HOW UGANDANS HAVE CONSUMED MUSIC OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS: A MILLENIALS’ MUSIC JOURNEY.


By Our Reporter

What is your first memory and experience of music? The answer will vary depending on how old you are. Your age notwithstanding, what will stand true though is that how we consume and experience music over the years has and will continue to evolve.
The first music experience that comes to memory was a music show called Music Africa by Mike
Makamazibu on the then Uganda Television now UBC. I watched the show on our first TV set which was a Telecombi with both a TV and FM/AM transmitter. The show imprinted on me and forms one of my earliest experiences of music.
STARTING WITH THE PHONOGRAPH
I have no solid backing, but the phonograph may not have reached Uganda till about the 1930s. I
heard stories from my mother about a gramophone or phonograph in the village. People had to gather around to listen to it play a song. With its limitations, you didn’t have much of a choice when it came to the song played. In any case, you were even privileged to listen at all. I personally haven’t
seen one physically except on the internet, but this must have been a preserve of the affluent in the
The 60s and 70s which excluded most Ugandans then.
While the Phonograph was invented in the 1800s, by the 1900s, improvements upon it later led to the discs we now see that can hold multiple songs and could be produced in mass compared to earlier versions of the phonograph cylinders. In between was a transition from the cylinders to Vinyl
which were known as records, LPs (Long Playing) and EPs (Extended Play)
RADIO TAKES OVER
While Radio technology was available way before the gramophone, it didn’t explode in the west till
the 1920’s. Again, my earliest memory of radio was Radio Uganda and later Sanyu FM. We used to
gather around the radio just to listen to music and if you missed your song, you had to wait till it
played again. There was no internet, so lyrics were by ear and sometimes accents interfered with
our hearing creating the need to improvise lyrics when singing along.
I remember my dad purchasing a Sembule Radio. He listened to BBC religiously and when the batteries were exhausted, we dried them in the sun to recharge. Which seemed to work albeit for a
few minutes.
A few years later, HiFi systems with cassette players became a thing. The stereo became an item in every household which was even covered with tablecloths. I still wonder whether this was to protect
the cassette player from dust or to add to the beauty of the living room.
Alongside the HiFi stereo was the legendary Walkman by Sony which fundamentally changed how people listened to music. Music was no longer tied to large home record players or large,
inconvenient portable tape decks, listeners could easily take their music with them wherever they went. If you remember, the first Walkman included two headphone jacks which meant music could be enjoyed with a friend. The icing on the cake if you could afford it was rechargeable batteries and auto rewind.
At this point, cassette dubbing was a fully-fledged business as people struggled to get their favorite artists on tape. I remember dubbing a radio show just so we could listen to it again. Beyond stopping at 90. A car radio that played tapes had an edge of the rest.

As time went by, radios became smaller and portable. We used to call them scanners. Thanks to
China, mass production of these scanners at a low price delivered one to a good majority of the population. It was at about that time that the idea of a radio on a phone had caught on. It was such a
huge selling point that having a phone without one was a waste.
THE DIGITAL AGE BEGINS
According to the website ‘Make Use Of’, “by the late 80s, CDs had exploded in popularity, with the
cost of CD players coming down and an increasingly large number of artists converting their back
catalogs to the new digital format. The 60-minute playtime of a CD combined with the high audio
the quality offered, as well as the reading laser’s resistance to interference by dust or other particles,
made the CD the primary musical medium for the next decade, with home and portable players
quickly being adopted by listeners.”
CDs only became popular in Kampala around the late ’90s or early 2000 as at this time, Radio and cassette tapes had reached their peak. At about the same time was the beginning of the rise of the internet which again was the preserve of a few. Internet cafes were the only place where one could
access the internet to respond to penpals and email, get into internet chatrooms or surf the internet as
it was called then.
In 2005, YouTube was created and even if it is hard to say when it took off in Uganda, It is safe to
assume that people started accessing it immediately but it got more popular a few years after
Ugandans started creating and sharing content on YouTube. At the time, we were certain that the internet is the future, but we didn’t know-how.
The age of digital music and content was running so fast disrupting the status quo. The famous
Radio Cassettes were being replaced by CD Walkman, HiFi stereos with CD changers. As this was
happening, Ugandan artists and content creators began to embrace digital through social media
(Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and platforms like CD Baby, ReverbNation, SoundCloud.
In 2010, Huawei in partnership with Google made what is arguably the first affordable smartphone in Uganda; the Google Ideos. The Ideos went on to deliver the first smartphone experience to many
Ugandans. They began to experience mobile computing power accessing internet and apps on the go. Music was fast becoming digital. Smartphones were increasing in number; Radio was just an app on my phone and so was YouTube and SoundCloud. Other platforms were just a website away.
There was another innovation that sprung up in the name of P2P sharing that enables anyone with an internet connection share their music with the world. These services were offered by apps like
LimeWire, BitTorrent and a couple of others. This enabled some people to access more music than they previously had.
While all this exciting tech was happening, MP3/MP4 players had hit the market. The most coveted was Apple’s iPod that had 8GB of memory and could store up to 12000 songs. The iPod classic pushed the boundaries and had 120GB. Imagine having all that music with you anytime. This was nothing short of miraculous. As is the norm, we also had alternatives that worked fine but not as fancy and they cost way much less.


HOW UGANDANS ADAPTED THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL
All this new technology even if exciting, presented one problem. It required a device and data or the internet to access which was a costly venture for the majority.

