Even though my background is in music, and I write about music and musicians, I am also interested in the musical culture worldwide. Over the years I have featured artists from every corner of the earth. It is still fun to write about a musician unknown in my part of the world. However, that does not mean that the artist has not achieved a large level of notoriety. This is the case with the artist I chose to feature this week. She is a young, energetic star on the rise from the nation of Uganda. This week Weekly Music Commentary features Sheebah Karungi.
I realize when I choose to feature an artist from an African nation, not many readers outside of the continent recognize them or their music. As of today I have previously featured five African artists, four young women and a young man. Upon an introduction, many in the United States of America and other parts of the world will gain an appreciation of the music from Africa.
Even though I am not afraid to showcase the music of Africa, much of the emphasis has been on West Africa music. Nigeria to pinpoint it further. The culture and music found in West Africa has found ears around the world, and most definitely the US. However, the music of Uganda is not as popular outside Africa. Therefore, the music from that part of the world is intriguing.
In my opinion, Uganda is possibly the most beautiful country in the world. The photo’s and animal life found in Uganda are truly stunning. The vibrant scenes from the capital city of Kampala are a fertile ground for creativity. Like many areas around the globe, Uganda’s political climate, and Western influence, greatly affected the modern musical styles found today.
Because of Uganda’s turbulent political history, there was never enough time for there to be a thriving pop music industry until relative peace was restored in the late 1980s. By then, musicians like Philly Lutaaya, Afrigo Band, and Elly Wamala were the few Ugandan acts to have had mainstream music success. Jimmy Katumba and his music group the Ebonies were also popular at this time, especially towards the 1990s.
The 1990s saw Uganda’s love affair with Jamaican music begin when artists like Shanks Vivi Dee, Ragga Dee, and others were influenced by Jamaican superstars like Shabba Ranks. They imported the Ragga music culture into Uganda and, although they faced stiff competition from other African music styles and musicians at the time, in particular Soukous from Congo and Kwaito from South Africa, they formed the foundation of the pop music industry. But it was not until the 21st century when musicians like Chameleone emerged that a pop music scene really began.
By around 2007, there were a number of musicians practicing varied styles of music, and the role of western and Congolese/South African music had greatly diminished. Today, musicians like Iryn Namubiru and King Saha are just a few of the many pop musicians in a thriving and vibrant pop music scene. The pop music duo of Radio & Weasel, the Goodlyfe Crew, is well-known around Africa, being nominated in the continental MTV Base awards in 2010 and BET awards in 2013. In June 2015, Eddy Kenzo won the award for “Best new international artist” at the 2015 BET music awards.
Sheebah Karungi was born November 11, 1989, and raised by a single mother in Kawempe, a city in Kampala, Uganda. After completing her basic education at Kawempe Muslim Primary School, she dropped out of school in senior two when she was a student of Midland High School, Kawempe. At the age of 15, she started dancing for money after she joined a dance group called Stingers before she left the group for Obsessions Music Group in 2006. It was at Obsessions she developed an interest in music, recording two songs before she left the group for a solo career in music.
That move into the music industry was not an easy career change for Sheebah. Much like other artists, she experienced discouragement before success. In an interview with ChimpLyf more than two years ago, Sheebah reflected on her start in music. “Of course it was challenging. Moving from Karaoke to Obsessions; they wouldn’t take a new comer as one who was supposed to be there. There was a lot of bullying and undermining. I think this was because they had already done their hit song, Jjangu that they didn’t take me to be worth being one of them. Good enough, I understood this and took it in good faith because I saw that it was difficult for them to let someone come out of the blue and join them yet they had already achieved something. However, I learnt a lot from them; both on the good side and the bad side.”
Sheebah Karungi’s musical career really took off with the release of her big hit Ice Cream. In 2014, she released her first musical project titled Ice Cream, a 5-track EP which contained hit singles including “Ice Cream” and “Jordan”. Ice Cream was massively received and helped win her Best Female Artist at the 2014 and 2015 HiPipo Music Awards.
Yes, the young singer who started out as a dancer who broke into the music industry has become one of the top recording artists of Uganda. Last year, Sheebah Karungi released her followup album Nkwatako, which solidified her place in modern worldwide music. In fact, fans worldwide have found her music and it is played throughout Europe as well as Africa and the US. I listened to the album and must say I hear an artist on the rise. In that ChimpLyf interview the last question for Sheebah Karungi was where do you see yourself in ten years. (eight years now) She answered, “A mother of two and I expect my music to be more vibrant than it is now.” Let’s hope so.