Between 2003 and 2011, the Ugandan music industry saw an emergence of several girl groups – some extremely popular, some not so much.
Dream Girls, Blu 3, Obsessions, Chilli Girls, Cyclones, Viva Stars, Wafagio as well as Kyrstal Babes all came through during that period.
One of those groups, Obsessions to be exact, brought us Sheba. Yes, Samali Sheebah Karungi! Obsessions started as a dance group, with male dancers too, but later grew into a singing group of girls that initially had Brenda Nambi, Cleopatra Koheirwe, Hellen Lukoma, Jackie Tusiime, and Sharon Nalukenge with Jangu being their biggest song.
In 2007, Koheirwe left Obsessions and was shortly followed by Nambi and Lukoma who formed another group HB Toxic. The exit of the trio gave room for Daisy Muber, Fatuma Gulam and Sheba to join the group, but would also eventually leave.
“In girl groups, you do not grow as an individual. When I joined Obsessions, I was 17. There is a lot of drama in the group and unnecessary competition among girls. I had to find a way out and grow as a musician. Now, I feel I have my journey in my hands,” Sheebah told The New Vision of her decision to leave Obsessions.
In pursuit of her place in the industry as a solo artiste at the start of the past decade, Sheebah released songs such as Nsindika Njake, Nsazewo, Automatic ft. Sizza Man, Baliwa ft. Coco Finger, Nkwetaga ft. Weasel as well as her biggest at the time Nsaali and Kambalage.
However, it was not until 2014 that Sheebah found the real breakthrough with her first Extended Play (EP) dubbed Ice Cream, whose lead single Ice Cream was released late 2013. The other songs on the EP were Twesana, Jordan, Mundongo ft. Pallaso, and Love Hater all of which but Love Hater were popular and received good air play around the country.
The Swag Mama has not looked back since and now found her place as one of the most respected, hardworking and multi award-winning female artistes in the country over the past six or so years.
Sheebah has since put together four more projects with the latest being an 18-track album dubbed SAMALI that she released on August 17. “My 5th Album might turn out to be my favourite album so far,” she said before releasing the Album.
The Album was compiled with a couple of songs from 2019 and a rendition of Ragga Dee’s 2003 hit Empeta.
We have listened to the Album since its release more than two months ago and we take a look at each of the 18 tracks from the production, lyrics and delivery by the Karma Queen.
In the recent past, Ugandan female artistes have tried to make a timeless song to add to their repertoire. Juliana Kanyomozi tops that list with Twalina Omukwano, Rema recorded Lowooza Kunze, and Irene Ntale came through with Sembera six years ago and Sukaali off her latest EP.
Sheebah jumped on the boat with Oli Eyo but didn’t quite pull it off. Sheebah was the aggressive self on the song and could have been a little softer but the decision by the producer to have the acoustic guitar as the lead instrument was just not right. The acoustic is the obvious rhythmic instrument but leading with the solo and dominating with the drums and the bass for the “classic” could have probably led to a much better final product. Nessim, how about a refix?
One of the biggest songs last year was Bebe Cool’s Wire Wire and when you listen to Love ya Kitundu, you can’t miss that vibe. And yes, both were made by the same producer – Ronnie.
The Afro-Dancehall beat with a fusion of Zouk is within Sheebah’s comfort zone and she did just fine in baring what it feels like when receiving just half of expected love. The sentimentality that pulses through the song feels a little authentic and personal than fictional.
On this song produced by Daddy Andre and released at start of the year, Sheebah dives into fantasy about the future with an ideal man for every woman.
When you listen to Empiki, the bleeding obvious is that the solo was lifted from Oliver Mtukudzi’s Todii. And on the second listen, you can’t miss the rhythm of Daddy Andre, John Blaq and Prince Omar collaboration Kyoyoya.
How do you then review Empiki on its own merit?
Many young people regard Fik Fameika as a rapper, but the brutal truth is the Fresh Boy is just vibes and this collaboration with Sheebah affirms.