Even though smartphones had arrived, not many could afford them. As the market would demand,
there were feature phones that had two essential features; a radio and a memory card. With these two, music enthusiasts loaded all the music they needed from the then famous music vendors.
These vendors had the latest hits from Uganda and across and could hook you up with albums,
playlists, mixes and new releases at an affordable fee. A Radio app and the Memory card was enough to
sort their needs
The modern and tech-savvy Ugandans with a bit of money had computers or laptops that had CD
players. They had a collection of their favorite artists on CD and had MP3 collections with their favorite music. The ones that drove cars had modern car stereos that could play music from a CD,
Memory card, Flash disk or via Bluetooth. These were the early adopters
The trendy youth sought to satisfy their music hunger from P2P and streaming sites where they would download new music and albums stored on their computers, multiple MP3s, flash disks or hard drives.


THE ERA OF MUSIC STREAMING BEGINS
We only used to hear of Pandora which seems to have been the major platform that made music streaming popular. Even though Pandora started in 2005, it wasn’t until 2010 that I experienced streaming on SoundCloud and ReverbNation. It was a weird proposition at the time and looked more like a distribution channel than a music consumption platform. iTunes that started in 2001 was popular too because of the integration of the iTunes store that sold music alongside streaming.
What I later realized is that streaming platforms had a proposition to enable intelligent music
discovery and consumption that was able to accurately predict the type of music you would enjoy
after you fed it some information like genres you like, favorite artists and most importantly after you
listened to a couple of songs. This made music fun an enjoyable as the discovery of new artists you
would have otherwise not discovered.
Serving as a discovery engine, this technology has introduced millions of listeners to thousands of
bands across the world and opened a huge range of previously unavailable listening experiences.
Better still this music was in the cloud and space was not an issue anymore. I no longer needed a
collection of CDs or fill my iPod with thousands of songs, cassette tapes or hard drives storing all my favorite tunes. People would now have the choice of listening or accessing millions of songs as and when they need them.


UGANDA’S MUSIC CONSUMPTION PROBLEMS AND THE SOLUTION
Here is the issue for Uganda. Many of these platforms were country-specific and not able to serve music globally. Most if not all required every user to have a debit/credit card to be able to pay a monthly subscription in dollars which wasn’t feasible or affordable for a population new to banking and payments. Streaming music consumes data which the last time I checked is a currency in Uganda measured in MBs. Simply put don’t mess with people’s data; they guard it jealously. Lastly, even if I
enjoyed all the global music, I needed to have my favorite home artists from Uganda whose music rocked Ugandan airwaves.
Now that music streaming has evolved, the top streaming platforms as per PCMAG are TIDAL, Apple
Music, Spotify, Deezer, YouTube, Pandora, Amazon Music, and Google Play Music among others. All
of them have their pros and cons but the most enticing in my research is TIDAL that partnered with
MTN Uganda to create a custom package built for Uganda and Ugandans. First, they created the

most affordable monthly subscription packages which are half or less of what others offer. The packages even include paying for 1, 3, 7 and 30 days with or without data. I can also pay that subscription via Mobile Money instead of a credit/debit card. I have access to over 60 million songs and counting with new albums and songs every Friday. And as data, I can download all the music I
want on my smartphone and listen to it offline without data. The icing on the cake is that they offer a 30-day FREE trial for all MTN customers and include FREE data for streaming.
For now, it is hard to predict what the future of music looks like but what we are certainly sure of is that it is going to keep evolving. That is my music consumption journey in Uganda. What is yours?
Share your music consumption experiences in the comments.

  1. What is TIDAL?
    TIDAL is a subscription-based music streaming service. On TIDAL consumers can get full
    access to music with high sound quality, high-quality music videos and expertly curated
    editorial.
    Users can stream TIDAL Music from both Smart Mobile Devices (Smartphones, Tablets)
    and Desktops.
    Service is available on both Android (Android: OS version 6+) and iOS devices (iOS: OS
    version 10.3+); OS Window 7+, mac OSX 10.9
  2. What makes TIDAL different from other online streaming services?
    TIDAL is currently owned by Jay-Z and a variety of other successful music artists, making it
    the first artist-owned streaming service in the world. Among the benefits of TIDAL:
     Over 60 million high-quality songs and over 250,000 high-quality music videos
     Wide curation of International and local music.
     Flexible and unique subscription packages using MTN Mobile Money
    o Subscribe for 1, 3, 7 and 30 days.
    o Buy subscription with or without streaming data
    o Subsidized subscription for our MTN Pulse customers
     Exclusive content releases only available on TIDAL
     Live experiences that are exclusive to TIDAL
  3. How do I start using TIDAL?
    Step 1: Dial 16566# and Select TIDAL
    Step 2: Activate a Subscription of your choice
     If it is your first time on TIDAL: Select and activate TIDAL FREE trial- This will give you a one- time FREE trial of TIDAL for 30 days. If you don’t want the FREE trial, proceed to activate a paid-for subscription.
     If you have already completed your FREE trial on TIDAL: Select and Activate a
    subscription of your choice. You will have to pay for the subscription
    Step 3: You will receive 2 SMS one with your TIDAL Logins and another with a link to the App
    Store OR Play Store to download the TIDAL App.
    Step 4: Download and Install App
    Step 5: Open App and Click Login
    Step 6: Enter your username and password (as provided in the SMS)
    Step 7: Click Login

Subscribe for notification