SPECIAL FEATURE | THE INDEPENDENT | Mention of the name Kato Lubwama evokes a sense of excitement among those immersed in Uganda’s modern art and creative industry. Countless individuals have tales to share, often culminating in fits of laughter.
Paul Kato-Lubwama achieved widespread recognition in the creativity arts, establishing himself as a versatile individual. With ease, he delved into different domains including acting, music, songwriting, directing, playwriting and talent cultivation, thus becoming a household name.
Tragically, the country lost the esteemed artist on Wednesday morning. Reports indicate that he succumbed to a heart attack, having battled heart complications for several years.
Abbey Mukiibi, a longtime friend of Kato-Lubwama, paid tribute to his fallen brother and comrade, emphasizing that despite his untimely departure, his exceptional contributions to the entertainment industry will for long be cherished.
Mukiibi eloquently lauded the extraordinary talents of the late artist of unparalleled aptitude for excelling in a multitude of creative realms, showcasing his mastery in directing, producing, training, and adeptly writing music, drama, skits, theatrical plays, films, and beyond.
Born in 1970 into a modest family, Lubwama spent his early years in Old Kampala, where his family made a living by selling charcoal along Martin Road. He attended Nabagereka Primary School and later enrolled at Old Kampala Secondary School. Alongside his studies, Lubwama also ventured into football and boxing.
While he did not pursue higher formal education, Lubwama’s deep passion for the arts propelled him to become a part of the flourishing theater scene. In an interview with a local newspaper a decade ago, the artiste-turned-politician disclosed that he found inspiration for his style from a renowned actor named Dan Zirimenya.
This influential figure played a significant role in shaping Lubwama’s artistic approach and contributed to his unique comic style. Zirimenya had gained household fame in the entertainment industry during the 1970s and was particularly renowned as the director of the famous play “Obwavu Musolo.” Additionally, he showcased his talent for creating jingles for radio. This connection to Zirimenya and his multifaceted contributions to the entertainment world influenced Kato’s own approach and creativity.
Kato was part of a talented group of young individuals who were nurtured by the late Omugave Ndungwa, a flamboyant and witty playwright. Ndungwa established the renowned Black Pearls theater group, which dominated the theatrical scene in the 1980s and early 1990s, primarily based at Riverside Theatre.
Ashraf Ssimwogerere, who has known the deceased for 32 years, recalls his initial encounter with Kato in 1986 when they both joined Black Pearls. Ssimwogerere notes that during that time, Kato was still a student at Old Kampala and had made a detour to Kyaggwe Road Primary School to engage in football.
To their pleasant surprise, they discovered that Nudgwa, whose Riverside Theatre was conveniently located nearby, was conducting auditions.
“Upon joining Black Pearl, we found challenges in finding suitable roles for older plays. However, Kato swiftly gained momentum, particularly in group scenes, where his humor and standout performance captivated audiences,” narrates Ssimwogerere.
He further states that a strong bond developed between Kato, himself, and Ebony Waiswa (also known as Kasaada), another actor-cum-radio presenter and together, they established Black Pearls Juniors as a subgroup within the larger theater group. They focused on nurturing talent and conducted various plays, including “Ekyama Mu-Fridge” and “Samanya.”
Eventually, they formed the Makerere Theatre Group while still remaining connected to Black Pearl. During this time, Kato’s performances were well-received, attracting theater enthusiasts, particularly girls in nearby Secondary Schools who would keep shouting Kato’s name.
From 1990 to 1994, Kato Lubwama garnered numerous theatrical awards in the highly competitive industry, challenging seasoned professionals who had mastered the sector for decades. One notable achievement was his performance in the play “The Divided Family – Amaka Mubuwanganguse,” which earned him the title of Best Actor of the Year at the National Cultural Centre.
In addition, he was recognized as the second-best actor of the year for 1992/1993 by the popular theatrical magazine, Munakatemba, owned by Dick Kasolo, who currently serves as the Kabaka’s press secretary. Later on, Kato expanded his artistic endeavors to include playwriting and directing.
Learning on the job
In 1993, alongside Abbey Mukiibi, he took on his first official director role for the play “Ngabo Yadako.” Ssimwogerere says this marked a significant milestone in Kato’s career as he stepped into the realm of directing, showcasing his creative vision and storytelling abilities on the stage and he never turned back.
Like many artistes in Uganda, more so at that time, Kato began his journey in art through apprenticeship and learning on the job, without formal training. But, a fortunate turn of events came his way when Professor Rose Mbowa, the then Head of the Music, Dance, and Drama department at Makerere University, opened up an opportunity for practicing artists to enroll and receive formal training through the Mature Age Entry program. This opportunity allowed Kato to pursue a diploma in music, dance, and drama, providing him with a valuable foundation in his craft.
