This Interview was originally published in the Mak News Magazine of January 2014


On 3rd August 2013, Makerere University crowned her year-long celebrations marking 90 years of existence with a Grand Finale at the Freedom Square. The Prime Minister of Uganda Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi was the Chief Guest representing The President H.E.Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Also present was a gallant alumnus and former President of the Republic of Kenya H.E. Mwai Kibaki, At the same occasion, another gallant alumnus and gifted musician Mr. Grace Wilson Mutekanga Igaga was recognized for his most respected composition, the Makerere University Anthem; a timeless and inspiring masterpiece. Mak News had a chat with him and now takes you on a musical journey as mapped out by the interview.


Former President of Kenya and Alumnus, H.E. Dr. Mwai Kibaki (R) shakes hands with Makerere University Anthem Composer Mr. Grace Wilson Mutekanga Igaga after he was honoured for his contribution on 3rd August 2013.


  1. Congratulations upon your recent recognition as Composer of the Makerere University Anthem. Please share with us your feelings at this moment.

I feel deeply humbled by this position. I never thought it would be like this, I just composed a song for the University and I have composed other songs for the University but this one managed to be liked better than others. And I am glad it was mine they chose rather than anyone else’s.


  1. At this point we would like to take you a bit back in time. Do you remember your first day at School? What was it like? What was your favourite subject? Who of your teachers had the greatest impact on you?

[Laughs] you mean 1951… I was just excited because I was going to school. It is a Day School. We used to walk some distance to the school but that day, my Father dropped me there in a car; one of the few cars in the area. So we stayed there until School broke off and then we went back home. Of course I was very hungry by the time I got back home… [Laughs] In terms of impact, there was a Lady teacher: all my hair had been shaved [off my head] and the Lady made a funny remark and said, “How does it happen you have such a huge head?” I didn’t like it… [Laughs heartily} and I have been conscious of it ever since. But then later on, nobody ever cared about it again.


  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who (which personality) did you look up to?

Possibly my Father. He was regal; a very big Chief and everybody knelt before him and he had everything. He could provide anything we wanted and then he seems to have favoured me more than anyone else and it bothered me sometimes.


  1. What was the job market like at the time? Did you get a job straight after leaving University?

Oh yeah! I was in fact surprised! I finally qualified in the United States after six years and so I had missed a lot of people and a lot of things. As I took a walk around Kampala the day after I returned, just as I approached Total Fuel Station [in Wandegeya], my Headmaster from Makerere College School saw me and pulled up behind me. He was very excited to see me and on inquiring when I had come back, I told him “Just last night.” Immediately, his response was “Come let’s go to Makerere College School! I don’t know what you are going to say but listen, I need you to teach here.” He had some examination classes which badly needed [Music] teachers. So he gave me a house and said “Everything else I will sort out.” He was expecting me to start teaching immediately but I informed him that I would need two weeks to go and meet my family, which I did and later on I returned and started teaching.

As I was teaching there, the Head of MDD [then Department of Music Dance and Drama, now Performing Arts and Film (PAF), Makerere University] came looking for me and said “I had been expecting you to be [teach] with us but don’t worry, we shall share you.” And so I was shared between MDD and Makerere College School, which was my A-Level School. So really, jobs were looking for me. I taught there for only three months and then the Director of The National Teachers College (NTC) Kyambogo, the late Adonia Tiberondwa came looking for me; they wanted somebody in my field [Music]. At first I didn’t want to go and said to him I didn’t want to be used because he [already] had members of staff there but he took a long time convincing me and later on I had to go. I became a Tutor at NTC Kyambogo and continued with part-timing at MDD. Three years later, a job opportunity appeared here at the University, they wanted a Warden for Livingstone Hall. It was [published] in the papers; I applied, got the job and still continued teaching at MDD.


  1. How did you meet your wife? Please tell us about your family?

It is a long story. I had met her a long time [ago] while we were both still going to School. As time went on, it became evident that I was tired of staying alone and wanted to get children and so we got married. The date was 14th June 1975 in St. Andrews Church Jinja.

