Music, Art and dance in the Buganda Culture



The kingdom of Buganda is so rich in music that they have got their anthem referred to as the Buganda anthem. The Buganda anthem is called ‘Ekitiibwa kya Buganda’ (Buganda’s Pride). It was composed by Reverend Polycarp Kakooza in 1939. It would be unfair if we began discussing the topic of music without presenting the Buganda anthem. Some important functions amongst the Baganda are not started and ended unless this anthem has been sung.



Twesiimye nnyo, twesiimye nnyo 

Olwa Buganda yaffe 

Ekitiibwa kya Buganda kyava dda 

Naffe tukikuumenga 

Verse 1

Okuva edda n’edda eryo lyonna 

Lino eggwanga Buganda 

Nti lyamanyibwa nnyo eggwanga lyaffe 

Okwetoloola ensi yonna

Verse 2

Abazira ennyo abatusooka 

Baalwana nnyo mu ntalo 

Ne balyagala nnyo eggwanga lyaffe 

Naffe tulyagalenga 

Verse 3

Ffe abaana ba leero ka tulwane 

Okukuza Buganda 

Nga tujjukira nnyo bajjajja baffe 

Baafirira ensi yaffe 

Verse 4

Nze naayimba ntya ne sitenda 

Ssaabasajja Kabaka 

Asaanira afuge Obuganda bwonna 

Naffe nga tumwesiga 

Verse 5

Katonda omulungi ow’ekisa 

Otubeere Mukama 

Otubundugguleko emikisa gyo era 

Bbaffe omukuumenga 

Music has various uses in Buganda. It is not just voice, and it is embedded with several instruments that enhance the sound and make it pretty pleasing to hear yet original because it’s all crude and Ugandan. When it comes to music, there are mainly two types of music in Buganda:kadongo kamu and traditional folk songs. Present-day musicians have developed more music in Luganda, but the style is somewhat westernized. 


The word “kadongo kamu” in Luganda means one small guitar. It is not always the case that music is made with just one guitar because other instruments are often included. However, the authentic style of this music genre depends only on one guitar for instrumentation, hence the name “one small guitar.” This type of music rose out of traditional Kiganda music. “Bakisimba” is a drumming style and dance Kiganda traditional music. It is well known for the drumming and dancing styles in traditional music in Buganda and throughout Uganda. The drum used in this music genre is a heavy bass drum that creates a sound that can be recreated with a bass guitar. The first musicians to practice this type of music were inspired by this drumming pattern, so they used guitars as an easier way of recreating the traditional sound without using a drum. They traveled from place to place, playing the music and delivering interesting messages to their audiences, who were often familiar with the sound they were hearing. In most cases, edutainment kept their audiences glued and listening. 

The singer would often play the guitar himself while dancing; therefore, many kadongo Kamu artists were very good at playing the guitar. The song structure of ‘Kadongo Kamu’ is more of a storytelling structure since it gets its roots from traditional folk songs. There are no repeated choruses though they are melodic like other genres. Some music is meant for listening, and audiences sometimes dance to it. So most singers are usually very charming, creative, and witty because they can deliver exciting and thought-provoking music in the same song.

The first well-known artist of this type of music was Fred Masagazi in the 1960s through the ’90s to the early ’90s. It would be unfair to talk about this music and not mention the late Elly Wamala, who contributed immensely to making the urban Kadongo Kamu style. It’s no wonder that the modern music artists in Buganda are reproducing his songs to pay tribute to him. His music stood out and contributed a lot to this particular genre. Other artists include Christopher Sebadduka, who popularized the genre and is considered the godfather of kadongo kamu music in Buganda and Uganda. The genre was further influenced by musicians such as Peterson Mutebi, Dan Mugula, Sebadduka Toffa, Fred Ssonko, Livingstone Kasozi, Fred Masagazi, Baligidde, Abuman Mukungu, Gerald Mukasa, Sauda Nakakaawa, Matia Luyima, Fred Ssebatta, Herman Basudde, and Paulo Kafeero and so on. To date, this music is still very influential in Uganda as a whole country.


