Kennedy Madira aka JM Kennedy delved into singing pop (popular) songs in West Nile when the region had no music industry of note.

It was 2004 and there were no managers or promoters and people didn’t expect a musician to come from West Nile due to the common belief that you needed to have magic in order to be a good musician. It was a stereotype that Madira had to deal with in order to bring about change.

He was pushed into music by poverty, mastered the art while in the field and turned himself into the electrifying figure and musical champion today.

He began by singing about his own poverty, then expanded to social and economic hardships affecting his community as his popularity shored.

For instance in his maiden hit Alio nde ma Kaikai (I’m too poor) Madira simply mourned his poverty situation, Drijaru addressed inferiority complex and lack of cultural pride by the West Nile people while Terezina addressed girl child education.

Hard start

Tough times need tough choices and Madira found himself making one tough choice in order to break into music industry. He comes from Terego near mount Wati, a poverty stricken area where residents mainly grow tobacco in order to earn income.

It was in his first semester at Nkumba University where he was doing a course in business information technology that Madira realised that he was not going to make it through the three years.

By the time he joined Nkumba University, it was the off season period for tobacco so his father struggled to raise fee. While there, he had a friend who owned a guitar which Madira used for learning how to play the instrument.

At the end of the semester, Madira asked for a dead year but the university authority advised him to skip one semester and start with the fresh intake.

However during his six months wait Madira quietly sharpened his musical talent by writing songs and rehearsing them.

When his father gave him sh1m to resume studies; Madira boarded a bus to Kampala and walked to Tuggy Sounds near old taxi-park to record his songs using the money instead.

JM KennedyJM Kennedy plays about with the guiter. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

He recorded eight songs at sh80,000 each and when the songs played on radio, his father was not only shocked but furious too.

Madira just carried on because his songs were playing on all local radio stations. But he was not making much money out of it because it was other people making the taps and selling without his authorisation. Only one promoter invited Madira to perform whereby he hired his services at sh100,000 and collected a cool sh1m in return.

At this point, Madira realised that he was a celebrity (celeb) without cash in pocket. He resorted to bicycle bodaboda riding in Arua town using a borrowed bicycle of his brother. He did the bodaboda riding at night while during the day he would swagger though the town posing as the celeb he was supposed to be.

Realising that bicycle riding didn’t bring much money Madira enrolled into security guard but abandoned it before he could complete the training.

Then he went to Nakawa in Kampala to try working in a fish factory but left after two days when he discovered that the smell of raw fish wasn’t as pleasant as that of a cooked fish he use to enjoy.

Still, not ready to be outdone, Madira conceived the idea of singing in praise of notable people in business by coming up with the Awadifo Azi si (thanks for good work) album thinking such people would be prompted to support him financially but it didn’t work. He therefore decided to sell his suitcase and mattress to offset the recording costs.

JM KennedyKennedy electrifying on stage during a show. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

When the 2006 elections were approaching Madira composed a song in the name of former minister for gender, labour and social development, Zoe Bakoko Bakoru. He received a handsome financial reward from the politician in return that he finally breathed a shy of relief.

From there on he began receiving invitations to perform for big audiences and has traversed the entire West Nile and other parts of Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Madira’s songs are mostly in Lugbara and English, but he also spices them with Arabic, Kiswahili, Kuku, Alur and Madi after engaging the assistance of a translator.

Looking over his shoulders and back, Madira says he is proud of how far West Nile’s pop music industry has progressed.

“I got an awakening that music has become competitive now as more young people inspired by us are also joining the market,” he said.

With that in mind, he now wants to leave the pop music scene to the upcoming young talents and switch to Ragae, a slow paced brand of music that he hopes will push him on to the international market.