Ugandan born The Icon speaks about transformation from Uganda to enrollment into the British army
At some point in life many people have sacrificed for something their heart yearned for.
Indeed there are many funny and sometimes horrible stories behind many successful musicians in Uganda. The Sunrise, has managed to bring to life many artistes’ stories. This week, our reporter Fahad Kasibante brings you the life of UK-based Ugandan musician Deodee Muhima Manilaguha alias Tha Icon to share his inextinguishable fire and burning passion for music.
Deodee was born to the late Deo Ntamashakiro Manilaguha and Cate Kawombe. His mother was a hustler in Namuwongo slum as she survived on odd jobs while his father was a businessman.
Looking back, Tha Icon says his childhood was characterized with hassling as he had to accompany his mother as she went about doing odd jobs in order to support her family of 7.
Deodee started school at Kiwuliriza nursery school in Kibuli, a suburb of Kampala. He changed to Nkoyoyo boarding school Matale, St. Peters Nsambya primary school for his primary. For his secondary education, he recalls that his father was not happy with his stubborn character which forced him to relocate him from St. Maria Gorretti in Katende where he was from senior one to senior three, to Old Kampala where he did his O- level final exams.
Deodee recalls that in his primary seven vacation he was arrested for stealing his father’s speaker
“With the hostile environment I grew up in, life was never easy for me while growing up. I was jailed during my primary seven vacation at Kabalagala police station for about two weeks. I was eleven years and had stolen a speaker from my father’s home in Kansanga with whom I had gone to spend my primary seven vacations. I wanted to sell it so I could get money for studio sessions. I have always wanted music.
Although his musical background cannot be traced to his family, he nonetheless, praises his mother who always took him to watch Bakayimbira stage plays and artistes like Willy Mukabya among others.
“My musical journey started way back in Kasanvu. I and my friends had formed a band and we used empty tins as instruments. I was also the vocalist then. I used to sing as Kayanda, the late Herman Basudde, Livingstone Kasozi and the likes. It was really fun. Luckily, mother used to take us to enjoy stage plays and musical shows. This inspired me and I joined St Peter’s choir where I played the trumpet, “ the Icon recalls.
He adds: “During my primary seven holidays before my arrest, I always went to Kansanga miracle center. I had joined their choir. I got my first lead experience when I sung R. Kelly’s storm is over.”
The Icon’s teenage years were also the height of drugs in schools, he recalls.
“There was a high rate of drug abuse among people. Some were taking Tina, marijuana and other drugs. I lost many of my friends to drugs and some survivors who are now adults are still struggling with them,”
“My childhood was not nice because I grew up with a single mother of six children. Sometimes I was dumped in Kamwenge village with my aunt. I would spend there a year or two then come back to Kampala to my mother who lived in Namuwongo Kasanvu. As a child, I was psychologically tortured in many ways,” he asserts.
A combination of his love for music coupled with a troubles upbringing, compounded to spoil his education. He recalls that he for example ask girls to copy notes on his behalf as he spent time composing songs.
“I always waited for karaoke days to entertain my mates as I imitated the likes of R.Kelly, Sisco, Craig David and the likes. I was a poor performer and and this forced dad to change me from St. Maria Gorrett to Old Kampala. While at Old Kampala, I met Mr. Mosh and through him, I got to places like DV8, Sabrinas and his influence helped me test the limelight. I used to back him up. He literary introduced me to music. His name was my password to every hangout,” recalls Muhima.
Tha Icon says he was one of the best vocalists and during school term holidays, he would go to hangouts and meet with popular deejays. One of those who influenced him is the late Deejay Momo, who advised him to record his compositions. This didn’t work out though as he left for the United Kingdom to further his studies.
Instead of studying, Muhima chose to join the British army.
“I had come for further studies when I got the opportunity to serve the British army. I joined the army in 2007 but I quit in 2016. The situation was tough at the time I joined . There were wars. The Afghanistan war was just starting and there was that of Iraq. These wars were ongoing. It was a tough decision but it was worthy because it has made me the musician and man I am today,” he reflects
“Even after my departure, the late Momo kept on asking me for music. He suggested I come back to Uganda, do a song and give it to him. I came back and went straight to Swangz Avenue, connected with Benon and they welcomed me in the Swangz Avenue family. I did songs like empisazo, what if, and others though I released a few. Benon gave me the name Press for a stage name. I gave Empisazo to MoMo and he pushed it. People started recognizing me in the industry. I later released Nakupenda alongside Rabadaba who was a hot cake then. I followed it with Kiriza and before I could hype it, my mother passed on in 2011,” he remembers.
Tha icon says that a part of him died with his mother because she was his inspiration for music. He sung to impress her and her death was a major setback in his music career.
“When she died, music died for me and I stopped associating myself with everything to do with entertainment because I was singing for my mother. I focused on looking after my kid sisters. After some years, my fans and Betinnah proud farmer who was a KFM presenter then, asked me to come back to Uganda and the music industry. I started rebranding myself. I chose Press The Icon though I was never active with the name. I later decided to stick to The icon as my stage name. While I was making plans for a serious come back to the industry in 2015, my father also died. It was another setback.
Asked about views of the industry now compared to the 2000s, he says: “Music has evolved, back in the day, I used to do RnB but now, I fuse, I can do Afrobeat, Reggae and other kinds. I am just an entertainer. I sing about what people go through in life. The only music I don’t do is rap.
Besides music, he engages in charity. He is strongly connected to single mothers, orphans, persons with disabilities etc.
But he insists that his mother’s experience as a single mother has forced him to focus on changing the plight of single mothers.
“My mum was one of them so I know she is proud. In future, l would love to start a charity organisation.
Asked about challenges to his musical career, Tha Icon responds that: “I am lucky for I am naturally gifted with a good voice and I can compose my own song. Sometimes writers bring me songs but since they sell them expensively, I write my own. My musical hardships are normal, I believe other artistes also face challenges with promotion, convincing the audience to love your music because some are hostile and con artists disguised as promoters, producers, presenters as many think we artistes based in the diaspora are loaded.”
He Apparently has no plans of settling in the Pearl of Africa not even for his career. He believes he is not programmed for a Ugandan stay since he has largely lived abroad.
“Life in the UK and life in Uganda are totally different. I have lived part of my life in Uganda but I have lived largely in the UK. I understand this system more than I understand that of Uganda. I also believe that you don’t have to live in Uganda to achieve. As long as you have connections, people who believe in you and your fans, then things will work for you,” he adds.