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Music Review (Down Memory Lane): If Only – Hope Mukasa

by Editorial Team
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By Dennis Asiimwe

You probably don’t remember the song – we do. Hope Mukasa’s video for If Only simultaneously took the country by storm and scandalised it. No surprises there; this was 1988, and the nation hadn’t yet met Sheebah.

The nation’s sole TV broadcaster, UTV, somehow dug up the balls to air the video for If Only

The country gaped as a young man with what we used to call “wet look” as a hairstyle nuzzled a gorgeous white woman on national telly. As a by-the-way, he was also singing. We hadn’t yet met Peter Ssematimba either, so the hair caught us off-guard.

Ironically, there is a time when both men appeared to be rivals of sorts – they both had music production houses, both dabbled in music, with Peter disastrously trying his hand with Baby Chana, a song the nation was traumatised by. They also both dabbled in commercial radio production, with Bava Studios being one of the pre-eminent production houses for several radio ads and Dungeon Studios being the backbone against which Peter Ssematimba found his way to radio.

In the midst of all this, it is easy to forget that Hope Mukasa’s If Only was more than just a music video of a Ugandan nuzzling a white woman – it was a decent song, with a great, memorable melody, and an impressive singer. Because, Hope Mukasa can sing, gorgeously.

He is remarkably modest about his vocals, partly because he came from a band called Mixed Talents that had some standout musicians in it (folks like Allan Shonubi, whose voice Hope once described to me as incredible).

But Hope has that clean, silky vocal quality that a tiny number of male vocalists in this dusty town even attempt to pull off – listen to him on Ensonga Ssemasongo, a song he performs with Juliana, where he easily holds his own alongside another singer with a silken voice. He places a considerable amount of control in his delivery, a trait he brought to If Only, which worked wonderfully on what was a sort of Pop R & B track.

Ssematimba is often credited with kick-starting pop music culture in Uganda in its current form, but I think that is an inaccurate claim. If Only is probably the one pop song that showed that format of music (as it exists today) could work in our dusty town.

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