OpEd

Mowzey Radio: The creative General I knew, loved and admired

The writer Joseph Ssemutooke (left) and a young Mowzey Radio. Courtesy photo.

By Joseph Ssemutooke

If it wasn’t late September, then it must have been early October, of the year 2003. Just weeks before he sat his UACE exams. On a most cheerful evening, in the mahusive mainhall of Kiira College Butiki, high in the Lake-Victoria-overhanging hills of Jinja, Moses Ssekibogo pulled off a feat that was perhaps God’s cryptic message to everyone present that Radio, as he later came to be known, was headed for big things as a crooner.

He wasn’t a contestant in the Mr. Butiki race that evening, which was somewhat exclusive to the school’s most gifted (break-) dancers like my longtime friend San Dhiz. But some how, that evening, Ssekibogo found his way to the stage and registered among the two or three performers who sang live with their raw voices as opposed to dancing, miming or doing drama skits. And what a performance Ssekibogo put up!

Unaccompanied by any instrument (where should it have come from in that setting?), Ssekibogo did such an astounding cover of R.Kelly’s I Believe I can Fly –so astounding that many of us were left wondering where Ssekibogo had hidden that angelic crooner in him all the while he had been on the hill for his A level.

Stories later emerged of how he had been a music prodigy all his school years before Butiki, right from kindergarten, but had chosen to concentrate on academics at Butiki because he badly wanted to become a lawyer. And he might as well have become one because he was such a gifted scholar who always emerged among the best five students in the Arts class of his year, which feat in Kiira College Butiki simply meant you were one of the best in the entire country. I remember at the end of his two years, he took home the school accolades for best student in both his Literature and Divinity classes.

Yet even as he was reading hard and dreaming of becoming a lawyer, the artiste in him pushed through such powerful beams a fortune reader might have realized art was his destiny. He wasn’t offering Fine Art, but he was so incredible a drawer that people often paid him to draw for them portraits in his free time. Those of us who resided in the same house/dormitory as him (the den of the gifted that is Henry Muloki House) always marveled at the Bob Marley rendering that overhung his bed in his cubicle. Then there was Ssekibogo the creative writer, who since his first term in Butiki had been writing a most delectable column in the school weekly, The Kiira Mirror.

When I assumed the office of The Mirror’s chief-editor, while Ssekibogo entered his final two terms, I had to plead with him to continue writing his column till his last weeks in school, which he did till he began his UACE finals.
And then Ssekibogo the public speaker and captivating orator. His post as a prefect was one of the low-ranking ones, just Deputy Head-of-House of Henry Muloki house, but such was the speaker in him that the entire prefects’ council appointed him their general secretary.

In that capacity, I might say I only saw one speaker better than him in my two years at Butiki (one Sajjabbi Geoffrey, who was Deputy Head Prefect). I guess none who was in my year has forgotten Ssekibogo’s address to us during our S.5 Orientation workshop with the prefects’ council, when he assured us that we had come from Lake Views and Summit Views and SSSs and High Schools, but now we had come to a college and we had to know we had to adjust our entire world view, knowing that now we had attained class and reflecting that class in everything.

When he astutely wrote the play that Henry Muloki house performed in the 2003 inter-house competitions, it was evident that art knew that he belonged to her, and never once softened her grip on him. After he left Butiki, the next I heard of Radio was him participating in the Coca Cola Real Stars, and though he came in at a distant Number 5 in the competition, time has proven he was indeed the biggest talent in the competition that year (surely, even in the deceased competition’s entire history).

Then in my S.6 vacation in 2005, I heard ‘Jeniffer’ somewhere, and soon discovered it was Ssekibogo himself, who now went by the moniker Radio! I then saw him backing up Chameleone, and soon ‘Sweet Lady’ was on the airwaves.
In my Second Year in 2007, I began writing for New Vision, primarily the entertainment beat and I began to see Radio performing live –those Thursday performances at Blue Africa at the Crested Towers, those Monday Jam Sessions at the National Theatre, Resort Beach, Club Silk…

We all know the joy, pride and admiration that comes with seeing an OB soar, more so an OB with whom one has rapport. Add the fact that Radio was always true to people from way back in his life. Yes, he was as unpredictable and chameleonic as his musical godfather Jose Chameleone, often turning against you in the middle of what seemed a peaceful, nice moment. But especially in those early years before his life got so crowded, Radio would always warmly welcome you and show you brotherly love. Even when his hits started falling in bunches; from Nakudata, Ngamba, Lwaki Onumya, Nyambura and Bread and Butter, among others,in the first years of the duo Radio and Weasel, Radio showed brothers love between his moments of having his fuse off. Many of us from different walks of life (media people, fellow musicians, fans) had our moments at Neverland in Makindye, and to date I don’t know of a musician’s home that ever entertained more visitors than Neverland!

