artistic!

    personally, i had no idea philly(RIP) was a rapper…alot of these “underground” true emcees are defined by their term left to stay there, and their messages may be are being unappreciated; who knows, the public could careless to pay attention to real life issues and prefer to see life painted coloured with rappers quoting- “I’m a rich motherfucker. Bitch I can buy you everything that you want. I have a gun – will use that to protect you.”…. in most cases, such rappers are found to be flossing what they dont even own and this is what i can term as “lwaali”! i believe a rapper should embrace where he/she is coming from; truth and no lies, rappers expressing experience. such as the above quoted make hip hop look like a retaliation, hence a disaster.
    i have always reflected on the day; new year 2007 at sheraton hotel kampala when i had a live feel of lyrical G; at that time as he was on stage, alotta people just sipped on their drinks and never seemed to pay attention to his message; i remember thinking to my self “how does music as such get covered up!”

    anyway, i have never accepted the term “luga-flow” for generalised ugangdan hip hop, ofcourse unless as directly put as “luganda-flow”…lugha-flow does not apply either because its broad; africa is based with different languages, so i see “languages-flow” as a no-no!
    i think it will take us some time to come up with a term that generally symbolises “ugandan hip hop” and that every rapper will be proud to shout out…at the momment, we should just leave it at that! its the same controversy we have with the natoinal official language.

    the awful truth is that ugandan hip hop is directing to the entertainment and “commercial” industry which may be a point of no return, especially when money”s involved, but as longs true emcees and writers such as Lutakome ‘Felix’ Fidelis are still in existance and pushing to educate we still have some hope for a “real hip hop culture”

  • Katushabe Peace said:

    THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL PIECE, WONDERFULLY WRITTEN BY LUTAKOME. ITS AN INSIGHT INTO UGANDAN HIPHOP MOVEMENT FOR DOZ WHO HAVE NOT BEEN AWARE. DA TITLE FOR DIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN A BURNING QUESTION FOR SOME YEARS NOW SINCE DA NAME “LUGAFLOW” CAME UP, AND AM HAPPY DAT DIS WRITER HAS BROUGHT IT UP IN A GOOD & BALANCED WAY WITH REFERENCES. BIG UP.

    AM ALWAYS KATUSHABE PEACE, DA FEMALE HIPHOP FANATIC.

  • Nakisanze Segawa said:

    It is sad that the writer didnot do research about the origin of Hip hop in uganda, but instead came up with this fake theory that it started with the late Philly Bongole. Just to clarify, Philly’s hit came up in the late 1980’s , but Hip Hop is as old as the social lives of ugandans and the, Bakisimba drum beat and other loud drum beats from different ugandan cultural back ground.

  • Katushabe Peace said:

    IT IZ SAD THAT NAKISANZE SEGAWA DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE WRITER WELL. HE DIDN’T SAY THAT UGANDAN HIPHOP STARTED WITH THE LATE PHILLY BONGOLEY LUTAAYA, HE SAID LUGANDA RAP OR THE ART OF RAPPING IN LUGANDA & HIS SONG SONG ON RECORD. PLIZ READ THRU DA ARTICLE AGAIN.

  • TAYE said:

    Read more learn more ,change the globe , if you don’t know where you’re coming from then you don’t know where you’re going !! NAKISANZE SEGAWA,, you must be on a totally different page !! i don’t recall finding any phrase about the origin of hiphop in uganda in the article above !In my opinion the following article is about how the foundation of rapping in uganda has been lost through different groups trying to claim the title of pioneer and thus creating different names to represent their interests which has further bred a generation of rappers who know nothing about how the artform is supposed to be preserved !!
    You see segawa, you should come up with a strong argument backed by a history allround 360 from different heads and art historians , i have also personally gotten to listen to NAKAZANA by Philly Lutaaya and its evident without question that its the first rhythmically spoken rhyme in ugandan rap histroy ,that therefore covers all the other stories about who started rapping in luganda !!
    You see segawa, you have gotten to know about rapping in native tongues in an error where its cool but little do you know that some of the pioneers that used to rap in native tongues around the 90’s used to be labelled uneducated and therefore where not given platform as there is today and also still, different groups in different areas around uganda used to bust writtens by the artists they would see on TV. that also means that they should be credited !!!
    Personally i think that RAP should be called RAP basing on the true essence it possessed rather than fighting for supremacy by calling it different names like uga-flow,luga-flow,kinya-flow !! I always trash this , HIPHOP CULTURE(MCEEIN,DJEEIN,GRAFFITI,BREAKDANCE,STREET LANGUAGE,STREET FASHION,STREET ENTERPRENURIALISM,BEATBOXING) IS UNIVERSAL and NEUTRAL and can’t stay strong and cannot grow unless we use it in its original essence and names and try to encompass all other different styles without changing its name !!
    I think you get my argument SEGAWA.
    I therefore conclude by saying that NO !! LUGA-FLOW doesn’t symbolize UGANDAN RAP MUSIC !! RYTHM ATTITUDE and POETRY are universal through all languages,its about expression !! PEACE

  • oscar said:

    brother thanks for the artical its really very informative.

    this is what you said about the big hiphop artists today “…I think they are terrific entertainers. I listen to most of their tracks and I go; “this is a great song!” I shake my head whenever they play, I even dance to these songs.

