From time to time, an artistic production captures the imagination of a society. And we can’t predict where it will come from.
In Uganda today, it is a television advertisement for a telecommunications company. The country’s mobile phone giant MTN wanted to promote a product called MoMo that allows customers to make cashless payments.
Three weeks ago, he released an ad that not only fulfilled that goal, but became an instant hit, the song of the season.
The pure simplicity of Bosco’s story, as the song / commercial is called, is the secret to its success.
Far from the funky contemporary music created by young artists who are borrowing from all over including Nigeria in recent times, Bosco is done in the old, old kadongo kamu (a guitar) genre favored by the first Ugandans to record music in the 1950s.
It featured a solo band playing acoustic guitar and essentially reciting a griot-style love story for several minutes without repeating a line.
Out of sheer genius or luck, or both, a creative mind from an advertising agency called TBW created the character of Bosco Katala (literally, country man), a stocky, hardworking middle-aged man trying to make a living in the modern city, so naive that he runs his bike through metal detectors and escalators. But nothing can stop her resolve to put dinner on her young family’s table.
As Bosco’s video connects with all those who struggle to earn a living honestly, it is the sound of the music that immediately resonates in Ugandan ears.
Apparently the kadongo kamu that our parents loved so much has been passed down silently through cultural DNA. How else is it that a teenager immediately likes the sound of Bosco?
Did I say where did the first Ugandans to record music go in the 1950s? Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya.
And it was in Nairobi that the creators of Bosco went in July 2018 in search of a production assistant named Tosh Gitonga.
In the complex world of film production, the Kenyan director works with a large production company in Kampala called Swangz – who executed the script, executed by artists selected by a talent management group called Xtreme Casting.
So, the successful music advertising was actually a regional effort, which also included Congolese talent. The guitar that woke up our kadongo kamu DNA was played by a certain Monsieur Charmant, a Ugandan of Congolese origin who arrived in the country as a refugee in 2004. It therefore took an ethnic Congolese for the Ugandans to rediscover kadongo kamu!
But why so many songs and dances about an advertisement, you will tell me? Well, long before Charmant was born, his long-lost compatriot, the great Franco Luambo Makiadi, played several commercial songs like AZDA, which simply meant Association Zaïroise d’Automobile – a car dealership that sold Volkswagen in Zaire.
And of course, Tabu Ley had already played Omo soap, another success promoting the ubiquitous detergent.
This is how a combination of talents and skills from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic came together to rejuvenate a musical genre that was quickly falling into obscurity.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based social and political commentator.