Record industry of Uganda: 1962 to 1982 By Michiel Van Oosterhout

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In the Industrial Area of Kampala there used to be a German led record printing press called OPEL Gramophone Record and Battery Factory. Its two hundred workers manufactured fifty thousand 78 RPM records each month from 1956 until its peak of production around 1959. It also had a recording studio called Opel Tom Tom where Kadongo Kamu greats like Elly Wamala recorded their first 78 records.

After four years of manufacturing records a countrywide general strike against businesses led by Europeans and Ugandan Asians forced the factory to close its doors. The demise of the factory was a blow to Ugandan musicians. It forced them to go all the way to Nairobi, Kenya to have their 78’s and later their 45 and 33 RPM records made. After only four years, producing an estimated 2.4 million 78 RPM records, OPEL Gramophone Record and Battery Factory closed its doors in 1960.

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Since then only a few other, much smaller, record planting presses were ever established. The singer and bandleader/entrepreneur Fred Kanyike, who toured the US and Japan throughout 1975 to 1977 with his legendary Rwenzori Band International, brought a record printing press into Uganda.
According to Ali Fadhul, a minister and protégé of then president Idi Amin, the equipment was brought into the country but never used, and then it disappeared. Very soon Kanyike himself also fled the country and only came back after Amin was ousted.

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Although Ugandan musicians had to go to Kenya to manufacture their records, at least around 36 Ugandan record labels were established between 1962 and 1982. Most of their releases were manufactured in Kenya and in a few cases in Greece. The most successful Ugandan labels were Serenade, URA and Kagaabe. Each of these brought out at least a hundred 45’s between 1969 and 1976. The remaining labels were less prolific, although record labels like Mukwano, Re Craft, Satana, GLK and Busula each issued at least more than twenty 45’s.

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The story of Ugandan record labels really starts (after the demise of the 78’s Opel Tom Tom label) with the government owned ‘UG’ label in 1962, which released some songs relating to the independence of Uganda. From 1962 to 1968 most 45’s of Ugandan artists however were released on Kenyan labels like CMA, Mambo and CMS. In Kenya many hundreds of labels existed (check out the well documented and archived http://www.kentanzavinyl.com/Kentanzavinyl/HOME_PAGE.html for more details on Kenyan record labels).

Two years after independence the business savvy Dutchman Paul Kerssemakers, who had been living in Uganda since 1951 saw an opportunity and in 1964 bought more than a hundred Serenade jukeboxes which were manufactured in Germany. He had several Daf Trucks with Serenade written on the side moving all over Uganda to bring and repair jukeboxes.

In 1968 Kerssemakers also started recording Ugandan artists. He set up a recording studio in which he worked together with one of the first Ugandan music producers, the renowned Edmund Batte. A band of skilled musicians was put together calling themselves ‘Serenade Top Ten Band’ who would back up a great number of well-known and lesser known solo singers. In 1968 the first result of these recordings came out on the Philips label, a year later changing its name to Serenade, taken from the name of the jukeboxes.

Eddy Muwanga, a jukebox technician in the 1960’s, known as ‘the jukebox professor’, remembers that the business was booming until too many companies started doing the same thing. According to him, besides having jukeboxes and recording their artists, Serenade also manufactured their records themselves at the Industrial Area of Kampala.

The Serenade label was mainly meant for band orientated music. To also cater for lovers of Kadongo Kamu and traditional music styles a separate label was set up the same year, 1968, named Uganda Record Agency, better known as URA. Although owned by Kerssemakers, both labels were run by a Ugandan called Simon Beine.

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Beine was the one who in later years took over the business from Kerssemakers and opened the Serenade Record shop on Kampala road at the start of the 1970’s. But there were also other record shops like African Gramophone Store that was based around the Old Taxi Park, and another one in the shop gallery of the Grand Imperial Hotel.

In total not more than one thousand Ugandan 45’s, were released between 1962 and 1982, and by far most were produced between 1969 and 1975. When it comes to long players (LP’s), the number might not surpass fifty.

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