Music of Uganda

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Uganda is home to over 30 different ethnic groups and tribes, and they form the basis of all indigenous music. The Baganda, being the most prominent tribe in the country, have dominated the culture and music of Uganda over the last two centuries. The other tribes have their own musical styles passed down since the 18th century.The first form of popular music to arise out of traditional music was the Kadongo Kamu style of music, which arose out of traditional Ganda music. Later music genres drew from Kadongo Kamu, making it one of the most influential music genres in Uganda.Currently, because of the effects of globalization, Uganda, like most African countries, has seen a growth in modern audio production. This has led to the adoption of western music styles like Dancehall and Hip Hop. Current Ugandan popular music is part of the larger Afropop music genre

Traditional Music

Uganda’s tribes are diverse and spread evenly throughout the country. The divide between the Nilotic peoples and the Bantu peoples is evident, with most Nilotic tribes like the Acholi and the Langi found in the northern part of the country while the Bantu tribes like the Baganda are found mostly in the south of the country.Tribal music in Uganda, like in most African regions, is mainly functional. This means that most music and music activities usually have specific functions related to specific festivities like marriage, initiation, royal festivals, harvests and the like. The music is performed by skilled tribesmen who are good at various instruments and well versed with the stylistic elements of the music of their tribe.Most music is geared for dancing in the community, hence most tribes have specific dances associated with their music. Call and response style of singing is common and is the many ways vital information is passed on to the listeners.


The Baganda are found in the central region of Uganda and are the largest and most influential ethnic group in the country. The Kingdom of Buganda is the longest existing monarchy in the country. The kingdom is ruled by a king, known as a Kabaka. The kabaka has traditionally been the main patron of the music of Buganda. Musical instruments include various forms of drums, making percussion an integral part of the music.The massive and sacred royal drums are just one of the many drum types. The ngalabi is another common drum. It is a long round shaped drum with a high pitched sound used in synchronization of both instruments and dances. The drums are used in unison with various other melodic musical instruments ranging from chordophones like the ennanga harp and the entongoli lyre, lamellophones, aerophones, and idiophones and the locally made fiddle called kadingidi. The locally made xylophone, called amadinda, is one of the largest in sub saharan Africa.The Baganda have a variety of vibrant dances that go along with the elaborate instrumentation. The bakisimba dance is the most common and most performed. There are others like nankasa and the amaggunju. The amaggunju is an exclusive dance developed in the palace for the Kabaka.

Other Tribes

The Basoga are a tribe found in the eastern part of the country and bear many similarities with the Baganda. Their culture, language, and music is similar to the Baganda. They also have a similar xylophone, called “embaire”, that plays a vital role and is principally used in the Busoga court. The compository principles of embaire music are similar to those of the amadinda music of buganda. The basoga employ procession style elements in their dances, with females taking a lead role. Vigorous gyrating of the hips and waist is the most common way of dancing.The Bagisu are also found in the eastern part of the country, and their music, called “kadodi”, is one of the most common traditional music styles and is constantly used in festivities around the country even by peoples of different tribes. This is mostly because of its dance oriented nature. It employs percussion styles that encourage “wild” dancing. The music is mainly used in circumcision ceremonies, where young boys are initiated into manhood. Circumcision is called “imbalu”. Other dances of the bagisu include a dance called “mabega”, which involves vigorous shaking of the shoulders.In the west of the country, the Banyankore are the largest tribe. Their music is more graceful when compared to other tribes and involves slow and simplistic percussion. The dancing style involves jumping and gesturing of the arms and is timed to coincide with the drummingIn the west also are the Banyoro and Batoro, who employ a music style called “runyege” that involves clangers attached to the feet of male dancers who dance alongside female compatriots in a particular manner so as to create music with their legs.In the northern part of the country, various tribes like the Acholi and the Langi have their own styles of music. The okeme, which is a thumb piano, is popular in this region since having been brought in the early 20th century by Congolese porters. Locally made papyrus flutes are also common. Vocals are delivered in a group by various singers, most times male. Constant stomping and jumping, alongside shaking of the head and neck, are common features of dance from this part of the country.There are many more tribes although their music has not been well studied and documented.

Popular Music

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 of 2015, Eddy Kenzo won the award for “Best new international artist” at the 2015 BET music awards.