By Dennis Asiimwe
I have written about how Eddy Kenzo’s cover of this song got people to take a closer look at the original. When you do that, you come away with a sense of relief: the song is as good as it sounded about 30 years ago.
Philly sang the song with his heart on his sleeve. You know how foreigner’s wonder about why Ugandans seem to be always grinning and friendly? The Chinese in particular find this trait peculiar (I know this because I have a couple of Chinese clients who keep bringing this up: “Why are Ugandans so happy? Is the country rich?” It is a technically valid question: we are the happiest nation in East and Central Africa, according to the Global Happiness Index, which apparently exists. Ugandans are happy and friendly).
Philly must have been in a particularly good mood when he wrote and produced this song, because if there was ever was a feel-good song, this is it. He was proud of his roots, of his craft, and where it had gotten him.
He pours his soul into this song, and he lets you visualise cheerful children, gorgeously curvy women, our wonderful cuisine, our delightful weather, and the fact that for the most part, we take the concept of ‘It Takes a Village’ seriously.
Three decades later, Philly’s song still plays on car radios and in bars. There’s a comfort to it, a sense of optimism and resilience.
He used his wonderful musical gifts to capture the essence of being African, Ugandan, and put it in a bottle. Philly understood the importance of simplicity – in terms of song structure, Born in Africa is a simple song, immediately memorable.
The song’s bridge, however, beautifully captures the song’s capacity to spread its wings, from a technical perspective, and is a wonderful variation where the song peaks beautifully.
That is what differentiates Philly’s song from every other nonsensical cover out there.