Sammy Kasule’s hidden intricacies in playing a six-string guitar have earned him enough attention and admiration. It is not every day that you find a bass of more than five strings.
Kasule is one of the backbones of Uganda’s music, but has for a long time lived a quiet life in Stockholm, Sweden where he has been leading a band called Makonde, together with Swedish musicians and another Ugandan, Gerald Naddibanga.
Combining elements of African soukous and Afro-Cuban rhythms, the group had cut its niche in Stockholm for the slick, pop-oriented sound.
But towards the end of last year, Kasule made a decision to return home and settle. Having lived in Sweden for about 30 years, Kasule says he has accomplished what he wanted – to shape the future for his two children: 33-year-old Sammy Kasule Jr who is now married with a seven-year-old child, and 23-year-old Mitchell Kasule. “They are now [adults].
I have been fighting for their future and I thank God that they are ok. That is why I have decided to move back,” Kasule says. “I don’t intend to form my own band, but I intend to work with musicians in the studio and will be performing with Afrigo band whenever I want to be on stage.” Kasule has a recording studio in Stockholm, which he plans to relocate to Kampala and has already paid visits to three studios: Dr Tee’s, Eddie Yawe’s and Afrigo band’s to compare notes.
The only challenge he sees ahead is that it is easier to upgrade studios abroad than in Uganda, because the equipment is easily accessible there. Meteoric rise Born to Merekizadeki Kibirige and Catherine Namuwenda in 1952, Kasule started music at a tender age. At the age of 11, he made his first guitar from an empty fuel can, but this did not amuse his mother who destroyed it.
He made a second one and it was still destroyed by his parents. This did not, however, dim his dream. He followed his passion with another guitar, which this time round he decided to hide in the bush on the way to the well. So, every time he was sent to the well, he would pass by the bush to first play his guitar. His inspiration came from listening to Congolese music played on radio, and Ugandan musicians Christopher Ssebaduka and Rosia Nyogo from whom he learnt the Ekitoobero song.
This later defined his music style when he took music to a professional level with uplifting rhythms based on soukous mixed with Ugandan folk. Kasule, who went to Kibuli primary school before his family relocated to Masuuliita where he went to Light College Katikamu, abandoned school before finishing O-level to pursue his music career.
In 1969, he joined his first band, Kawumba band, whose home was at New Life bar in Mengo where he played until 1970. Following the political unrest during then President Idi Amin’s government, Kasule sought refuge in neighbouring Kenya, joining a Congolese band called Les Niors in 1973, with which he worked for three years before joining Special Liwanza band.
After learning Kiswahili, he in 1977 recorded his first hit single, Maria Wandaka, which received great airplay in Kenya. He followed it up with a Shauri Yako English version and then Ekitoobero. As a gifted composer and performer, he later decided to start his own band Vundumuna together with guitarist Tabu Frantal and keyboardist Botango Bedjil.
This later evolved into Makonde band where he was joined by Philly Bongoley Lutaaya (RIP) in 1979. European career When Lutaaya moved to Sweden in 1983, Kasule followed suit. Here, they teamed up with other Ugandan musicians such as Frank Mbalire, Hope Mukasa, Joseph Nsubuga, Richard Mudungu, Fred Ssemwogerere and Shem Makanga to form a group called Savanna.
That is when they released Lutaaya’s hit-album, Born in Africa. Kasule moved to Japan in 1989, joining the African Jambo Jambo band with four Congolese and another Ugandan, Meddie Matovu. In 1991, he moved back to Sweden and decided to reform Makonde band, and recorded songs including Njabala, Seyeeya and Ziwuuna.