It was a significant step towards further honing of his skills and expanding his knowledge in the arts. In 1996, the Black Pearls encountered difficulties that eventually led to its founder, Ndugwa, relocating to the USA. In response to these challenges, a group of talented young actors, including Kato Lubwama, Mariam Ndagire, and Ashraf Ssimwogerere, made the decision to break away from the Black Pearls and form their own theater group called the Diamond Ensemble.
The Diamond Ensemble, later known as Diamond Production, eventually found a new home at Bat Valley Theatre, formerly known as Theatre Excelsior, which had been abandoned by the Ebonies in previous years.
Within Diamond Production, Kato Lubwama not only diversified the group’s offerings beyond theatrical plays but also delved into the then booming band music scene. With his distinct husky voice, he produced several songs that gained significant popularity and dominated the radio airwaves.
One of his notable tracks, “Kirabe Ebiiso,” became his signature and established his unique brand. Alongside his captivating big eyes, this song earned him the endearing moniker “Biiso” from his fans, further solidifying his presence in the music industry. Abbey Mukiibi says that as the director of Diamond Ensemble, Lubwama held a crucial position in nurturing the talents of both musicians and actors.
Among those who benefited from his mentorship were artistes like Mesach Ssemakula and Irene Namatovu. They fondly remember Lubwama as a warm-hearted individual who was both loving and principled with a strong commitment to nurturing talents and guiding aspiring artists to reach their full potential.
Male Musa, an actor who also grew under the guidance of the late Kato Lubwama, emphasizes Lubwama’s unwavering commitment and focus. Musa affectionately recalls the early days when they were still in the process of learning from Lubwama, highlighting his parental stature and vision.
In 1996, CBS FM, the Luganda-language station, opened its doors. This marked a turning point for Lubwama as they were hired as presenters. This new platform provided them with a significant opportunity to promote their new theater groups and stage productions to a larger audience.
Ssimwogerere reminisces about the times when he and Lubwama were frequently invited as guests on a program called “Dance Mania” on CBS. It was during these appearances that they caught the attention of Peter Ssematimba who later recruited Lubwama.
On CBS, the celebrated artist collaborated with Mulindwa Muwonge and his longtime friend Abbey Mukiibi on a segment called “Kalisoliso” within the morning breakfast show. As pillars of the modern drama sector, this talented trio brought a captivating blend of drama and entertainment to liven up the listeners’ mornings.
Their dynamic presence and engaging performances added a delightful touch of excitement to the radio program, leaving audiences entertained and eager for more. They also infused the program with satire, skillfully portraying various aspects of society including social and political issues. Their performances added an entertaining and thought-provoking dimension to the show. Remarkably, this program is still broadcasted on CBS, maintaining its presence and relevance in the present day.
In addition to this and other programmes on the station, Kato introduced catchy, creative, and interesting jingles that promoted various businesses. Many of these jingles remain memorable to avid listeners, and recalling the humorous advertisements can still bring laughter.
“I have never advertised for a company and it fails,” Kato used to boast in several interviews with various media outlets.
In 2015, Kato Lubwama, known for his outspoken comedic style, surprised many by announcing his entry into politics. He declared his candidature for a parliamentary seat in Rubaga South. Initially, some regarded this move as a joke or a publicity stunt, but Lubwama was serious about his political aspirations. In the 2016 elections, running under the Democratic Party (DP) ticket, he successfully unseated Ken Lukyamuzi, a prominent and influential politician.
During his term of office, Kato Lubwama faced significant legal challenges regarding his academic qualifications, as a petition was filed against him by his political rival, Habib Buwembo. These legal battles persisted throughout his tenure. In 2021, Lubwama sought re-election but, like many other incumbents, he faced defeat, joining the goup of the 250 parliament members who lost their re-election bids.
After his political setback, Lubwama returned to his artistic pursuits, engaging in acting, singing, and featuring on television and YouTube programs as a social-political commentator. He also pursued other business ventures.
Tragically, at the time of his passing, Lubwama, alongside performers like James Charles Ssenkubuge and Phillip Luswata, was involved in preparations for a play titled “Cease Fire,” which aimed to depict the current situation in the country.
On Heroes Day in 2017, Kato Lubwama was honored as one of the selected artists who received a medal from the President for their significant contributions to the creative industry. Among the esteemed artists who were also recognized and awarded medals were Sam Bagenda, widely known as Dr. Bbosa, Fred Ssebatta, Abbey Mukiibi, and posthumously, Elly Wamala, and Paulo Kafeero.