This text provides an overview of gospel music in Uganda.

Ugandan gospel artist Judith Babirye. Photo:
Ugandan gospel artist Judith Babirye. Photo:

Like every other country in the world, gospel music in Uganda has long given a voice to people living in troubled times. During the civil wars that plagued Uganda since the 1980s, there was a rise in people flocking to church and gospel music started being the music that was being played to calm people down. For a time, gospel music remained confined to churches on Sundays.

Rise to the mainstream

Over time, gospel music has evolved. After US gospel star Kirk Franklin’s 1997 song ‘Stomp’ was a hit in the streets and discos of the secular world, gospel artists have not been afraid to keep their music within the confines of a church. They also took a step and explored having their music out there. Today it is not unfamiliar to see people dance to a gospel song in a club.

In the past, it was very uncommon to hear gospel music played inside a ‘kamunye’(passenger taxi vans), except on Sunday when it was deemed acceptable. Now, drivers are not embarrassed to play their favourite gospel artists in their kamunyes, no matter the load of passengers or the day of the week. This is proof that gospel music in Uganda has grown in leaps and bounds. And it is not the typical kadongo kamu music long associated with Ugandan pop.

Ugandan gospel songs range from African rhythms, choirs and classical. It has over the years been modified as a result of the latest instruments. Now even a church choir will sing a song in the local language accompanied with modern instruments, as compared to the past when they would sing an acapela or to the beat of traditional instruments especially a drum. Even the tone was being done with the touch of a keyboard, as compared to a leader with the tune starting at the beginning to get her whole choir in check. One will always find themselves bobbing to a tune without even realizing that it is a gospel song because of the beats. Even non-Christians will listen in to a gospel song and sing along because it has a catchy tune, not necessarily because they agree with the message.