About my family, in the African culture it is embarrassing to say that I have got so many children; others will feel left out. My Father’s family was very large. He was polygamous and had over 50 children. Right now, the majority of them are dead and only a few of us are left. I am the Dad to so many people now and I will get embarrassed the moment I begin naming them; it would be unfair. They are my children in all respects and I would like to treat them as such. Whenever they have an occasion that requires a Dad, I am the Dad there so the moment I start naming [them individually], they will feel left out. Otherwise, my wife has seven children.


  1. Have you always written or composed Music? Kindly tell us about some of your compositions prior to the Makerere University Anthem

I wish I could remember… even when I was a student, we were called upon to compose songs as educational exercises and I have got a number of them in my records, some of them I can’t name for security purposes [laughs]. However, there was another one I composed for the East and Central African University Games Association (EACSAUSA). They came and asked me to compose a song for them and I think it went like this

Harambee EACSAUSA, Run jump sport and play today, Bring together all the students

And words of the same nature that pertained to the different Universities. Harambee is a word which rallies people to do something, and so that song is not a secret because it has been sang here, so you could consider that one. If you are lucky and I am approached for another one, then you will get to know about it… [Laughs heartily].


  1. Kindly share with us the genesis and process of composing the Makerere University Anthem. Was it a one-day task for you a musical genius?

I am not a musical genius… but I have also known of musical geniuses who take a long time [composing], and sometimes you have more than one composition running. Once you start on it then it is a question of following the development of themes within the piece of music; themes that would be well laid out. It is like a novel or a piece of art when you are drawing. If you start a section and it certainly the beginning of a tree, it will end up a tree, because some of these tunes come up by inspiration.

Like this one honestly, there was a lot of inspiration and I think I finished it in record time, especially the words. I don’t know where the words came from. And when the Vice Chancellor was reading them out [earlier at the Honorary Award ceremony], I said to myself “How did I come up with these words?” [Laughs heartily] I don’t know, but well, that’s God’s providence I would think so. Otherwise I cannot boast. I showed it to one colleague [Prof. Arthur Gakwandi, Literature Department, Makerere University] who when he looked at it simply said, “As far as I am concerned, that is you.” Once Prof. Gakwandi had said that, and I had great respect for him in that area, I simply went ahead. We were classmates and he used to excel in that area [composition].

On the other hand, I had to develop the tune. There are about three sections in that song. One I particularly wanted to a fanfare sort of thing Makerere Makerere and of course We Build for the Future are not my words but the University motto: my job was to give the music. And I wanted a section with a military sort of touch Great great and mighty the walls around thee, great great and mighty the gates besides thee. I thought that would be easy for people to remember, especially students. It can rally them easily especially when they are going for football matches. Then I brought in the serene section, that mellow bit where there is a bit of preaching [laughs]. Do not forget, through all the years, those who have gone through the gates of Makerere. Give them the pride, give them the joy, Oh to remember the gates of Makerere. I saw the Vice Chancellor really moved [as he read out the words earlier], I had never felt that way; he was very poetic.

Then I felt I had to say something about Those who here be, seek ye the truth and that is not even original. Seek the truth is part of Makerere words of wisdom, seek the truth and only the truth. And so I employed them to make Makerere own it and to marry the two, and that was it! One [section] became a chorus and the other messages for various individuals. From East and West, from North and South, all voices singing arise Makerere, I was really calling on the internationality of the University, and I am glad they are doing just that. There is a feeling that Makerere’s story has not yet been told and probably, it will never be told. It is almost like the King’s College Budo motto where they say Gakyali Mabaga. Every morning is just the beginning; it is all about perpetuity.

