Uganda’s Irene Nwangi is what youth market wants
When a few weeks back I sent an email to a friend in Uganda asking him whether there’s new music to be bought and whose ruling the airwaves, he didnt hesitate to respond by saying Irene Nwangi is the hottest female singer in the country at the moment.Her derriere and ‘mermaid thighs’ have made her a hot sell.Uganda media op-eds about hottest female artists have collectively provided enough focus points for an entire music industry subject.Excellent points have been made about gender bias in the country’s pop music, problems of national identity and overt nationalism, fandom, the commodification of youth culture, corporate versus independent culture industries, high and low culture, and authenticity versus inauthenticity in pop music.There are calls that the station needs to rethink its coverage of female talent, suggesting an over-emphasis on male bands like Afrigo at the expense of talented solo pop divas like Irene Nwangi. Overall, the two main media narratives of the engineered controversy fall into the following two patterns. Firstly, that Nwangi is the enemy usurper, musically invading the rightful place of the local heroes like Juliana Kanyomozi, Irene Namubiru, Desire Luzinda among others who seem to stand for Uganda’s urban music in general. In this scenario, the call is for Nwangi to be “ejected” from the competition.Secondly, I hear that Irene Nwangi is the hero of the day, a useful icon inadvertently helping to highlight the flaws of the radio stations in Uganda, whether this is due to a poor representation of female artists or else showcasing the station’s inadequate understanding of what the youth demographic “really wants”. Undeniably, Irene Nwangi has provided excellent free publicity for Uganda’s youth broadcasters, and so at this point there are certainly no losers out of the two constructed sides of between her and the so called leading female artists in the country. The controversy has led to healthy mainstream interest in Irene Nwangi, which even coincides nicely with the country’s qualification after 39 years wait to the African cup of Nation to be held in Gabon next year.
Yet it is clear what is at stake for Irene Nwangi, the potential undermining of one of the industry’s key figure, which if it was to recur each year might seriously jeopardise the sustained interest of Uganda’s urban music regular fan base and audience. If the radio stations were to adopt a more blatantly commercial playlist, then they would lose their unique differentiation point in the Ugandan broadcasting market.A celebrity such as Irene Nwangi is a person whose name, image, lifestyle and opinions carry cultural and economic worth, and who are first and foremost idealised popular media constructions eschpeially the Red Pepper Newspaper, The Kampala Sun and Monitor Newspaper.The cultural and economic meanings attached to the celebrity-sign of “Irene Nwangi” seems antithetical to Kampala’s self-representation as a place for exciting new music, with a supposed focus on emerging Ugandan talent.This perhaps explains why Irene Nwangi is excluded from the playlist when other mainstream Ugandan artists and chart toppers are still played on Uganda radio and Tv stations heavily.The alignment and transfer of values of what is considered cool and hip between the station and its chosen artists.Adding to this, Irene Nwangi emerged from the semi urban Ugandan music background, which is probably the least played musical genre on the radio stations, whereas Uganda’s renowned female artists easily passes radio stations acceptable music genre test.So to use a bad pun, the playlist may not be “Nwangid”, but it is highly tailored to cultivate a particular musical sensibility and taste. The concept of youth seems to be used in reference to a musical market and to identify particular music genres rather than being a real or an accurate signifier of young tastes and interests.It raises the question of what responsibility do youth targeting broadcasters have in the shaping and the adapting of young Ugandans musical interests.Since displacing Desire Luzinda as Uganda’s leading BD(blessed Derriere) female singer, Irene Nwangi has seen her stocks rise and i bet she’s gonna be relevant for the rest of 2016.