By our reporter
Last Monday, a music concert took place at The Big Bar, formerly Happyland, in Kibuye suburb of Kampala. Forget the much publicized Banyabo concert by the famous and beautiful Rema Namakula. No. It was a little known ‘gospel’ singer, Kiggundu Sabayonza Basajjabaka, who got a full house of fans on his first concert.
I did not attend this concert, but, I watched a video of Kiggundu’s concert forwarded by a friend on whatsapp. I had listened to his songs before and got this impression that Kiggundu’s music was not the conventional gospel music of Judith Babirye or Wilson Bugembe. Kiggundu sings about the traditional African deities and is also a music trainer in a number of schools. And it is for that reason he took on the name Sabayonza meaning he is the best singer around.
“I have six albums,” Kiggundu, a shy man with measured words told me, when I met him in Nabuti in Mukono.
Getting Kiggundu to speak about himself, is not easy. Many people he calls friends who were around when we were talking did not know the person who was opening up to me, a stranger. He says things about himself no one has ever heard.
Born to Sempeera Alexander of Lukka in Ssi sub county in Buikwe district and Namwanje Margaret, Kiggundu did not spend a lot of time with either biological mother or father. He recalls that his mother abandoned him at his drunkard father’s home when he was about eight months old. Yes, he was less than a year. His mother moved on, and married another man and produced other children.
Hearing Kiggundu’s story, you realize he is a typical child of a broken home. It is indeed God who paved his way that he went out of misery to a person with a growing fan base.
He told me that he was picked from his father’s house because drunkard as his father was, he was not paying any attention to the toddler left to him. So when an aunt visited, she realized he had to be saved from pangs of hunger and starvation. She took him to his grandmother in Nakikunyu, not far from the sugar town of Lugazi, in Buikwe district.
So Kiggundu was raised by his grandmother, where he grew up to look for his own to keep in school. It is his desire to study that saw him do odds jobs such as selling firewood and sweet banana to earn a little money to pay school fees.
“We lived near Mehta’s sugarcane in Lugazi, so, we sold banana to the workers on the plantation,” he narrates. “From the money we bought necessities at home including fuel, salt or matchboxes.” At his home, Kiggundu did not know the taste of sugar, save for the sugarcane they ate in the plantation.
When he ran out what to sell, he started hopping from one relative to another offering his labour as long as they promised him education.
He kept praying that he gets a Good Samaritan to foot that burden. It was during one of that search for how to keep in school that he found his brother who led him to his mother who had disappeared in his life for more than a decade.
As money to pay school fees dwindled around Primary Three, one day Ssentongo, an elder brother of Kiggundu showed up in his village. One day, he came to visit their grandmother on hearing about him. He was his elder brother. During their meeting, they hatched a plan to escape from his grandma’s home to Kayanja where he would meet their mother for the first time since he was eight months. The little boys walked all the 25km from Nakikunyu to Kayanja.
“All I wanted was to see my mother,” he said in the interview when I met him in Mukono. “On reaching home, mother was happy to see me. She told me, ‘since you are here, I can also start from here’. Then, she gave me water to bathe,” he recalls his mother’s words and action on their historic meeting.
Kiggundu says his step dad was good to him. But life at this new home was neither a bed of roses. They had to do menial jobs to survive. It is while here he discovered his singing talent.
His mother introduced him to the village music troupe, Banyagira Women Development. He would sing songs of the late Herman Basudde which were popular with the village folks. Then, added songs by kadongo maestros Paul Kafeero (RIP) and Fred Sebatta.
“I was a soloist for the group and would be dressed as a woman,” he recalls. His membership to the women group was helped by his smooth female look on his face.
It turned out that Kiggundu went to schools in Nyenga where he completed his primary education, thanks to his music talent. While in primary school, he won different awards and certificates in musical competitions for his school.
After primary school, he went to Kampala, where he lived briefly with his sisters in Katwe neighbourhood. It is from here he connected with music groups such as Determined Artists where he as a composer and drummer. It from this job and menial jobs such as water collection and photography from which he rented a small room where he lived, and also paid his schools until he completed Senior Four at Agrolinks Academy in Namasuba.
Today, Kiggundu is being contracted by different schools to teach music to students, on top of that, he is also composing gospel songs for Tondism, a traditional African religion based in Central Uganda.
Kiggundu’s sponsor, Sabakabona Aligaweesa Jjumba also the chief priest of Tondism, says the singer was on the right path since he is assured of his discipline.
“He has over 100 songs and this is just the beginning.”
Lutaaya Meddie, Kiggundu’s manager says he has been in the music field for more than a decade and managed among others, kadongo kamu star Gerald Kiweewa.
“Kiggundu will be returning to the studio to record songs that respond to the market,” Lutaaya says, adding Lutaaya that Kiggundu has three things which make great musicians including being a good composer, smart dressing which gives him a great public appearance and he is a disciplined person.
“There is no time to relax. No more sleeping,” he added.