By Kella McKenzie (@KellaMcKenzie)
The year was 2005 when I set my eyes on one of the most creative Videos Uganda has ever released under the Hip-hop Canvas project, besides being impressed by Lady Slyke, Easy Teks and Lethal… my attention was quickly directed to GNL Zamba. A young Earnest Nsimbi that rapped very fast in Luganda. He creatively ate his words as he rapped. Mama Africa is still by far one of my favorite Videos and thanks to Channel 5 (EATV) for giving us a platform because it changed lives. My dream was to meet these guys and just be in position to help.
Fast forward to 2007, I got a chance to be a part of a VJ Search hosted by MTV BASE, they needed just one TV Presenter and we were about 2000 contestants, I knew I stood no chance considering I was still infant in my career, Carol Mugasha ended up winning but the person who “stole the show” was GNL Zamba. He got up on stage during one of the breaks and he had a rap battle with MTV VJ Sizwe, I sat back in the crowd and looked at this guy rapping in Luganda, I’m not a good Luganda speaker but he made it easy for me to enjoy listening to him. He was very comical and I knew there and then he was going to blow up soon. He seemed different, unlike many other luganda speaking rappers, his English was very good, he had poetry in his rhymes and most importantly, he didn’t look like his style of rapping. He was a brand. (I got my Job at HOT100 a week after that day.)
Fast forward to 2008, my boss then Mr Colin Mutambo gave me liberty to create my own Radio Show that would express my passion for Hip-Hop. I came up with Super Saturday, every Saturday morning 7am-11am. My role was to give a Hip-Hop fan the best of a Saturday Morning but keep as professional while doing it. So I used to host an artist every last hour of the show. My first guests where Hannz Tactic, Crack and Lethal and they premiered a track called “SO SERIOUS”.
The show’s ratings instantly shot up and I started getting calls from different artists but at the back of my mind, i wanted to host the “Luganda guy”, so I got Emron who was the then GNL’s manager. I requested him for an interview with his artist and on a very sunny Saturday morning, GNL was at the studio before anyone else, wearing his trademark cornrows, buggy jeans and a BIG Nokia phone, he was very articulate through the interview and we premiered “Soda Jinjale”. It’s still my most important Interview to date because it changed the game. I got a call 1hour after the interview from Shadrack and he said he wanted to work with me as the A&R of Platinum Entertainment (9HipHop Canvas), he also gave me my fist big interview with Tanzanian Rap Legend A.Y. That same afternoon, Lyrikal Proof came to studio and played for me his mixtape, I instantly directed him to GNL and the week after that, we had GAME OVER produced at Baava Records.
So now, a young Mckenzie is part of GNL’s management. The first thing we did was to get another artist to back up GNL for mostly his performances and all our minds directed us to MUN*G. Zamba insisted that Mun*G was the only person who could get close to him on stage. It was a perfect match. GNL continuously became big, every artist wanted to work with him. I, for the first time saw the rise of a music legend.As of 2009, there was not more than 2 or 3 artists in the entire country that were bigger than GNL Zamba, his current hit at the time was KOI KOI which was a cult hit at performances as he sat down by the stage and literally sang along with the crowd. He was now a musician of Greatness with No Limit. However, with all this going on, GNL had no song but MR. RIGHT that would play in a club or on mainstream Radio. Hot100 then used to play a lot of Ugandan Hip-Hop and it was a bigger station then, so he had a platform to have his Hip-Hop songs played like many other artists, but he needed mainstream radio to.
On the day we went to listen to the fresh sound of “AniYaliAmanyi” that samples the legendary Elly Wamala, Producer Benon Mugumya, Managers Shadrack & Emron , Vampos, Micheal Ross and others were all in that studio (the first Swangz Avenue). Benon then suggested a dance-hall Hip-Hop Fusion for the album to be complete. A few ideas were thrown on the table and Kikankane was the Product.
Fast Forward to 2009, Kikankane was probably the biggest song that year besides RADIO AND WEASEL’s dominance on the charts. Kikankane was so big that every song GNL released after that seemed like he was supposed to do better than Kikankane. Actually, the first songs released after Kikankane were “Message” “WubaAkamabala” of which many critics thought was below the art that he had shown in his first album. GNL became more mainstream than the guy I watched in 2007 on stage rap battling. He had now crossed over to the world he was not really sure of, the world of Hit after Hit. There was certainly something missing. All we GNL fans wanted to hear was a ghetto story teller, the best Luganda speaking Rapper. The pressure was mounting on Earnest Nsimbi, GNL was not doing what he was known best for. The crowds changed and the industry changed too, the evolution of GNL couldn’t fit in the current system. For some of us that believe in GNL kept pushing and some great efforts came out like “EnsiBwekukuba blow” and a few other really good songs but they were all over shadowed by the curse of Kikankane. I call it a curse because however much it helped cross the bridge, Hip-Hop was not ready for that and most definitely GNL wasn’t. He was a ghetto story teller, he thrived on telling stories like “Story Ya Luka”, but wubaakatambala wasn’t cutting it for him even though the mainstream fans waved those handkerchiefs.
Kikankane opened doors for rappers like Mun*G, who had a witty side to their art. When Mun*G released his first major Hit *Ebintu*, Byg Kahuna told him to keep the style and watch the money pile up and it’s evident today, Kikankane in my view made way for MUN*G and closed many doors for GNL.
GNL ZAMBA changed the Hip-Hop Industry in Uganda, he single handedly gave excitement to the genre. Hip-Hop had its best years 2008-2010, appearing on Major Magazine Covers, lifestyle TV shows covered the events, he inspired thousands of Kids who thought rapping in Luganda was all about the negative side of society, for once, one could have fun listening to Luganda rap. GNL In 2009 January on “The HOT BREAKFAST” named himself THE KING OF LUGALOW in August 2009 , GNL had the second but most successful Hip-Hop Concert at the Famous Kyadondo Grounds, the first being Navio.
I believe wherever GNL is today, he will re-invent himself and give us the true Legend of Zamba. On behalf of all the fans, we salute you and pray one day you understand our pain and patience. You are celebrated.