Started in 1973 as a family choir, Golden Gate Choir is among the most popular gospel music groups in Uganda. Its founder, Robert Solika Munyagwa, said in a 1993 interview before his death that the vision to start the choir came from God.
He composed the first songs and together with his wife, four children, and househelp, performed them at Bunga Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Church in 1973. It was only in 1975 that he allowed outsiders to join the choir.
Some of the choir’s famous songs include, Babulooni, Totunula mabega, Ntume Ani, Ekondeere, Beera omubuulizi, Emirembe gy’Abaruumi, and Tulibinyumyako.
Arguably, the most popular of their songs is Babulooni, referencing Chapter 18 of The Book of Revelations. Mukiveemu Babulooni, Mukiveemu! Mukitye kuba Mukama y’ayogedde. Omusango gw’akyo gujja, guli kumpi. Mukifulumemu mwe abantu bange. Babulooni, Babulooni nga kigudde! Ebibonyobonyo byakyo byona okutuka ku lunaku lumu. (Come out of her (Babylon). Come out of her! Fear her, the Lord says. Her judgement is coming, it is near. Babylon! Babylon has fallen! Her plagues will come in one day).
In Christianity, Babylon symbolises a religious and political system of worldliness and evil.
Golden Gate Choir’s story began in Kiwafu Muyenga, where Munyagwa, a Radio Uganda broadcaster, lived. Using Radio Uganda as his platform, Munyagwa promoted the choir’s music. In the 1970s when President Idi Amin banned some Christian sects, the choir began ministering in Anglican churches.
It impressed the former Archbishop of Uganda, Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo (at that time a reverend), and it is no wonder that Munyagwa was Nkoyoyo’s best man at his wedding.
The choir was banished by the SDA church for ‘embracing worldly values’ and performing for other denominations. In the late 1970s, Munyagwa got paralysed on a trip to Cairo, Egypt. He also spent three years in Mulago Hospital after a cancer diagnosis. While there, he started a singing group for the nurses.
In 1982, he enlisted a celebrated Kadongo Kamu composer and singer, Isaac Mukalu.
In 1992, other members, Hannington Bukenya, Rebecca Nalwadda, Kisuule Waguma and Dan Kabenge also left to form The Remnant Crew Ministries. In 1993, when Munyagwa was on his death bed, The Remnant Crew were a tremendous help to him and his family.
Munyagwa’s widow, Margaret Namatovu, who is the custodian of the choir, reminisces of this tough time. “It was hard for us but we lived on the hope that we were serving a living God.”
A series of deaths of the choir leaders sent the choir into hibernation.
Today, the choir is active. Remmy Michael Kizito, an accountant with Multiplex Limited, is the chairman. “I became interim chairman in 1999. Nowadays, about 25 choir members regularly attend choir practice at Munyagwa’s residence every Friday. We have 40 active members,” he says.
One of the new members, Lydia Mugalu, a soprano, who joined in 2013, is a midwife at Kansanga Domiciliary Home. “I find fulfillment in the choir. When I applied to join, I went through a lengthy vetting process but I now know that is the reason why this choir still stands strong.”
After celebrating their Ruby Jubilee in 2013, Kizito used his position to mobilise funds to buy a choir bus. “We plan to establish a music academy but this is something that needs strong partnerships,” he says.
Although their best remembered songs were produced in the 70s and 80s, on November 26, 2017, they unveiled their latest album at Bat Valley Theatre.