Modern rhythms of Uganda with Sylvia Namugenyi

by Cathy Namagembe /
Cathy Namagembe's picture
May 21, 2011 / 0 comments

For many people, the most exciting thing about going on an exotic vacation is discovering and learning about different cultures.  Some important parts of learning about a new culture are the music and dance.  In many countries, English is commonly used for business transactions and is common in the major tourist areas, so language is not as important a part of learning the culture.  When one travels to an English speaking country, English is the only language most tourists will use.  This is a sure way to miss out on a real cultural learning experience.  With music and dance, you don’t have to understand the words to get a feel for the culture.  You get that from the rhythm.

Over the last few months, we have had the pleasure of getting to know one of Uganda’s top young female artists, Sylvia Namugenyi.  She is very popular in Uganda and has toured in several countries including South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Dubai (UAE), England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.  Despite her international experiences, Namugenyi is still relatively unknown in most of Europe and North America.  She promises that will change in the near future.


Sylvia Namugenyi


Her music is typical of the sounds you will hear at dance clubs throughout Uganda.  Her music is lively, upbeat and sung in Luganda, one of the native languages spoken in the country.  Many people have noted the Caribbean flavor of much of the modern African music.  Actually, the fast, rhythmic drum beat has long been a part of African music.  Modern Ugandan music, like most African music has evolved over the centuries from nomadic tribes to a more systemized, cosmopolitan African beat.

In Uganda and most people have endured disturbing times, poverty, wars, hunger, AIDS / HIV, political turmoil, and terrorism.  Namugenyi says, “Music gives us hope.  We sing thru our issues and the choruses bond us together empowering us to overcome the fear of dealing with our problems.”  Most of her songs are about empowerment, love and family cohesion, trying to instill hope in a very trying environment.


Sylvia Namugenyi


She has released 30 songs and 8 videos, of which 5 have made it to the charts in East Africa.  She has 3 more songs and videos that are going to be released in the very near future.  The internet craze has not swept East Africa like it has in the Western world, but you can find out more about Silvia Namugenyi on her Facebook fan page at  You can also find her on LinkedIn, Twitter and You Tube.


Sylvia Namugenyi


Namugenyi loves the way the Luganda language flows, making it easier to express herself in song.  The music seems edgy by western standards, but the sweet, innocent look on her face let’s the listener know that she is really singing a love song.  Her music is described as Afro beat, music hall, and has a fast rhythm.  Because of the exotic sound and the sensual dancing, most men will find her videos sexy.  But if you just listen to the music, you will hear the combination of her determined yet sweet voice mixed with the fast beat of her music.  The best way to learn and get a real feel for her music is to listen to the songs several times and then watch the videos several more times.  You will be able to formulate your own ideas about what she is saying and then it is time to ask for an explanation and the meaning of the words.  Talk about the best of both worlds.  You get the feel for the music and then you have a good starting point for a long conversation, “Can you explain this song to me?” 


One big conflict has to be resolved by each individual artist.  Do they prefer to sing in English, Luganda or Swahili?  If they want success outside of Uganda, they have to think English.  Namugenyi’s long term goal is to help the impoverished children of her native Uganda.  She is currently working on creating some music videos in English that hopefully will be out by the end of the year.  She plans on using a portion of these sales to go directly to various projects in her homeland.  Her home and her culture have been the inspiration behind her music and she vows not to forget her roots.  




Cathy Namagembe and Ray Gutt are the Uganda Editors for Wandering Educators.