And then there is something else about the Gates of Makerere. There are the physical gates and then there are other ones that are more salient than the physical gates. I had more in mind the gates which one can go through to enter Makerere; there is direct entry, diploma entry and mature age entry. And again, some of the people in Makerere are not necessarily Academic Staff. Some are cleaners but they are part of Makerere. So, how do they come in here? Those are all part of the Gates of Makerere.


  1. After only one year at Makerere, you left Uganda to study at Heidelburg College Ohio and Northwestern University, Illinois both in the US. What bearing did these 5 years away have on your music?

It was actually one and a half academic years because I finished one year and the other I started but left in October, after I had studied part of the second year. But then I was really part of Makerere, by virtue of the fact that I was at Makerere College School. When it came to matters of faith, we went to St. Francis Chapel and St. Augustine Chapel, and then in the evening we always sneaked out to get some meals in the Halls of Residence and they were very nice meals, of course better than ours in College School, and the students always welcomed us. When it came to things like social activities, they called upon us to work with them. So if I add the two A-Level years and the one and a half years, it comes to three and a half years spent at Makerere [before my departure].

My musical journey [however] started when I was a child. I had this weakness for classical music. We had some recordings and whenever these songs were played I was touched. I appreciated them before I was ever taught anything about them. I kept on asking “Please play that one again,” even when nobody else wanted it. When I went to school there was also a lot of music, especially singing Church music, the School Choir and then at Busoga College Mwiri is where I first got introduced to the Piano and other musical instruments like the violin. Our Headmaster Mr. F.G. Coates was a violinist and I had so much  favour with him that he gave me a violin. It was a very good machine, I liked it.

We had a Chemistry Teacher who started an orchestra; Mr. Ingles, we had a Physics Teacher who played Band Instruments and an American Mathematics Teacher who wrote home to his parents and they sent him a whole band of musical instruments. Many of them are still there to date. So the school went on fire with music and by this time Music had not been recognized as a teaching subject in schools but because of us, Government gave special permission to the School to start teaching music and they gave permission to get a teacher for music. And so one, Peter Cooke, who is still alive today was recruited from Britain. He is still alive and so he came and put everything together and since then, that school has been feeding the whole country with lots of musicians.

I think that is where this interest started and when I joined Makerere, I was doing a Bachelor of Arts-B.A (General) but my interest was in music. The Government negotiated with the American Government for a scholarship for me to go to the United States and when it came through I abandoned my BA because that is what I had always wanted, even if it meant starting afresh. So I went to Heidelburg College Ohio where I did my undergraduate. They would teach you to be a full music teacher and not just a specialist in one instrument.

When I finished the Bachelors, people in the US asked me questions like what was I going to do back at home and my firm reply was “I am going to teach music,” and they persisted, “But what music are you going to teach? Do you mean you are going to teach our music?” And for the first time it dawned on me that this was not my music and so in seeking music that I could call mine, I became a bit more revolutionary and I wanted to do something African. It so happened that at Northwestern University, Illinois, there was a Professor Klaus Wachsmann; of Ethnomusicology – the music of ethnical groups, who had been groomed in Uganda. He was the first curator of the Uganda Museum and he made the original collections of ethnic music. His wife was the organist of Namirembe Cathedral. They both came to Uganda in the early 1940s during World War II owing to the fact that they were Germans of Jewish origin and were being persecuted during Hitler’s time. So I wrote to him and asked if I could go to Northwestern and learn something about my own music. He was kind enough to help me get admitted and also get a scholarship as the one for the Bachelors had expired.


  1. You spent a large part of your working life as an Academic and Administrator at Makerere during the turbulent years of our Nation’s history. What role did music play during this time and also when you left Makerere to serve as Principal and Director?

I was very excited to come back home in 1971, unfortunately, it was the year Amin grabbed power. So there was still some excitement before he expelled the Asians and life just went on as usual. There was a lot of killing although not close to me but then people started leaving. That is how I ended up lecturing at NTC Kyambogo so prematurely. The only advantage is that I became Head of Department immediately, which played a very critical role in my life almost two years later when the job for Warden (Livingstone Hall) fell vacant.

