By HOMELAND MEDIA TEAM
A dark-skinned and muscular man jumps off a boda boda and flashes a smile that enables everyone to catch a glimpse of the gap in his snow-white teeth.
Before he could settle fully, a host of bystanders and boda riders in Industrial Area signal and wave to the man prompting him to respond with his signature smile.
He reaches for his smartphone from his jeans to return a missed call but this is interrupted by another group of boys who shout out his name.
The man soon ushers this writer to Vision Group offices but shortly after making it past the security checkpoint at the entrance, a group of the company staff stop him to exchange pleasantries.
Finally, after almost 20 minutes, we are able to sit down for an interview with the man who has become household name in the entertainment industry in the country.
This is DJ Ssuuna Ben who prefers to call himself a villager from Masaka whose ‘Ebinyaanyanyanya’ type of music that mostly appeals to the local audience has of late earned fame among the elites.
The same earned him a spot to play at the recent concert for Nigerian singer Fireboy, real names Adedamola Adefolahan in Kampala.
“I am self-made. I have toiled all by myself to be where I am now. Even when many people at first didn’t like what I was doing, I never gave up until they later realized it is good and have started loving it,” Ssuuna says as we begin the interview.
Going to school
Born to the late John Kayondo and Proscovia Namata, Ssuuna Ben prefers not to mention the exact day, month and year he was born but prefers to say he has now come of age and thankful for his life.
“I thank God for keeping me alive for all this long,” he says.
He reveals he studied at Kimaanya Primary School up to primary three before joining Kijjabwemi Primary School from where he sat his Primary Leaving Exams.
Ssuuna is quick to mention that in 1993 when his dad passed while still in primary three, he had to leave the school to join Kijjabwemi where his school fees was being paid for by a family friend.
“After P.7, mum decided to take me to technical school so that I could get skills to become a mechanic to help me in future. I didn’t like that course because I was more interested in becoming an electrician but mum insisted I had to get skills to become a mechanic,” he says.
To ensure that the young Ssuuna studies vehicle mechanical engineering, she enrolled him in Masaka Vocational Institute of Technology in Ssenyange, a Masaka suburb.
The institute according to Ssuuna, mostly specialized in teaching mechanical vehicle engineering.
Although he stayed at the vocational institute for two years, his heart was always somewhere else.
“Whereas I was studying this, my heart loved electricity and eagerly wanted to become an electrician. However, there was nothing to do. Whereas I could understand what was being taught including the main parts of the vehicle and their uses, my heart was somewhere else,” he says.
But unfortunately after two years, his mother could no longer afford fees for the vocation school and Ssuuna had to drop out.
Sells music tapes
Ssuuna says one time, after dropping out of school, a man he only identifies as Abedi who was his late father’s friend requested his mother to allow him get Ssuuna a job.
“Abedi had a salon and used to advertise in its windows music tapes for sale. He asked me to help him sell the tapes,” he says.
Ssuuna says that before his father died, he had been the owner of one of Masaka’s biggest sound systems named Smart Sound and it is what he used as capital for the tape selling business.
“We picked a deck, mixer, speaker and amplifier. Abedi gave me some money to enable me get at least six music tapes and started off the business.”
His formula was simple. He says whenever a new music album was released, he would buy a tape, start playing the songs on that tape and very soon, passersby would request to buy the tape.
To his surprise and joy, the business took off. Clients loved his tapes and his suppliers had developed trust in him.
He recalls, “At Midland where I could buy the tapes from, the owner realized my business acumen and could give me tapes and I could pay later. I did this business for three years but inside me, I always wanted to return to school.”
The opportunity came when he got a chance to join a cultural troupe identified as Drumbeat of Uganda that was dedicated to returning talented but poor children back to school.
He explains that he realized this was his only chance to ensure he returns to school.
“I asked mum to allow me join Drumbeat of Uganda so that I could get a chance to return to school. The director, Paddy Kibi asked to find out what I could do and I responded that I didn’t know anything but was willing to learn.”
Ssuuna was later admitted to the group but on condition that he had to learn how to play musical instruments and in return his school fees could be paid.
Because he had love for what he was doing, after a year of training, the Ssuuna was soon skilled in playing so many different musical instruments that the impressed director granted him a chance to request or whatever he wanted.
In response, Sssuna asked the school troupe director asked for an opportunity to return to school.
“He then took me to Masaka Exodus Vocational Secondary School in Nyendo which had a technical and secondary wing. When I told Kibi I wanted to be an electrician, he realized the school was the best place for me.”
Slowly joins music
During his time of selling tapes in the taxi park in Masaka, Ssuuna was often in touch with many people, some of whom were in the music business and these had a big impact on his future.
His music friends would take him to night clubs to enjoy the music there and quite soon he found himself fascinated by the people who played the music there. He wanted to try out the decks in the deejaying booth.
“It was during that time that doing music remixes had just started with DJs like Byaru doing it in Masaka. There were boys who could rap songs as DJ Byaru played the remixes. I loved this so much. I yearned to be like DJ Byaru.”
Ssuuna says because he had learnt the basics of being a DJ, he was always hired to play at function like weddings and introductions in Masaka.
This enabled him to perfect the art.