Traditional folk music is pure crude ‘Kiganda’ music. When we talk about Buganda music, most people familiar with Buganda might think of traditional folk songs. These songs comprise a big part of the music in Buganda because they are considered the root of music in the kingdom. This traditional music is heavily based on different types of drums and percussion. Games in Buganda sometimes include these folk songs to prepare children, young men, or girls to participate in all areas of life. Further, the Baganda use traditional folk music to praise and worship their gods, show their authority, and celebrate life. They also use it to celebrate achievements such as good harvests, work achievements, births of children, educate the population to earn a living (employment), for recreation, and as a means to disseminate cultural values from generation to generation.


In Buganda, dancing is common almost in every function that requires celebration. The Baganda people are merrymakers and love to celebrate whenever they have reason to. Perhaps this explains why it’s so common to hear drums and loud music playing whenever they have a function. They have such a strong attachment to their traditional music and dance that many live off the talent of dancing traditional Kiganda dances.

The Baganda dance is dominated by three dances, ‘bakusimba, muwogola, and nankasa,’ and their daily activities inspire them.

Nankasa, Baakisiimba, Muwogola are social gathering dances of the Baganda people that originated from the palace of the King of Buganda,

There was a Buganda king (Kabaka) who immensely enjoyed the local beer, ‘tonto omwenge.’ This local brew, ‘Tonto,’ is made from banana plants. This name is taken from the Lugandan word ‘tontomera,’ which means do not knock me. So one day, the king drank too much of the local brew, which made him so ‘excited.’ In Buganda, it is taboo to say that the king is drunk, and one can only say that the king is happy or excited. When the king got ‘happy,’ he started praising the people who had made the beer, saying “abaakisiimba,” which translates to “those who planted the bananas “bebaakiwoomya” are the ones who made it delicious. The musicians who were present then made an ‘abaakisiimba’ rhythm that was imitating the words of the king, who in return started to move and dance in excitement. As he moved, the musicians mimicked the king’s words; the women imitated the king’s movements, which eventually became a dance still being performed throughout Buganda. This dance has three major movements: ‘Nankasa’ followed by ‘Baakisiimba’ and ‘Muwogola.’ ‘Baakisimba’ is the court dance where the ‘engoma’ (drum set) is the most important musical instrument used.

Other Baganda dances originated from different clans and were danced during various economic, social, political, and educational activities depending on the audience for which they were made. These include:

AmaggunjuAmaggunju is a royal dance of the Baganda people, and it is also a folk dance that developed in the king’s palace. This dance’s development dates back to 1555 when a Buganda king called King ‘Mulondo’ died without leaving behind any heirs. However, he left behind many pregnant wives. Therefore, the medicine men and traditional witch doctors urgently searched for a wife pregnant with a boy since it is taboo for the kingdom to be ruled by a woman. So one of the wives’ Namulondo, who was expecting a boy, sat on the throne, and the people understood that it was her unborn son ruling, not her. Finally, when the prince was born, he ruled the throne as he lay on it. The Baganda believe that kings are not supposed to cry, and doing so would bring curses and bad luck to the kingdom. Therefore, the uncles and aunts of the baby prince put ankle bells on their legs and danced, making a sound that made the baby happy and kept it from crying hence the ‘amaggunju’ dance. Previously, this dance was only performed by people of the ‘Obutiko’ (Mushroom) clan and was only performed in the palace, but these days many ordinary people perform it.

Mbaga – A wedding dance of the Baganda people. This dance is performed by girls who have reached the age of eighteen to prepare them as wives. They are given information about the duties and tasks to perform in their future marriages, that’s to say, how to serve their future husband, give birth to children and raise them, manage housework, do the laundry, and work in the fields. These tasks are shown in the dance. Two drums only accompany this dance, the ’embuutu’ (big drum) and the ‘engalabi’ (long drum), which represent the male and the female form. The dance is performed during the wedding ceremony. This ‘Mbaga’ dance is performed for freshly and already married couples, mostly for edutainment purposes. The dance is known for its elaborative and sensual gestures to communicate sex education. Two drums, the ‘engalabi’ and ’embuutu,’ are used to dictate the gestures and movements of this dance.



In addition to the human voice, various instruments enhance traditional folk songs.These include, xylophones( Amadinda,/Akadinda), harp (Ennanga), lyre( Etongoli), small drums ( Kadongo/budongo), lamellophone. All these instruments are used while singing traditional folk songs and courtly music of the Kabaka (the king of Buganda).

