What is popping?
What is popping?
On the rooftop of Goethe-Zentrum Kampala along Bukoto Street, I spotted one of my favourite Ugandan artists, he was with a group. I patiently waited for him to finish his business and like a groupie, I flocked to his side and introduced myself.
"My man, thank you so much, that nakasero song just hit all the right notes for me. Your music is legendary."
"Thanks, but my music isn't played on the radio."
"Gweeee btw why is that so, and man, what is your genre of music?"
"I do afro-music, you know with indigenous instruments, mostly one from West Africa".
"Do for us a pop song- afropop, and give us room to dance or at least to squeeze our relationship wounds."
"Hmmm, I really don't know why we are even having this conversation, you don't understand."
This conversation became like a pebble in a shoe on my mind for a while, creating these thoughts opening my eyes to try to understand what is trending music. Actually, what is a trend in this society of Uganda. It wasn't long before I was asked to write about pop-culture in the Kampala landscape. Below are thoughts collected from conversations I had when I went around asking about pop culture.
To know pop culture- Popular Culture, is to see the music of the place. The radio stations are like a marketplace, they promote music that serenades and moves the people. And people consume what is trending; whether that is gathered from all the platforms that supply music and create lists like top 10 or from clubs where music raves through the night. To put it in a better way, music that is palatable to the people. I understood what this musician I adore meant. But I wonder if he knows what radio stations are about?
In Uganda, Kadongokamu used to be the music which set the trend, but that was in the days of Paul Job Kafeero and his friends. Every corner of this nation, young and older sang his songs, they danced to them, and like days turning into night, Kidandali music came along on the tail-coats of band music. In my experience, we as a nation enjoy misery in our songs, that is if they are not going to make us dance. A good cry while listening to a song, creates an attachment with a song. And also those kinds of feelings make alcohol go down better.
Fast forward to today's world, with a shift in culture, there was a change in music production and its consumption. Uganda as a nation works hard during the day, and parties hard during the night. Therefore, an artist's music has to align to that if it's going to be perceived as part of Uganda's pop culture.
The popular shall inherit the culture
The introduction, popularity and advance of social media and the internet has essentially given people an opportunity to tell their stories in a non-hierarchical way without waiting for journalists to make them headlines and set the trends. An individual's insistence on the internet can launch them into popular culture. The digitization of trend setting has helped in slamming wide open the gates to popular culture, gates which in past times, high culture kept shut from a part of society that was not part of the rich and in essence famous club.
A digital discourse can also draw attention to a particular instance in a piece of art that then makes it popular. For instance, just before the Azawi concert, I spotted a meme on Snap Chat. Like all memes that are about body image, I cringe when I see them. The meme was telling women to eat up and get a thick body; the ending of which meme makes a call to action regarding the video to Azawi's "Bamututte" song. I found many women sharing this video, and I became interested, what is the Bamututte video? It was on WhatsApp that I found out when a friend shared the link. Basically, a woman with a thick body was chosen over a thin bodied woman by a man. The music video is more dramatic than I have put it but the song plays into the stereotype that men want women with a thick body. You find that most popular songs in Uganda with massive airplay play into the stereotypes of the day.
In Kafeero's instance for example, he instigated further discussion on alcohol depots and their impact in society in his song Dipo Nazigala. Popular Culture drives conversation, and also makes money for those who are the helm of it.
I do love this guy's music and as we have the conversation at the Goethe-Zentrum rooftop, I realise it is true, I have never heard his music on a radio station. I discovered his music when one time I had attended the Bayimba Festival at the National Theatre. His music is different; it tackles everyday issues with an accompaniment of traditional sound. It's music that gets you to think. It's not typical for dancing.
Given all the technology that is available, why does this artist friend need to have his songs played on the radio, you might ask. Radio is one tool that still collects people in droves to pass on a message. It's a channel that drives sales and it has been one of the tools that the 'culture' industry uses to cause an effect on the culture of the society.
Consequently, because his music is not played on the radio, the attention he craves from his countrymen is not given to him. He plays for the foreigners mostly, and the few Ugandan locals whose taste in music drives them out of the confines of pop culture music to look for music that will redefine them as sophisticated. So, when this artist friend wonders why I'm chatting him up about doing a pop song showing I don't understand his music, I realise he is right. I too am trying to understand what a pop song is, what popular culture is and what music do I, as a consumer of music, consider part of pop culture.
To write this, I asked many of my friends what they think of pop culture and its effects on our outlook on life. They, like me, had no answers. This is a Journey in which we will be taking, to view art, music, creativity and technology through the eyes of pop culture and how that impacts society.
With one friend saying, pop culture is the popular music of the time. Which I indeed agreed with.
While the other hinted on fashion, mostly on the women hairstyle. And to observe this, she told me to spend a day downtown at the Gazaland arcade.
The question still remains, what is Pop Culture to you? And how does it influence the way you relate with not just the people, but with the environment around you.