Amin used to bring in Koreans with their gymnastics but with very funny music, so what we had to do was continue getting involved in musical activities in the Country. Around that time the Inspector of Schools in Music resigned and went back home, she was an English Lady and so we had no Inspector of Music in the Inspectorate. And so I had to take over the position for two years until I found that I could no longer carry on with that. Later on the Chief Inspector of Schools told me to close the office and go away if I could not carry on. So we had a bit of a quarrel and I told him that we needed music in schools and if we just went on closing offices that helped music to grow then I would not have benefited my subject.

When he eventually discovered that I was quite determined, he asked me to look for somebody to do the job and I came up with Mr. Kakudidi Bukuru, formerly a Tutor in Bishop Stuart Teachers Training College (TTC), Mbarara. He used to lead choir at festivals very well plus he had some organizational abilities, and so I highly recommended him. He was recruited and became Inspector of Music in the Ministry of Education and I handed over. But then I had to do a lot of work for East African Examination Council as Examiner; when you are a setter, you become a marker and so many other things. We used to organize music festivals for Schools and of course some musical activities here in MDD.


  1. Do you currently own any musical equipment? Which one is your favourite?

Voice… [Laughs heartily]. You heard my voice didn’t you? It is a good voice. Even as a student, I majored in voice. Voice is a very common instrument and usually lots of school administrators want people who have got a voice and then the others are added. Of course you need to have some knowledge of piano and other instruments. As I told you, my teacher gave me a violin, which I still have to this day. I used to play violin in the orchestra and band at Makerere. It was a very good orchestra that used to not only draw students but also wives of Professors. The orchestra was a great way for them to occupy themselves. Many of them started teaching us various instruments like the violin, piano, saxophones, clarinets on voluntary basis. And so they became a very active part of the community and on the days of the orchestra, we were all part of the very big Makerere Community Orchestra. 


  1. As a Musician you must be a great collector of music. Kindly give us a run-through of your musical library.

I enjoy listening to soloists and even choral groups singing. And then of course with the sort of training I went through, mostly western classical music, music of the renaissance period where you find composers like Palestrina, Claudio Monteverdi, to mention but a few; they are part of music history.  And then you come up to what they call the Baroque period, in fact I composed this song [Makerere Anthem] in the Baroque idiom. We had composers like George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, they were very good around that time and their style of composition influenced a lot of our Church music here. That was around the era they call 18th Century practices.

And then from the Baroque period we go to the Classical period, which is typically music of the 19th Century, with people like Felix Mendelssohn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bernhard Heiden, those people were very dominant then. From the classical period, we go into what is called the Romantic period, where people like Johannes Brahms and Mendelssohn. Each period has got its own style and when you teach people the appreciation of music, you must be conscious of those differences.


  1. Finally, what is your opinion of Uganda’s Music Industry, especially with regard to music composition?

What I may say is the Gospel singers call themselves composers but what they do is to write words; they are poets, they don’t compose songs, no. A song is music, and a poem is a poem. And it is an art to put that poem to music. Very many times people compose only music and somebody else comes up with the text for it, even several texts. Somebody can make it secular and another person can make it religious depending on their inclinations.

I would have [also] liked a period where you have got students who are learning something about the science of dance and the choreography. Choreography is the discipline of writing dances on script; composing it. They use some notes which they call Labanotation. It is very much in its own way but is like the musicians use staff notation. So one can compose a dance using Labanotation language and we need to develop this a little more.

The only man we had who was a specialist in that area [choreography]; The Late Professor Moses Serwadda trained in Ghana. We also wanted people to take more serious interest in theatre, and then possibly have another branch developed into the area of film. Most of the young people who would like to get into the film industry need to be trained, they need to be guided and they need to approach it the academic way. And this is the sort of style Makerere can take and I am glad I have been able to talk about that too so thank you for this opportunity.

Interview by Agaba Issa Mugabo and Wamai Mark, Public Relations Office.