African MusicNews

AfricOriginal: Afrigo Band

AfricOriginal: Afrigo Band


Afrigo Band: Early years                                                                                                                     The roots of the Afrigo Band lie in The Cranes. The Cranes were one of Uganda’s most popular bands of the sixties and early seventies. In 1974, after the release of their hit album ‘Ten Hits’, the band broke up due to internal disputes. Some former band members including Moses Matovu formed Afriraha Band, whose name was changed to Afrigo [Africa go forward] in August 1975. The other seven band members were Jeff Ssewava, Charles Ssekyanzi, Paulo Sserumaga, Paddy Nsubuga, Fred Luyombya, Anthony Kyeyune and Geoffrey Kizito. With the exception of Matovu and Jeff Ssewava, who now lives in Germany, all members of the initial line-up have since passed away.  Officially, the band was launched on November 1, 1975, after they were invited to play at the Bat Valley bar/restaurant, later Little Flowers in Bombo Road, Kampala. After some time, the Afrigo Band was invited by Tendo kabanda, the manager of Cape Town Villas, to perform at his popular waterfront establishment on Lake Victoria. 

A prominent fan                                                                                                                                                          One Sunday, the then President Idi Amin heard the band playing in Cape Town Villas and was immediately charmed by their music. Shortly after this first meeting, a representative of the president offered the Afrigo Band to become his personal house band, a request that obviously could not be turned down. From 1976, the Afrigo Band was under contract to the President and its members received a fixed monthly salary. The band performed in Cape Town Villas until Amin was deposed as president in April 1979.

1971: Idi Amin playing the accordeon

Starting all over again

After Amin was deposed, Uganda went through a restless period in which looting occurred all over the country. The Afrigo Band, as former home orchestra of Idi Amin, also had to deal with this. The orchestra was robbed of all its instruments and had to start all over again. After several months of complete inactivity, they met Omar Mattar, who helped the band buy back a large part of the instruments that had been stolen from them.

The first recordings

In 1980, the Afrigo Band made a trip to Nairobi for their first recording session. Due to lack of experience, the recordings were of moderate quality. The band made their first really good recordings during a visit to Europe and the UK. This trip was made possible by a fellow musician, Hope Mukasa, who had settled in Sweden and had a recording studio with good equipment.


It is in this studio that the Afrigo Band records one of its most successful albums, Vol. 8: Afrigo Batuuse II. The album was released in 1989 and attracted the attention of British music promoters. The album eventually earns the band a first tour of the UK. Afterwards, the band visits Denmark, where they perform at a festival and record another album. The period that followed was the most successful in the band’s existence, culminating in the album with the hit song Jim, which was number one in the Ugandan charts for three months and sold more than 500,000 K7s in Uganda alone.

Afrigo today

Today, Afrigo is busier than ever. In November 2021, the band celebrated its 47th anniversary. Founder and bandleader Matovu is now 72 years old and still the core of the band. However, it is a mistake to think that he is solely responsible for the fact that the band has existed for almost 50 years. That is impossible according to Matovu. The real reason, according to him, is the professional discipline with which all those involved in the band contribute. Central to this is the principle that the band as a whole always comes first, not the individual band members. 

A good example of the strong organisation and professional climate in the band is the fact that even vocalist Rachel Magoola, who is now a member of the Ugandan parliament, contributes to the show just like everyone else. Unless you know her, you would never say that off stage she is a high profile person.

Afrigo Band employs over 100 workers and has gone through the musical revolution of the long playing vinyl records (LPs), cassette tapes, compact discs (CDs) and now the digital formats through all of which they have churned out more then 20 albums that include: Afrigo Batuuse I, Jim, Genda Osome, Vincent, Mp’Eddembe, The Best of Afrigo and Julie. The 1994 album Omutanda Gyali was the first CD by a Ugandian band. 

Although the band’s music is heavily influenced by Congolese Rumba, they also play reggae and African dance music with Ugandan traditional rhythms and folk songs. They sing in local Ugandan languages and Swahili, but mainly in Luganda. However James Wasula laments: We haven’t established the national identity of Ugandan music and that is still haunting me. You hear music, for example High Life and you can tell it is Ghanian music and Soukous is Congolese music, but we are still struggling to find what Ugandan music should be.

February 6 2022 Afrigo live at Forest Park Kampala

The fact that the band is still alive and kicking after COVID was demonstrated recently in February, when the band performed a blistering three-hour show three consecutive nights.  


The original band members

Moses Matovu: He came up with the band’s name ‘Afrigo,’ which is a short form of their self-motivating slogan, ‘Africa-Go in music.’ Matovu took over band leadership from Sewava and is the remaining member of the pioneers and one of three band directors alongside James Wasula and Sam ‘Kapeera’ Tamale. Apart from being the band’s lead vocalist right from its inception, Matovu also plays the flute but is best known as the unrivaled saxophone maestro. Also an accomplished composer, Matovu is the brains behind some of the band’s biggest hits such as Nantongo, Sirina Anantwala, Afrigo Batuuse 1, Speed, Bagikwongere, Mundeke, Tondeka Awaka, Ngenze, N’ono and Sirina Reverse among others.

Jeff Sewava: The founding band leader, Sewava, led the split from Cranes band months before the formation of Afrigo. He was a saxophonist and a vocalist but left the band towards the end of 1977 and relocated to Germany, where he lives to date. He is best remembered for composing Betty, a popular song then.

Charles Sekyanzi (RIP): A trumpeter, Sekyanzi’s was one of the most recognizable figures in the band due to his sheer vocal refinement. His calm style endeared him to fans and rubbed off well Matovu’s precise singing on several hits. He composed songs like Musa, Rose Guma and Onnemye, but his Enneeyisa stands out to this day as one of the band’s greatest hits. Sekyanzi Died in March 2009.

