By Emmanuel Ssejjengo
In a time behind us, the best and worst of moments were held in letters, and it goes without saying that the art of letter writing was something devoured like the best ice cream. You, dear reader, may easily have been conceived after a series of romantic letters exchanged by Daddy and Mummy. Letters about puppy love were as creative as humourous. In the just concluded presidential campaigns, the exchange of letters between President Yoweri Museveni and National Unity Platform’s Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) had all our attention.
In a gone age, when the world was innocent and cleverness was not attributed to theft, envelopes were synonymous with letters, not bribes. Bbaasa means envelope. Getting an envelope now means taking a bribe. How did we fall from grace?
Here at The Kampala Sun, we shall celebrate this World Letter Writing Day by reviewing some of the best songs ever composed about the subjects. It is a mix of old and new songs, four local and five foreign (because the world is bigger than Uganda), but all to the taste of our regular reader. In no particular order, read and listen.
1. Danger by Lilian Mbabazi
Penned by Mowzey Radio, her baby daddy, the couple packed loads of emotion in this. “I am losing my mind/So, I am sending you a love letter”- you should see the reaction when Lilian (one of the most admirable voices alive) starts that in a live show. It is no wonder many call the song Love Letter.
Lyrically, Radio is one for end rhymes and he maintains them here from beginning to end, which is sometimes considered lazy. The register also remains street urban. It also has a simple plot, and simplicity is a winning formula here. The video went retro, reflecting the time of love letters.
2. Olupapula si mupiira – Hadija Namale
This is not even an oldie, it is a classic for our young readers. Putting it here is not just showing off that we know it all. If any of your relatives is a collector, get in touch and listen, because online sources may not be very useful here. The highlight of the song is when the character tells of her frustration because paper is limiting. She would have written on and on to pour out her heart, but paper is not elastic like rubber, and even the ink runs dry. A few younger artistes have re-done it. It is a hard song to do justice to, for an impatient person, so we have many bastard versions around.
3. Bbaasa – Jimmy Katumba
In a gone age, when the world was innocent and cleverness was not attributed to theft, envelopes were synonymous with letters, not bribes. Bbaasa means envelope. “Getting an envelope” now means taking a bribe. How did we fall from grace? The song is about stolen secrets. A friend opens another’s envelope in which she kept her secrets (letters) and later betrayed her. Such is what made Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies musicals family affairs. To regain our innocence, we need to go back in time, and recover the bbaasa.
4. Ebaluwa by AK 47
If sampling was a person, it would be AK 47. The only annoying thing about most of his sampling was that it was plain and bland. This song is about a lost love letter, relying on a nursery rhyme for its popularity – I sent a letter to my girl/ but on the way I dropped/Someone’s has picked it up and kept it in his pocket. For this one, listen to the audio, watching the video can be regarded as a waste of attention.
1. Dear John Letter – Whitney Houston
From the title and singer, the surprise is that this is not “a slow”. There is a bop-your-head rhythm, and she sings right on the beat like Bobby used to. A dear John letter is one written by one lover to the other to end a relationship – call it quits. Instead of the face-to-face drama, you write to the lover and tell them “I wanna hit the door”, even when it hurts that “I can’t go through with mailing this to you.” Ending relationships hurts, and Whitney’s tone in this one has all that hurt.
2. Stan – Eminem ft Dido
Off his sophomore album, it cemented Eminem’s status as one who could carry hip-hop on his shoulders. It is Em at his lyrical best, the angry poetic beast that we have come to know. The song is a letter exchange, between Stan and Slim Shady. In the first verse, the fan tells of the influence Slim has on him and he hopes he would write back. In the second verse, frustrated Stan gets angry and warns that “you gotta call be back” or he would lose him. The anger steps up a notch on the third verse, and ends in a suicide and a death. The last verse is Slim’s response, with one of the best anti-climaxes hip-hop has ever given us. The external structure of the song- all four letters have intros, bodies with explanations and conclusions, tells of the painstaking attention to detail in its creation. It will always sound fresh. Em got character.
3. Four Page Letter – Aaliyah
R. Kelly just brought back Aaliyah into the news, so we got back to listening to her. The teenager, singing about high school love, just hit the right points. The character, quite naïve because of warnings from her parents, chooses to write to a guy she has eyes on, on a four-page letter to declare her love, closes it with a kiss and she wishes she is not rejected. If you’ve never got a love letter closed with a kiss, you have not lived yet.
4. Write Me a Letter – Aerosmith
A rock anthem, one that will get the nightclub screaming stuff you can’t hear. It is an easy shout-to song, especially the write me a letter parts. As expected of Aerosmith, the strings are all over the place in this one, and the drums are relentless. On a thematic note, you may calm your nerves on discovering the song is about depression, with a guy who has suicide on his mind. Advisably, this one needs more than one listen – so you get its music and also its lyrics right.
4. Letter to My Unborn Child – Tupac
Hip hop has always dealt with letter writing. And Tupac, living a life of sin, contemplated death many times so it is understandable that he wrote this letter to his unborn child, “in case I don’t make it”. The letter is to “the seeds I may never get see cause of this lifestyle.” It is very auto-biography (from his birth to death), with Tupac’s thug life summed up in three verses. However, what makes it gripping is the emotion with which it is delivered. All male Ugandan pop artistes need a song like this, for chances of unborn children for them are many.
5. Letter to My Son – Don Trip ft. Ceelo Green
This one writes to a born son, in an era when families are breaking up like the world is going to end tomorrow. Couple breaks up and court grants father only weekly visits so he does not get to see son regularly. And mum uses son to get back to dad, without minding that the child is getting bruised too. A song for the right age; when fights over children are commonplace. That its focus is on the consequences is a plus. Here is hip hop that is a lesson, you young people in love.