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Bernard Kabanda

Bernard Kabanda image

A street performer since the age of 15, Bernard Kabanda was king of the "kadongo kamu" - a style which first flourished in Uganda during Idi Amin's rule in the Seventies. Kadongo kamu is an urban style that draws inspiration from country and western music. Its mix of topical comment laced with humour won it favour in Kampala's shanty towns and because it's a one-man-and-his-guitar style it allows performers to play everywhere, from street corners to clubs, with minimum hassle.

Bernard Kabanda's guitar was his trademark. Like many other kadongo players, he built his from scratch, using whatever materials were available: brake cable steel for strings, a body that seemed to be held together with beer stickers. He beat out rhythm parts on his guitar, and designed his own capo that allowed him to play bass, rhythm and lead parts simultaneously, which made him a genuine one-man band.

But if that's all there was to Bernard Kabanda, the novelty would have soon faded. It was his songs that led him to win kadongo contests in Kampala, and it was their obvious quality that attracted Swedish producer Sten Sandahl to his music in 1996. Kabanda sung genuine folk songs about ordinary lives; he sung where ordinary people meet, in bars or at markets. You don't need to know the Iugandan language (the idiosyncratic Kampalan dialect) to understand the emotions invested in each song.

Sandahl brought Kabanda to Europe and he played at WOMAD in 1997 with Albert Ssempeke and his Master Musicians of Uganda. He returned again in 1999 with his percussionist and performed songs from his first album, ?Olugendo?, released on WOMAD Select in April.

Bernard died in 1999 aged 40 years old.