Paddy Nsubuga (RIP): A vocalist, he also played the rhythm guitar. Nsubuga stepped out of the shadows in 1985 with his composition Express, a hit that celebrated Express FC’s Uganda Cup triumph that year. Nsubuga passed away in the late 1980s.

Anthony Kyeyune : Originally the band technician, Kyeyune learnt on the job to become a trupeter. He left in the 1980s and became a businessman.

Fred Luyombya (RIP): Luyombya was the band’s bass guitarist and lent his vocals on several hits. His biggest composition was the hit Christine, in the late 70s. He left the band in the 1980s and

Passed away in the late 80s.

Paul Serumaga (RIP): The multi-talented Serumaga made his name as a lead guitarist as well as a vocalist. But for all his attributes, his Oswadde Nnyo remains one of the most popular hits the band has ever made. He passed away in 1989.

Former members through the years

Rachael Magoola:  Joined Afrigo in 1989 as a singer, songwriter and dancer. In 2001 Rachel launched her own group and recorded several albums including: Inhaife (1997), Tyenda Wundi (1998), Tonyiiga (2000), Atubembe (2001), Songs from the Source of the Nile (2005) and Eisadha (2008). Her compositions contain elements of languages and traditional rhythms from all regions of Uganda, as well as reggae and zouk. In the 2021 general election she was elected to Parliament, as the women’s representative in Bugweri District, for the National Resistance Movement. 

Joanita Kawalya: 

Billy Mutebi (RIP): He joined in the late 1970s and became lead guitarist. Also a vocalist, Mutebi moved to Sweden where he teamed up with several Ugandan musicians such as Philly Lutaaya and Sammy Kasule. Among his popular compositions while in Afrigo are Olumbe Lw’obwavu, Ebizibu, Zalwango and Ekitiibwa Kyo. He returned to the country in the late 1980s but died in 1989.

Frank Mbalire: He joined in the late 70s as a rhythm guitarist but later moved to the Thames band, from where he composed Bamuleete and the popular Sirikusuula. He relocated to Sweden before

returning to Afrigo Band. However in 2009, Mbalire left Afrigo to form Misty Jazz Band, which also has Matuvo and had made Kampala Casino their home.

Godfrey Mwambala (RIP): He joined the group in the late 1970s as a keyboard player but because the band had no keyboard, he became the band’s drum player following the departure of Gerald Naddibanga to Sweden. Mwambala also became one of the group’s composers and some of his hits include Jim, Mp’eddembe, Julie and Obutonde Bwensi, among others. He died in 1996.

Gerald Naddibanga: Arguably the best drummer to come out of Uganda, Naddibanga joined in the late 1970s. He also had his moments on the microphone, as well as doing some dancing, but he moved to Sweden in early 1980s, where he lives to date.

Deo Mukungu: He joined in 1987 as a guitarist but made his major breakthrough by composing the smash hit Afrigo Batuuse II in 1989. Mukungu relocated to the UK in the mid-90s.

Fred Kigozi (RIP): He joined in the late 1980s as a vocalist and some of his classic compositions

include Semuwemba and Prossie. He passed away in the late 90s.

Mansur Bulegeya (RIP): The saxophonist joined in the 1980s but passed away in 2007.

Tony Senkebejje: Together with his wife Racheal, Tony joined in late 1980s as a bass guitarist and vocalist. His popular compositions include Dora, Alivawa, Twali Twagalana and Jukira. The couple left in the 1990s to form Simba Sounds, a resident band at Kampala Serena hotel.   

Tony Sengo (RIP): Versatile Sengo could virtually play any instrument, but specialised in the keyboard. Sengo came on board in the 1980s and the multi-talented artiste composed several songs like Emmere Esiridde, Kangende Nga Munonya, Ki Kyetunonya and Bw’osika Ekitajja. He left in the 1990s to found The Big Five band, before forming his own Badindazi band. He died in 1999.

Albert Amigo ‘Wawawa’ (RIP): Amigo joined Afrigo in 1994 as a lead guitarist but also had a couple of compositions like Safari, Yote Bule, Shamusha and Ekikere Kiri ku Mbaata. He left the group in the 1990s to start his own Waka Waka Band.

Dede Majoro (RIP): One of the celebrated lead guitarists who joined Afrigo in the 1980s but left in the 1990s to join Simbangoma band and later Hope Mukasa’s Mixed Talent band, before passing away.

Justin Matu: He joined the group in 2002 as a lead guitarist from Sarah Birungi’s IRO Stars. He left the band in 2010 and relocated to the USA.

Meddie Mbaziira: He joined Afrigo in the late 1980s, playing trumpet and a vocalist at the same

time. He composed Sirina Musango but later moved to Summit Band.

Rashid Musoke: Joined the group in the late 1980s as a drum player, but passed away in May 1993.

Others who went through Afrigo band are: 

Julius Jjuuko (keyboard) 

Godfrey Khadume (keyboard and trumpet) 

Tony Kalanzi (vocalist)  

Godfrey Ngoobi (bass guitar) 

Stanley Ntwatwa (drums) 

Grace Lukomwa (bass guitar) 

Margaret Kawalya (vocalist) 

Abdul Kintu (vocalist) 

Harriet Mpagi (vocalist) 

Juliet Kiwanuka (vocalist) 

Afua Luzinda (vocalist), 

Sarah Namulondo (dancer) 

Sarah Ndagire (singer/dancer) 

Sandra Namiti (dancer) 

Remi Wasajja (dancer) 

Eva Nalumansi (dancer)

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