Does luga-flow symbolize Ugandan hip-hop / rap music?
“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) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The “big” artists
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.
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.
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.