It should be noted that the kadongo (a commonly used drum) was more recently introduced to Baganda in the early 20th century. For this reason, it is not part of traditional court music.


The people of Buganda have promoted the use of the drum in their music. They are deeply connected to the drums that some people think that drums originated from Buganda. This relationship is so profound to the extent that they even call themselves the children of the drum (omwaana we ngoma). No wonder the name of the drum set has its origin in the ‘Luganda’ language. The name of this musical instrument dates back to when the Baganda people were collecting white ants. They used to dig a hole near the ants’ colony, hence collecting them. If the ants left that hole, a sound near the spot they were searching was formed like that of a ‘ngoma,’ hence the name ‘ngoma’ coming forth.

This activity was done while singing songs such that some Baganda still sing these songs while gathering ants to date. They also play drums (ngoma).


There are many types of drums in Buganda, and these include:

Empunyi: These are rhythm drums that produce the central beat of the whole sound. The ’empunyi’ is made of wood, covered with cow skin pegged on the ends. Typically, these are played in sets of seven drums; each drum usually has its own “voice” and function. Another popular set is made with four drums. Each of these drums has to be identified individually; hence each has a specific name.

Bakisimba: This is the largest drum, making a loud bass sound.

Empuunya: This one is smaller and produces a higher-pitched bass sound.

Nankasa This is a small drum played with sticks and produces a high-pitched sound that controls all dance motifs.

Engalabi: This particular drum looks like the original ‘ngoma.’ It is taller and more cylindrical than the rest of the drums in this set. It has skin on only one side. All other drums are covered with cow skin on the top and bottom using an intricate lacing system, whereas the ‘engalabi’ has a lizard/snake skinhead attached with small wooden pegs. This drum makes the highest-pitched sound in the ensemble. The ‘engalabi’ (long drum) is the male drum (engoma ensajja). This traditional drum’s head is made of a reptile’s hide and is attached to a wooden resonant cavity (a slim lower part), an allusion to the male phallus. It is a single-walled drum. Wooden tiny rods are pressed into the skin, with the wooden resonant body being decorated. Only the hands are allowed to be used for playing this drum.

On the other hand, the’ embuutu’ is considered the so-called ‘engoma enkazi’ (female drum). It is a huge drum that produces many rhythms and determines the melody for everyday dancing. The holy, double-headed drum provided with double membranes is made of pinewood and decorated using cowries and pearls. The secular ’embuutu’ is decorated by lacing up the skin hide, the non-resounding skin, and two clinging pearls as ‘abalongo’ (twins) are arranged before the head is sealed using the skin hides.

Other music instruments include: gourd rattles(Nseege), trumpets of cow horns (engoombe)



Baskets (Ebiibo)

The art of making baskets is extensive in Buganda. Many girls are taught by older women how to weave baskets when they are still young. These are done in different shapes, colors, and designs. Elephant grass and palm leaves are used as raw materials to make the baskets. These are sometimes used as traps for wild animals. Today, handbags and wall hangings are made by weaving and used for decorative purposes. The weavers add color to the dried leaves before they weave. The baskets are woven with unique and beautiful patterns that some people use as decorations in their houses. Others are used as beer baskets. Some baskets are woven with scarce and unique grass that they can’t be easily found on the market. Baskets are also woven with wild reeds. Experienced weavers are getting more creative by making clutch bags and handbags that they sell and get rewarded so well since these bags usually are long-lasting.


MATS (emikeeka)

One of the most common and predominant art pieces in the Buganda Kingdom is the mat.

Many women in Buganda know how to weave mats in various designs. These are mind-blowing and unique since this artistry requires a lot of creativity. This activity requires one to follow mathematical patterns, so it requires skills. These are woven in various patterns and colors that look attractive to the eye. Mats are long-lasting, and almost every homestead in Uganda owns one. They have got different purposes depending on the user. Some people use them for decorations in their living rooms, others wrap the dead bodies in these before they bury them, and primarily they are used for sitting on, instead of using chairs. Mats are made from materials such as plastic straws and leaves.


