It is almost impossible for a live music enthusiast not to know the song Omusujja. It is like an anthem of sorts that various bands play, but in spite of its popularity spanning more than three decades, the song’s origin and ownership remains shrouded in mystery and, over the years, different people have claimed its composition. HASSAN BADRU ZZIWA digs into this never-ending debate.
In the religious musical realm, there is a popular hymn called Bewayo dedicated to the Uganda martyrs but the identity of its composer is contested by various individuals. Yet the song lives on through various choirs from different denominations.
Similarly, in the secular word, the debate on Omusujja is one that never ceases. On any day, you are likely to encounter a band playing the song with catchy lyrics and great danceable beats.
Afrigo band plays it, so does Simba Sounds and many other smaller bands. Over the years, several theories have been fronted about who composed it but it took a different turn recently when listeners of CBS FM’s Alive & Kicking show challenged me to settle the argument.
The song is widely attributed to the late Carol Nakimera, who used it as a breakthrough hit in 1984 while performing with Martin Munyenga’s Super Rockets band.
It is a bubbly song about a woman yearning for the attention of her lover. It starts with an extremely low tempo before picking up pace midway and finally exploding into a fast-danceable beat highlighted by a powerful guitar solo.
It is one of the few songs that do not lose their shine and to this day, there are several schools of thought about its origin and credits.
Some claim it was a traditional folksong that was turned around into a mainstream hit, but names such as Martin Munyenga, Hanny Sensuwa and even Nakimera have been fronted as the composers.
MEDDIE MBAZIIRA’S RECOLLECTION
Veteran instrumentalist Meddie Mbaziira performed with several bands in the 1980s and is one of the best-placed people to know the origins of the song.
“Omusujja is older than the version we know of Nakimera because the song used to be played in low-end bars around Kawempe and Bwaise as far back as 1982. In fact, it used to be performed alongside another song called Pressure Ya Love by Robinah Namabiro,” he says.
“Its original composer is a man called Jimmy from Magamaga in Busoga and he used to perform it at Basesa bar in Bwaise. He performed in several makeshift bands.”
According to Mbaziira, Jimmy did not record the song, thereby offering a chance for every band to perform it.
Salongo George Kayemba is a veteran music collector based in Kibuye. Not surprisingly, he still has the original album [on cassette] of the 1984 Omusujja album by Super Rockets band.
He says all credits to the album go to Martin Munyenga as the composer of Omusujja. In fact, the album has other songs such as Holiday [another Munyenga composition], Bye Bye by Emmanuel Magezi, Abakulu by one Charles Mugerwa and Sembera by Carol Nakimera.
“When it comes to facts, the original composer of the song is Munyenga,” he says. “Listen carefully to the song and you will realise the beats and rhythm are inspired by Munyenga’s Congolese tunes at the time.”
Meanwhile, guitar maestro Hanny Sensuwa has no doubts about the song’s origin because when I reached out to him, he told me the song started with him.
“I composed Omusujja in the seventies during my youthful days as a budding musician,” he says. “It had a touch of kadongo kamu and rhumba but I never really followed up recording it and opportunists stole it away from me.”
Interestingly, Sensuwa would later end up in Super Rockets band and played a key role in the song’s original recording.
“I don’t want to delve so much into the past but everyone who knows me from the seventies can recall how I used to play that song,” he adds.
The person that really popularised the song though, was Nakimera, who continued to perform it well through the 1990s until her demise in 2002. It is her version that inspired younger singers to try the song out long after she was gone.
But as good as Nakimera was on vocals, she never played any instrument although she composed a few hits of her own. Her powerful performance of Omusujja has had some music historians attribute the song to her.
It was tailor-made for her voice and what she actually went through in her love life. Could it be that she composed the song to reflect what she was going through? The song is actually a true depiction of Nakimera’s turbulent relationship experience to the extent it became her tagline.
In fact, Super Rockets’ stock nose-dived when she left the band and Omusujja became her signature tune wherever she went. Those different bands she persormed with would also later adopt the song as their own, so much so that it reached a point where the song lost copyright.
I finally reached out to Munyenga, now a retired musician, who gave me his contribution to the song.
“This debate has been around for long, but to be sincere I’m not the original writer of the lyrics,” he says. “I remember a young musician called Tony first came up with the lyrics and we interested him to record the song around 1983,” he recalls.
“I don’t remember how he [Tony] disappeared [to another band] but my contribution was to arrange and put music into the song,” he says. “So, I produced the music of Omusujja but the lyrics aren’t really mine. However, I’m not interested in pursuing its copyright because I know that will lead to nothing since it cannot be enforced.”
This leaves one wondering: could Munyenga’s reference to ‘Tony’ be the same as the ‘Jimmy’ that Mbaziira talks about?
Well, what is undeniable is that the song has had a huge impact on the local band music scene and its popularity is not about to cease. Most importantly, it is quite absurd for such a big hit to be without a true owner.
If only the copyright law was enforceable, whoever it is would have reaped big from the song. Omusujja is why every artiste worth their salt should care to copyright any intellectual content released, because one never knows when their composition leaves backwater stages to become the real deal.