South African Queens

Today I am thinking about female African pop stars, the ones who inspired and interested me when I was younger. Intrepid women who kicked down doors and destroyed barriers with the power of their vocals.

I am thinking in particular of three South African women who made a special place for themselves in the music industry and in my heart.

“Princess of Africa”

Ask anyone who lived in Africa during the eighties and they will be happy to sing some kind of localized version of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s song Umqombothi. It is a song about home brewed beermade from sorghum or mealie-meal. It is first and foremost a party song, and I have fond memories of watching the adults get drunk and dance to it at parties when I was a child. It is also about the women who made umqombothi, and ran shebeens (speakeasies) in order to entertain the working men and feed their children in the poverty stricken townships. During Apartheid especially, shebeens were a cultural centre, an oasis of peace hidden from the burning South African sun of oppression.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka grew up under that sun; in fact she was the first black child to ever appear on South African television. When asked who she admired most, Chaka Chaka said

“My mother because she has always been there for me. My mother raised three daughters single-handedly on a domestic workers salary. That took great courage and strength. She is my mentor and hero. When I was born in 1965 in Soweto, it was during apartheid, and those were extremely difficult times. My dad was a great musician who could never realize his dream. He died when I was 11 years old. I inherited my talent from both parents, so music has always been in my blood .When I was little I would strum an empty tin and blow into a broom stick pretending it was a microphone. I sang in church choirs. I loved singing. I am blessed that I achieved my destiny, and been able to accomplish what my father could not.”

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Bafumbira in the Diaspora

I would like to start this article on bafumbira in the Diaspora by declaring myself ineligible to write it on two accounts. Firstly, having recently returned to Uganda, I am no longer a Mufumbira in the Diaspora, though I will share my experiences of living first in Zambia and the U.S. over the past two decades.

My second and most important point is that I do not think I am necessarily more qualified to be writing about life in the Diaspora than anyone who may be reading this article. In this globalised world (I am getting very tired of reading this expression in print, but it is also very difficult to write anything these days without using it) we all experience a physical or mental disconnection from our traditional home. The forces of modernity; colonialism and capitalism have changed the landscape of our daily lives into something that our ancestors would find difficult to recognize. Even for those of us who still live under the same breathtaking horizon of Kisoro’s hills that our great-great grandparents looked up to, life continues to change at an immeasurable rate.

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Kampala is for hustlers: Boda Negotiation 101

1. Don’t be white

2. Rather than flagging a boda rider from the road, go to a stage where you have several options. Pick the guy who looks hungriest. (NB Don’t confuse high-as-a-kite  for the lethargy associated with stage one starvation)

3. Speak in Luganda

3 a) If you can’t speak Luganda, Speak Ugandan English, and punctuate your sentences with as many Neddas, Ssebos, and Kales as possible

3 b) Don’t have a Mzungu* accent

4. State your destination, avoid naming obviously “high-class” places, if you’re going to Serena hotel, say Crested Towers (opposite) instead.

5. When he names his price, be aware of the anchoring effect, most experienced salespeople name an absurdly high price because once you begin negotiating, anything below that seems like a reasonable bargain. (Be wary of the rider who has no idea where you are going or how to get there and is simply pulling prices out of his butt-crack.)

6. It is said that you should never pay more than 3, 000 UGsh for a boda within central Kampala. You will learn more about this in advanced Boda negotiation classes (this is in the same course unit as “how to balance telephone poles on the back of a boda”, and “Boda biology: How clean is that helmet?”).

If the rider refuses to come down to a reasonable price (perhaps because of your peach-pale skin/Kiwi accent/ destination: Kabira Country Club), simply find another. Out of 40 000 boda bodas in Kampala, surely you can find a hungrier more willing one.

For more advice on picking and choosing the right Boda, see Matooke Nation’s post on “That Boda”

*Person of European descent, one who travels or wanders without particular destination in mind.

Got any interesting stories about boda-boda? Email them to

the view from the afternoon

In the town where I grew up there was a wide lovely road called Kabelenga.

On one stretch of the road, at a particular time of year (Jacaranda season), the trees around would burst into a royal canopy of purple flowers.

These elegant and ostentatious flowers are originally from South America, and are actually considered an invasive species in some countries because they can prevent the growth of native plants.

They can be found all over the world, but I will always be reminded of that one road in the town I grew up in…