Bangi- Juggling studies and studios

October 02, 2019

Melissa always loved to sing. When she was in s1 at Gayaza High School, she auditioned for the Christmas Play that her class was due to present. She was unable to get the role she wanted. “Gayaza girls were so good (at singing). I wasn’t even in the top 30,” she recalls. She consequently shelved her ambitions, temporarily. Two years later, she joined Taibah School. Her friends told her that she was a very good singer but she thought they were just “hyping” her up. One day, she yielded to their demands and she hopped onto the stage and sang for the whole school. The response was overwhelming. She realised that she actually had a good voice. Today Melissa, a third year student of Mass Communication, has grown into a great musician and one of the youngest radio presenters. Thus begins the story of Bangi, as she would eventually be fondly referred to by her fans.

Taibah School, just like Gayaza before it, was deliberate about extra-curricular activities. Her gift was harnessed and she was able to network with like-minded people that were passionate about playing the drums, the guitar, the keyboard and other instruments. She worked at improving her vocal abilities, as well as songwriting. Songwriting came naturally to her because she had always been a writer. In fact, at some point, she had dreamed of publishing a book of poems. She kept performing throughout her school years and she eventually became known as a singer.
In s6 vacation, Melissa teamed up with her friend Hanifah and they set out to form a girl- group. They came up with a number of songs but they have never been released. She went on to perform on some stages with her band that consisted mainly of her friends that she studied and played with in Taibah. One of the events she performed at was The Clan Meeting, an event co-organised by Bantu Vibes, a group that she is affiliated with. It was her first time to perform for an audience of 2000 people.
Later on, she teamed up with rapper/ producer Lagum, and they set out to work on an EP (Extended Play) project. The project never got completed or released either. However, something came out of this endeavor. She got featured on her first song. The song came out early this year and was entitled ILuvYou, by Lagum featuring Mootownoh, Mxestro, Roy Nkangi and herself. It was well received by its audience, and it has been streamed many times on Soundcloud and other online platforms.
A few months later, she released her debut single. UDK is a song about a lady whose heart is broken repeatedly by her beloved but she keeps going back to him, a phenomenon that is known in “clowning”. It features Cxnrvd, a vocalist who blends English lyrics with Runyankore. The song received rave reviews. It got shared over 150 times on Twitter.
When Melissa isn’t writing, recording or performing, she is in class. She is a third year student of Mass Communication at UCU. This is her second last semester and she hopes to graduate next year.
When Melissa isn’t in class or on stage, she is at XFM radio studios where she presents the daily Top 10 countdown show from 2-3 pm. At 21, she might be the youngest radio presenter in Uganda. It has been a long time coming, though. Melissa was born in 1997 to Wilfred and Christine Bangirana. From a very young age she accompanied her father to the radio station where he worked and watched him play. She determined at that point that she would be a presenter when she grew up. She doesn’t feel like being a radio presenter and being a musician are mutually exclusive, in fact she feels like they complement each other. “Being on radio will help put me out there, and the listeners will be delighted to find that I am the same as the musician,” she says.
Melissa was the only biological child of DJ Bangi, who was a presenter on Sanyu Fm, Uganda’s oldest radio station. He played there from 1994, months after it was opened. Melissa talks about her bond with her father. “He was my best friend.” She recalls how he was in his element whenever he was in the studio. She found it magical that he could talk into the microphone and spin the discs, and be received by many Ugandans in their cars or in the comfort of their homes.
In 2007, at the age of 44, he suffered a stroke and passed on. Melissa was only 10. I ask her about what impact this event had on her outlook on life, as well as her spirituality. At this point, she broke down. She apologized and tried to speak but she couldn’t. We were seated on a bench on one of the beautiful university lawns. I almost wept myself, as I thought about an only child losing her young father, at such a tender age. It can’t be easy. It can’t even be explained.
When she regained composure, she said that the impact was huge. “It was really sad because I literally watched him die. It’s quite painful remembering that.” She said the world was a “dark place” for a long time afterwards. She sunk into an episode of depression before she was even a teenager. It would be the first of many that she would experience. She says that she lost trust in people, because she felt like her and her mum were abandoned and forgotten about.
“You realise that people you grew up thinking were family and close friends, are actually not. I saw people vanish- people I’ve seen since infancy. People promise things and then do other things. With the exception of my aunt, my uncle, cousins, and my grandparents; my mum and I went through this alone. I realised that people are fake and it made me think the world is a dark place”. Her views on religion were also affected. “Of course it took a toll. He literally had the power to heal him. So many people have recovered from strokes but He decided that he should be the one to just die. It definitely also had an impact on my personality.”
At this point she breaks down again. It’s just so sensitive, she says. She says that people instead began judging her because she was anti social, and yet she was going through bouts of depression throughout her teenage years, trying to make sense of it all. She says she believes in God now but that’s only because some things have happened in her life that she can’t explain and that make her realize that it’s God. She also attributes her belief in God to the fact that her mum is very spiritual and prayerful and raised her (Melissa) like that. However, Melissa is still skeptical about religion and is constantly asking questions.
I ask her how she has managed to survive addiction and substance abuse, in an era where it is common amongst young people. “I think mainly I just always thought about my mum because she has just me and I have just her. I can’t throw away my life just like that. Mum would be disappointed. People say ‘I’ll try only once’ but that one time will give birth to an addiction” she says. She adds that addiction and depression are real and that people should not take them lightly. She advises people that are struggling with either to surround themselves with close, loyal people, like family and close friends- people that will not just rebuke and dismiss them. She says surrounding oneself with people is important because it enables the affected person to talk and get things off their chest. It’s effective, she says, even when the close people are silent. It’s enough to know that someone is listening.
In 10 years, Melissa Bangi hopes to be a successful radio presenter and musician. She looks up to two people mainly, Siima Sabiiti, a former radio presenter at XFM and her late father, Dj Bangi.

Melissa Bangi