    But if you ask me whether I think a certain artist is a rapper, or whether their song is a rap song, in most cases I would say “no”. Why? Because there is no rap in it. Every detail is wrong; its style, its lyrics, its beats…”

    in my opinion, no missionary wud go to a place and use aforeign “language” to priech it wud be the most crazy thing to do, its only compareable to blowing a flute for a sheep.And idont thin a catholic missionary seazes to be catholic because he has preached in another language other than latin.
    HIP HOP The term often refers to hip hop music, which consists of poetry that is spoken – rather than sung – over either original or sampled instrumental recordings mixed with new original sounds from drum machines, and/or other instruments. However, the culture has expanded far beyond its original roots, and now is considered a worldwide subculture comprising rapping, DJing, hip hop dance, and graffiti art – known collectively as “Four Pillars of Hip Hop”.
    wikipedia.

    mr lutakome you will agree with me that today kidandali is the most popular blend of music, the only way hip hop wud penetrate the market and getto this indegenous man is by blending it with ragga or dancehall beats because its the current trend. thats why when you look at the albums of these big artist like gnl you will find tracks like kikakane(a blend of dancehall n rap) then some where you find things fall apart(a true hip hop track) these guys are getting closer to this indegenous man used to kidandali beats and now being introduced to another form of music in between kidandali and hip hop. what gnl, navio, mungi etc are doing is they are taking the Ugandan fans for rehabilitation. we cannot get instant change. mr lutakome you have talked about these rappers that are doing true hip-hop but if you listen to one of babalukus mix-tapes you will find songs like “kakwotinge”(this is purely a dance-hall beat)
    listen to “Kampala”(this has drop beat reage beats).
    LYRICALLY: in my opinion i think we all have different sources of inspiration, dude gone are the days when hiphop was about AIDS, SUFFERING, SLAVERY, RAPE,ETC am not saying artists shouldn’t do inspirational lyrics but what am saying is we shouldn’t be so “religiously Renaissance” in thinking about the art of these artists t.

    atleast for ouce lets appreciate these boys for what they hAVE DONE for hiphop music let

  • oscar said:

    mr Lutakome if you don’t mind
    pse go listen to babalukus track called “RAP SCHOLAR” some where he says … “i started out in KLA city here comes the originator…the finest rapper to bring it back ever since Philly lutaaya…” i think babaluku recognizes Philly lutaaya as a rap lyricist here and think he is right when he calls him self an originator. just like in fine art particularly painting the romans had a style of painting “chiaroscuro ” this was done as far back as 500bc then in then it resurfaces again in the 1500(Renaissance era) being brought back by Leonardo DA Vinci. in fact when we are speaking about chiaroscuro we look up to Leonardo DA Vinci who did this in almost all his works we wouldn’t look at the romans who did it by serendipity

  • TAYE said:

    OSCAR , ive read your argument but its still not relating to your opinion !! can you sum up your definition of HIPHOP and also RAP !! and what do you understand by the term ORIGINATOR ? HIPHOP dance ?
    And also when did the world become free from AIDS,SUFFERING,SLAVERY etc !!
    even if it were to be a party song or a bragging song ,their are still artists who display advanced skill towards expressing it unlike the artists you have mentioned above !! if you dont believe me then listen to this here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md1DvW4kF04 it is shallow for these artists to look at themselves from a watered down view (kidandali), even if it were to be with a reggae touch,there are artists who express it better here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGGTvpc584E , so i find your reasons weak mister
    peace

  • Ssentongo said:

    It is a true sound of identity

  • Brian wade a.k.a IP4U said:

    Realness is in born. So da realest mc is da one with da original tone. So da crazier da better .but the generation is cömmercial. So rap is faster twistin of words with lyrical maturity

  • taye said:

    word is bond @sentongo…any language that identifies with a the reality in an area can be a sound of identity…the question is….does it symbolize ugandan HIPHOP .the term HIPHOP differs from the word RAP …get the difference and do your homework….ive done mine !! in my view its a broader argument as you’ve seen through all these past comments…you cant narrow it to just “sound of identity “…..there’s more to that” and @brian, i have a question…what is real and what is not, what defines real ? who defines what real is to you ? RAP isnt faster twistin of words with lyrical maturity , that is just your opinion !! understand it from all angles , your own mind is your own limitation to what rap should be and is to you…do your homework too !! peace

  • TONY-50 said:

    lets not do the hating
    all we need is the real mceez doing
    it for we who love this HIP-HOP Game

  • TONY-50 said:

    babaluku plzz safe us
    coz hip-hop is dieing in ug
    pipo r droping silly rap song
    n they thing that can really rap