- Cinderella dreams. Maureen Nantume is a picture of sophistication and glamour.
- Her trendy outfits, carefully applied make-up and long well-manicured finger nails belie the fact that not so long ago, she was a housemaid write Lawrence Ogwal and Gabriel Buule.
Maureen Nantume is a gorgeous and talented singer with the popular Golden Band the splinter group from Eagles Production. Her single Sili ndogoyi which decried women being over burden with work, clicked with a massive audience and firmly launched her into Afro-pop music stardom.
Although Nantume has been a star for over a decade, she still remains humble. Born to Robinah Nakitende, an onion vendor, Nantume’s mother struggled financially to raise her and her two siblings. Circumstances became worse when her mother died in 1996.
“My mother’s death robbed me of any hope for a better future. It meant that my education had to be halted and the worst was that I had to look for accommodation. It is at this point that I had to look for a job that came with both pay and accommodation,” Nantume recalls.
After struggling for a while with school fees, the future star dropped out of school in Senior Three in 2002 while at Agro-Links in Namasuba.
“After my mother’s burial some members of my mother’s family agreed to give my siblings to their families, sadly no one knew who my father was, so I was left alone without a single option,” Nantume relates.
Shortly after the burial she got a job in Namasuba as a housemaid where she worked for three years earning a monthly salary of Shs15, 000. Although she was down on her luck, Nantume still nursed her dream of one day becoming a famous singer.
Nantume the “mukomba bookisi”
Unlike difficult experiences housemaids usually go through, Nantume has nothing but praise for her former employer. She believes working for that family was part of her destiny because it was her employer who encouraged her to try her luck at auditioning for the band, hence leading her to her career. She also believes being a housemaid is a viable venture if one is treated humanely and paid well and it can be a gateway to a bright future.
“My enemies sometimes use my past experience against me calling me the derogatory name given to housemaids mukomba bookisi (dish licker) not knowing that it is that job that paved my way to stardom,” Nantume asserts.
Nantume stresses that even though she was bullied by her peers for working as a maid she says she was never moved since her worries were beyond bullies.
“My employer was my friend and she is still my friend. She liked me so much because I was a very hardworking person. I liked her so much and she was like a mother to me. She allowed me to do my chores with headphones through which I would listen to music on the radio. I enjoyed singing to every song and she never had any problem with it,” Nantume recalls.
Life with Eagle’s Band
One day, her boss who had attended an end of year fete at Mengo palace dubbed (Enkuuka yo’mwaaka) came home and told her about a singing opportunity available with the Eagles Production band that was carrying out auditions for fresh talent.
“My boss told me I had a good voice and that I should go for the auditions which, I did,” Nantume recounts.
The auditions attracted more than 100 hopeful singers. She remembers being intimidated by people who already looked like stars and carried themselves with an enviable ease.
“Compared to them, I looked and felt like the domestic help that I was. I was however, excited when the judges told me to sing Betty Mpologoma’s Big Daddy which was one of my favourite songs. I had sung it so many times while working, so I was comfortable with it,” Nantume recounts.
After the auditions the group was told to go home and listen to CBS Radio where the successful one would be announced.
“I cannot describe how excited I was to hear my name read among the chosen five. It was one of the best days of my life. I felt so lucky,” the singer relates.
It was official, Nantume was part of the Eagles’ Production Band where she sung backup for every senior band member who wished to work with her including Mesarch Ssemakula, Ronald Mayinja, Catherine Kusasira, Stecia Mayanja, Fred Maiso, Geofrey Lutaaya, Sophie Nantongo and Irene Namatovu, among many.
“It is at this time that I had to part ways with then my employer at Namasuba since we used to work for long hours and travelled long distances. Together with some other two girls who had just joined the band, we rented a room that we shared between 2003 to 2005,” she says.
While her career had changed for the better, Nantume’s financial situation did not. As a backup singer she was paid Shs5,000 for every performance. She had to pay rent, buy food, clothes and transport herself to work on her meagre pay.
“My life became more difficult. It was hard surviving on that kind of pay. However, I did not regret it even for a second. I was not the exception, all around me were backup singers living the same life. This gave me comfort. But most importantly I knew it was a matter of time before my fortunes changed,” she relates cheerfully.
It was after the three years in Eagles Production when they wrote her the song titled Sili Ndogoyi, the song that launched her career and she started performing solo.
“Under Mesarch Ssemakula’s guidance in Eagles Production, I kept striving and releasing more songs and slowly I created a fan base and soon I was performing in my own right as a singer away from the band.
The big pay day
“In 2006, I got a gig to perform at Nabweru football pitch and I made Shs80,000, it was too much money and I could not believe it was mine. Up to this point I had never earned that much money at ago. I have since earned larger amounts but to me that will always be my most exciting payment ever,” Nantume says bemusedly.
The following year, Nantume released three songs: Abakozi Ba Safari, Oyitiriza Okungeyengula and Nkwagala nyo which got a lot of airplay on local stations. The songs got her her first introduction (Kwanjula) gig for which she was paid Shs400,000.
Things were finally looking up for Nantume. She quickly realised that her music was popular at Kwanjula functions so she focused on doing just that.
In 2012, she released Kiyungu a song that earned her more gigs, performing at about two introductions and two weddings in one day.
“Besides Kiyungu establishing me as an artiste, I started making good money and that was when I started doing investments with the help of Ssemakula who always advised me on what to do with the money,” Nantume says.
Even though Nantume repeatedly chooses not to publically discuss family matters, the wife and a mother of two daughters reveals that she is happily married with a family of several destitute children she caters for under her flourishing Nkuzze Foundation.
Nantume did not know who her father was until 2010 when someone remarked that she looked like a one Denis Ssekiziyivu of Masaka. Refusing to go into details of a topic that is still visibly painful to her, she says when she finally met Ssekiziyivu, it was established that he was her father.
“The story about finding my biological father is known by my close family and friends. With time, it has taken different versions having been retold differently. The truth is I met my father when I was already a popular and well-off singer. Nevertheless I am happy with the relationship and with him as an individual,” Nantume stresses.
Life beyond Music
A farmer and businesswoman, Nantume runs a bridal and fashion boutique in Makindye near Calendar Rest-house.
She notes that besides attending to her boutique she is a budding small scale farmer who does poultry, among others.
Having been bitten by the farming bug, Nantume notes that besides making more good music and maintaining her business she is working hard to own a large farm for either animal husbandry or crops.
Unlike most local musicians who get lost in the world of superficiality forgetting to make substantial investments for themselves, Nantume is grounded and focused.
She has learnt to separate her artiste persona from her real life persona.
Away from the stage, she is a shrewd hardworking and focused woman determined to create as much wealth for herself and her family as possible.
She credits her band members for this financial ambition, especially Ssemakula.
“Band music changed my life. When I joined Eagles’ Production, Ssemakula who is one of the founders of the group, instilled a character of humility in me. He also taught me that the best measure of wealth is not in how many designer clothes you have in your wardrobe or how flashy the car your drive is but in the investments you have made and the money you have saved in the bank,” Nantume says.