When Diggy Baur was putting his hand up as a rising producer six or so years ago, some of his standout work was on Ziza Bafana and King Saha 2014 collaboration Bantu Baffe. It’s a common place for local producers to recycle beats and Baur did just that to make Ninda for the TNS queen.
Sheebah is comfortable with rhythmic Afro-dancehall beats and so she was on Ninda wondering where her loved one had been hiding yet she had overflowing love.
It’s a song her fans would easily choose as their favourite on the album.
If there’s a song that should not have gone out of the recording studio, let alone making it part of the album compilation, it’s Tobilaalasa. The song was poorly produced, and the lyrics? Well, never mind.
Released around September-October last year, Enyanda was what Sheebah needed to bounce back from the backlash received for Kimansulo at the peak of her “beef” with Cindy. The rhythmic Afro-dancehall tune with a little touch of Zouk produced by Ronnie & Alexander Muge is one of the best songs on the album.
Ugandan music has had different influences over the years. During the late 1990s and early 2000s the industry had a lot of Congolese influence, then in-came the Jamaicans with Dancehall and Soca vibes and Nigerians more recently with their kind of Afrobeat. Nessim Pan Production chose a Soca vibe for Nkumisinga, probably one of best songs on album. How Sheebah is controlled on verses, hook and the chorus makes the song stand out.
A number of songs were released during the lockdown, but most were about the coronavirus pandemic. While Mun G’s Bintwala was the lockdown anthem, Nakyuka was not far behind.
Ever wondered how a boasty Sheebah would sound like on a song? Well, Nabaleka gives a little insight into it and I must add… It is not so good.
Was she fighting to catch some breath on the chorus?
Ragga Dee is one of the legends of the music industry in Uganda and one of his biggest songs is Empeta that was released in 2003. Sheebah collaborated with King Saha to give the song a 2020 feel, and the interpolation is actually not so bad. Or is it?
The rhythmic flow of Nalwawo falls right into the Sheebah zone thanks to the reliable hands of Nessim.
Chance Nalubega is one the legendary voices in our industry and on this contemporary Zouk tune produced by Artin, she turned back the clock to the early 2000s. Much as Nalubega’s musical similes and metaphors on her verse are a little stomach-churning, Kale Mama can pass as the best song on the album.
Sheebah is controlled on the chorus and pretty much faultless on the delivery of her verse. Well done!
One of the biggest songs Rema Namakula has made during her career is Fire Tonight. It’s difficult to miss the fact that Eno Beats probably revisited Washington’s work in making Kambyogere. On the song, Sheebah appears to pitch up a hidden relationship.
I cannot deny, not deny, not deny… for what I feel inside. I got no complaint, complaint, complaint… about Kwolwo. Scratch that! Of course I do. Have you listened to Gravity Omutujju’s Embuzi Zakutudde, Spice Diana’s Bajikona or Jose Chameleone’s Tatizo?
Well… Ian Pro drew some inspiration from Eno Beats, the producer of those three songs, in making Kwolwo but like Ninda, it’s a rhythmic Afro-dancehall beat and the Swag Mama delivered for the Sheebaholics.
Is Sheebah a versatile artiste? Well, that’s a question whose answer is not a straight forward yes or no. It depends on how one interprets versatility – it could be voice or genre related.
If you wish to take the genre route to prove her versatility, then Exercise is one of those songs on her repertoire that you can pick out to drive your point. While she’s still the aggressive self on her verses, the song produced by Daddy Andre and whose first release was in 2018 passes as a good R&B hit, by her standards.
Nakubuuka makes it easy to recognize Congolese music still has influence on the Ugandan industry. The song carves out its own distinctive identity but it is almost like a tribute to the music many in their 30s grew up on.
On the song, Sheebah takes time to celebrate moving on from a past relationship with emphasis on not going back.
(Story compiled with major help of Franklin Kaweru, a music fan and critic with firsthand experience in music production)