Like that, Radio and weasel soared and soared, and I was privileged to watch the unraveling of the game somewhere on the touchline rather than in the stands. But then the vicissitudes of life dictated a change of paths. I ceased being a permanent fixture on the Ugandan showbiz about 2013, when I left New Vision and also began to fall out of my old nightlife corridors and no longer got to regularly meet my famous and incredibly successful OB.

But the joy that always came with seeing an OB, a small-time personal friend, a favourite crooner, a fellow creative, soaring every other day! The inspiration it gives! The confidence is inspires! The hope it breeds! The lessons it provides! How somehow you vicariously share in the success! Whenever I came across him, I came and said hello and expressed my respect, even as he had previously almost punched me in a nightclub when he saw me on a day when a Vision Group paper published a story exposing some personal mess and he was convinced it’s me who knew that much because I had once been a bit close.

Still I say, how much Radio loved and respected art and artists! How he always spoke for art as a whole, incorporating not just musicians but writers and dramatists and comedians and film-makers in his words for art! I remember one time after a press conference, after he had spoken in such broad terms about art, I asked him if he really saw a future for creative writing in Uganda. Those are the days when I most eagerly wanted to become a published writer and spent a lot of my time fashioning poetry and fiction. Radio looked at me and asked if I didn’t know that I was one of those supposed to produce Ugandan writing.

“You are from Butiki, which is a factory of people who use words to produce magic, and you are a journalist, who else do you want to do it? It’s our time as young people to do great things for this country. You can’t aim to always just work for someone’s media house, find some time, go and create art. That’s where the good life is for an artist, in creating your own art and finding success with it.” That time I also asked him if he planned to write himself, to make use of his exceptional writing gift beyond the borders of music, and he said he had chosen music. “Maybe when I am an old man and I have to tell my accumulated stories,” was his response.

Another time I remember Radio talking with his then managers Jeff and Allan Kiwa somewhere in Club Silk, and he was assuring some other guys (I think they were managers from one of the beer companies) that Allan and Jeff were the biggest artists at Neverland. He was telling the group that while him and Weasel and Washington created the music, Jeff and Kiwa created and creatively ran the entire Goodlyfe music business. Another time, Radio was bragging that he had money somewhere in Rouge, shouting that he had it only because he knew the creativity that it takes to succeed in any business, be it singing or trading. For me that was a peek into the man’s view of art as something a person needs in everything, be it trading –guess he even saw life itself as art!

All in all, here I am writing this to celebrate the life of the artist that was Radio. Surely, I’m grateful to God and cheerful that somehow I had a touchline view of some periods of the epic Radio Mowzey match/game. I’m glad to have been inspired by the works of Radio. So much inspiration. So many lessons. He always advised people to copy from him only that which was good and leave with him the bad.

Methinks, artists of all sorts ought to celebrate Radio the most, because he loved and respected them more than anything else. I also have this feeling that creatives/artists best understand his music –that it’s them who scale to the farthest depths of what his once-in-a-generation mind conjured into existence.

Let me not forget to say that I’m glad he had began to struggle for a connection with his God, whom in one of his last songs he specifically names as Yahweh. We never know how much God draws someone who acknowledges their need for Him and begins to run towards Him, and adding to that the fact that Radio had sufficient Biblical knowledge to work with (the best Divinity student in his year at Butiki!), I’m hopeful he is in the loving arms of the Father, right in the throng of the saints of all ages with Jesus Christ. I can only hope he really is.

I’ll finally state that as a person who enters any music piece primarily for the words, and thereafter only concerned with how well one uses their voice to conjure the mood of the words (not so much interested in the mere beauty of the voice), Radio ranks in my bracket of the specialist Ugandan musicians ever –along with Philly Lutaaya, Paul Kafeero, Elly Wamala, Jose Chameleone, Judith Babirye and Bobi Wine.
God bless your soul, Soldier! Atambule naawe paka paka!

The writer is a journalist and Mowzey Radio’s Old Boy from Kira College Butiki

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