Monday, February 25, 2008

30,000 bid adieu to UB40

KAMPALA - How do you end 30 years of great reggae music? With a bang, and that is what the English band UB40 did at Lugogo sports ground, Kampala, on Saturday night.

As the curtain finally came down on the group three decades after eight childhood friends decided to try their hand at playing music, tens of thousands of Ugandans turned up to celebrate a magical musical odyssey. “We estimate the crowd to have been over 30,000 since all our tickets sold out,” said Philip Besiimire, the manager consumer marketing of MTN, which sponsored the event. According to Besiimire, there were 25,000 tickets for silver class, 4,000 for gold and 300 platinum but he reckons some people also got in with forged tickets.

The high turnout seemed to have taken the organisers by surprise, with long lines queuing for hours, fans nearly crushed against the fences trying to get in, and helpless policemen looking in vain for the keys to open more gates. “It was a beautiful concert with a few hitches, especially in regarding crowd control. It was overwhelming,” said Besiimire.

The Lugogo cricket field, the gallery and the Oasis restaurant – which had been turned into a VIP lounge – were all full as the audience indulged into a two-hour show rarely seen in Uganda. “I’ve been around and seen quite a few things but I think this is one of the best shows ever put up in this country or region,” said Tshaka Mayanja, one of the organisers and a reggae musician in his own right. The only hiccup was when the stage lights failed for about five minutes. But the band could not be bothered and continued playing in the dark. UB40 did a repertoire of their songs from "Sing Our Own Song" to "Cherry Oh Baby" to "Can’t Stop Falling in Love". "Red Red Wine", as expected, got the biggest reaction, while some people complained that the band’s 2007 hit, Reasons, a Kampala favourite, was not played.

Among the VIPs who swung to the reggae tunes were co-ordinator of the intelligence services Gen. David Tinyefuza, deputy chief of defence forces Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, investment minister Semakula Kiwanuka and former health minister Jim Muhwezi. Others wining and dining in the VIP tent were Kampala mayor Nasser Sebaggala, Toro queen mother Best Kemigisha, clad in a black mini-dress, and the queen of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda.

UB40 brought back memories of 10 years ago, when another great reggae group had their final show in Kampala. The Third World Band played at the Nile Gardens on New Year’s Day 1997, their last show as a band after 20 years of great success. It is difficult to imagine UB40 without Ali Campbell, their lead vocalist, who announced on January 24 that he would be pursuing a solo career after Saturday’s show. But he later said he was also leaving due to “management difficulties”. He did not mention his departure to the public at Lugogo. The remaining seven members of the group will continue to perform. No decision on who will replace Campbell has been made. Nevertheless, UB40 will still release their next studio album, titled 24/7 next month.

UB40 is one of the most successful reggae acts of all time in terms of record sales (over 70 million), chart positions and touring schedule. During their three-decade career, they have been performing sell-out shows worldwide and headlining the Reggae Sunsplash music festival in Jamaica, as well as spreading reggae to Russia and South America. The group’s early music often tackled social issues such as racism and unemployment. The band was named after Unemployment Benefit Form 40, a form issued by the UK government at the time of the band’s formation in 1978 for claiming unemployment benefits. The band is made up of musicians of English, Scottish, Irish, Yemeni and Jamaican parentage.

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