“I was still a young boy but good at deejaying. I would be hired by disco companies to go and play for their audiences and I could be paid between shs500 and shs700. Before I could know it, I was famous as a young boy who could entertain audiences at functions.”
Ssuuna continued to become more proficient in stage performances by taking part in karaoke right from 2003 in his senior three to senior six. He would earn school fees from these late night performances and go to class in the morning.
Even when he was done with senior six, there was such demand that he continued perform for eager audiences in Masaka.
“One day, while on stage as the audience got excited by my performances, one Dickson Ssengonzi from Radio Equator approached me and asked whether I could work on radio. I said I could not because I had never done it but he insisted I could make the radio audience laugh with my performances,” Ssuuna says.
As the going says, the rest is history as the karaoke man was on the road to becoming a household name on radio.
Having established himself as a household name in doing radio comedy, he realized he had to try out something new and to this, he remembered his deejaying skills.
Meanwhile, there was a vacuum that at night, the radio didn’t have a presenter, giving chance to Ssuuna to fill it and used to play music during the night show.
“I started presenting the night show called Midnight Flavours on Equator Radio. Very soon, I was given an evening program called Butanaziba with Sheebah Magezi.”
Ssuuna says a Sunday program called Request Line on the radio is one that cemented his name in the hearts of the audience of Masaka that up to now, many people remember his name because of that show.
He says the skills he exhibited during the request program on the radio every Sunday made many listeners fall in love with what he was doing.
“At Equator FM, we never got salaries but were paid allowances once in a while. However, because working on radio was some form of pride, we never complained . I loved this job so much.”
Ssuuna has been known mostly for his unique ‘Ebinyaanyanyanya’ music which he pioneered with a colleague from Masaka, Mbaziira Tony whom he describes as a brother from another mother.
This is a style of mixing songs with faster Beats Per Minute(BPM).
He says that while at Equator FM, he pioneered this style of music and before he knew it, listeners had fallen in love with it.
“There was another night show I had on the radio called Zoom Africa where I used to play this kind of music and it garnered me a lot of fans who loved it. Because people love this kind of music, they would hire me to play it at functions and would be paid some money,” he narrates.
Ssuuna says whereas he was used to be paid between shs5000 and shs8000, one time a man hired him for shs100,000 and he could not believe it.
“This was my first time to get such a huge amount of money. I realized I was on the right truck,” says Ssuuna who would later be lured by Radio Buddu, the biggest radio station in Masaka.
He says that before taking him, the radio asked to know how much he was earning and that when he jokingly told the manager shs150,000 per month, he was told he would be getting shs200,000 at his new work station.
Ssuuna was over the moon about the move.
He says while at Buddu, he had a unique style of presenting where he mentioned almost all villages in Masaka which made the radio listeners fall in love with him for having mentioned their villages.
Ssuuna says in three months, his salary had more than doubled from shs200,000 to shs450,000 as he became a household name.
He says that joining Buddu FM made him become more famous even in Kampala where the radio signal reached.
“Whereas at Buddu, things seemed different because they had their own kind of music. I was presenting the Friday Jam Mix show and through it, I introduced my music to them and before they knew it, the audience had fallen in love with it and there was no turning back.. That’s where I got the name from the listeners and it was not long before it became a household name,” he says.
It was this stellar performance while at Buddu FM that saw Bukedde FM in Kampala seek his services around 2017.
Toast of Kampala
The move to Kampala was challenging in the beginning. He started out by sharing a room with a friend in Katwe, a Kampala suburb.
As it is at any new place, Ssuuna was unsure if he would manage to break into Bukedde FM culture and win the fans over but he persevered.
“When I joined, many asked whether I could manage since Bukedde had a different audience from the one of the radios in Masaka. When I started playing my remixes on the new radio, my fellow workmates didn’t approve of it saying the target audience didn’t like them. They branded my remixes as those from the village but I never listened to them. Before long, the public had fallen in love with my remixes. The rest is now history,” he says.
Ssuuna says that because of this love from the public, he organized concerts and to the surprise of many, whereas he had no artists, his concerts were sold out.
“By then, even the media would not give me attention and they didn’t cover my concerts. However, with time, even journalists started following me up. During my radio program, listeners would be thanking me for playing ‘ebinyaanyanyanya’. Thank you for playing ebinyaanyanyanya, they would say. The phrase was then amplified by Tik Tok and that’s how that music got the name.”
Ssuuna says he is proud of the person he has become, having had a simple background as a villager to now the toast of Kampala.
“For all things God had done for me, I thank Him for what I am now. I never knew I would be this famous by all the glory returns to God. Wherever I go, people stop to have a glance at me. All the things that my mother had failed to do have now been completed, courtesy of me. My mother never lacks anything. I have bought her several acres of land in Masaka,” he says.
Ssuuna is optimistic the future is bright going by what is happening now.
He also has a piece of advice for youth out there.
“To my fellow youths, things are not easy. We have grown up in homes with challenges but should never drag you back. The challenges should just drive you forward to reach greater heights. The future is bright to those who persevere and work harder,” Ssuuna urges.
“ If you have something you love, don’t give up on it. With time you will win. The living God we profess to will never forsake us. He will always be there for us.”