SPEARS (amafumu)

The art of making spears has been going on in the Buganda kingdom since time immemorial. The Baganda have used spears to fight in battle with their enemies. So the spears were designed in different shapes and sizes. Amongst the symbols of Buganda, there is one with a shield and two spears. That’s how attached the Buganda are to spears as they are used to protect the royals in Buganda.


GRASS THATCHED HOUSES (akasisila/Obusisila)

These houses are typically built in rural areas. They are built using mud or clay, depending on the availability of resources. Reeds and types of timber are also used depending on how available and accessible the wood is. They are thatched. Many come in round shapes, but modern ones are rectangular and square. Bricks are made from mud and clay. These houses made from bricks tend to be more long-lasting than those made from mud and reeds. In terms of roofing, many have moved away from the grass thatched roofs to iron sheets.



Before the introduction of modern-day clothing in Uganda, the Buganda made their own clothing through their creativity. They made bark cloth from the omutuba tree-fig tree (ficus natealensis). This cloth is made from vegetable fiber. These come in diverse natural colors ranging from light brown to dark brown. The bark cloth is one of the Baganda’s finest pieces of art. The bark cloth is special in the Kiganda culture. In some situations, people are obliged to wear them to certain cultural functions.



The art of creating items from iron has been ongoing in Buganda. The blacksmiths in Buganda are called ‘baweesi.’ They made spears, arrows, hoes, knives, ornaments, needles for sewing and basketry, and some cooking utensils. Nowadays, modern industries have been developed to produce these things using modern industrial techniques, but the local blacksmiths still sell their products on the local market.



The Baganda people make different kinds of pottery, with most of it being pots and earthenware saucers made of clay and dark soil. The skilled potters use clay, usually mixed with water, and roll it in their hands to carve products out. The Baganda use clay to make smoking pipes pots for carrying water and cooking purposes. At times, women make pots while men act as middlemen and salespeople. Many rural families still use pots to store their drinking water in a cool state. In the past, multi-headed pots were made and were used to give poisoned beer to people who angered the Kabaka.


In Buganda, making gourds has been going on for quite some time; some are used as the traditional containers for beer, milk, and other milk by-products. The gourds are multifunctional, and they make perfect beer-drinking bowls too. Long-necked gourds are used to collect drinking water, and others are used to keep salt. Many artists in Buganda decorate the gourds by writing on them gourds, and some put tiny colored beads before selling the gourds. Huge gourds are used to carry banana wine at funerals and introduction wedding ceremonies. Such gourds have to be draped with yellow banana leaves.



Sculptures say a lot about the Buganda kingdom. They have been used to communicate about the Kiganda culture and mark Buganda territory. One of the most predominant sculptures in Buganda is the ‘kabaka anjagala’ sculpture and the totem sculptures constructed along the road to Bulange Mengo. These sculptures make such a beautiful sight in their proper alignment all the way to the Kabaka’s palace. Some sculptures can be found in the Uganda Museum. One of these is the Natawetwa monument.

The other prominent monument is the kabaka’s sculpture (kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi)

There are many other sculptures in Buganda, but some of them are not directly connected to the kingdom but the political landmarks of the country.


The Baganda people make jewelry for decoration. These are made from beads of different colors and sizes. The nature of the beads determines how much the piece is valued. Many art exhibitions are being organized these days where various artists go and display their work for people to see and buy. Some people have jewelry from animal bones, teeth, feathers, seeds, wood clay, and precious metals. One will find necklaces, waist beads, bangles, finger rings, amulets, and so on. Jewelry making is a serious business in the Buganda kingdom that many earn a living from.


There is a lot of wood-crafting being done in Buganda. Wood crafting is no longer done as a hobby, but rather it is learned as a skill many do to earn a living. Many males in the Buganda kingdom are taught how to make chairs, sofa sets, dining tables, stools, gourds, carvings, and many wooden carvings in the forms of African women carrying babies, animals, women carrying pots, and so on. Along the streets of Kampala, one will find many of these carpentry works displayed on the streets for people to buy. Carpenters in Buganda make all sorts of home decorations that are pleasing to the eye.


The Baganda people are very creative, for there is a lot of crafting done in the Buganda kingdom to the extent that some people generate their income from art. There are paintings and drawings, namely the pictures of the former kings of Buganda. Most of them were hand-drawn. Several hides are used to make things like shoes, drums, home decorations, jewelry, etc.