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Meeting and Working with Trey Songz: Part I

coke-studio-ssn4-reveals-trey-songs-156-of-379-1I almost met the Grammy award-winning American R&B/hiphop artiste Trey Songz in Lagos last December but as fate would have it, I was going to meet and work with him this year in Kenya at Coke Studio Africa. Here’s the sweet tale:

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a dare devil who likes to experience the real deal. While in Lagos last December, I almost met Trey Songz. He had come to Nigeria for a concert, which I couldn’t attend for some reason. I still went on to make a few calls trying to connect with Trigga so as to interview him and well … look at his lovely chest close hand. A friend of mine happened to be good friends with his Nigerian host who we contacted and within no time the two had set up an opportunity for me to meet Trey. However, I was unable to make it to our meeting – a situation that left me forever salty and singing, ‘I can’t help but wait …’

Read Madness, Generators and Nairas: Insights from Nigeria

Fast-forward to 2016 and Trey gets selected by the African music show Coke Studio Africa to be the guest star of the show’s fourth season, premiering October 9th. As the Publicist of the show, my first role was to set up a good PR plan for his recording week and then organize and manage his press conference and media tour. From the experience of working with NEYO during his feature on Coke Studio Africa last year, I already knew what to expect this year so to avoid the craziness and pressure, for Trey’s week I planned a lot in advance. Even so, I was still dreading the possibility of something going wrong so I just tried to be as meticulous as possible.

Many people must think that just because I am the Publicist of Coke Studio Africa, I am always with the artistes and can get the artistes to do anything like ask them to send people personal shouts and take pictures with them. Well, I can but to be honest it’s not easy as it’s a very different ball game when you are working under a strict schedule and with highly professional international artistes. Although I have all access to the artistes, it’s not as easy to get to them any time because of the show’s packed recording schedule, which has employed hundreds of professionals working around the clock on the production, and of course the artiste management. While Trey arrived in Kenya on a Tuesday, I only got to meet him first hand on Wednesday night at the press conference I was hosting.

coke-studio-ssn4-reveals-trey-songs-5-of-379Before the press conference I was running up and down like a headless chicken together with my Anyiko PR Team coordinating the media, and making sure everything from the stage, set up, lighting and sound is perfect. From labeling the artistes seats to personally testing all their mics, by the set time of start 7:00 p.m. everything had been ready for Trey and his collaborators: Rema Namakula (Uganda), Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), Nyashinski (Kenya), Yemi Alade (Nigeria), Stonebwoy (Ghana), Serge Beynaud (Ivory Coast), Emtee (South Africa), Neyma (Mozambique), Lij Michael (Ethiopia) and the South African producer Maphorisa.

When he was finally unveiled in front of hundreds of top East African media, it was easy to see that he had perfectly gelled with the African artistes. How they easily sailed through conversations around cross-cultural collaborations to support African talent and music – was ideal and show for Trey Songz’s consciousness. His passion for the project, awareness of the need for African music to supersede polity, paired with the warmth of his radiant smile and banter -for the first time made me see him like a person, an artiste and not just a sex pot. I would later get to see Trey at work and sample a taste of his diligent artistry, discipline and hard work – probably why he remains top of his game.

Look out for Meeting and Working with Trey Songz: Part II, coming soon

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Looking Beyond: A Tribute to Grapevine TV Show

2016-08-21-PHOTO-00000001This week was my last at hosting Grapevine TV Show. It has been airing on Kenya’s KBC Channel 1 for more than a decade now. I had been hosting the show for seven years. However, I had been watching it longer than that. I started watching Grapevine back at home in Molo, when I was a teenager and hadn’t known that one day I would relocate to Nairobi and be the host of the show.

At that time, I loved that the show had vibrant hosts: Fred Indimuli and Joy. As I watched every week, I felt like they directly addressed me. The show also helped shape my love for concerts and festivals. Through its coverage, I got to know exactly what would tick me.

In 2007 I relocated to Nairobi to study Journalism and Media Studies at University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism. My eyes were then more than ever fixated on hosting Grapevine, even though I had no TV experience and a worthy demo. I got the name to the then producer of the show: JB Ohaga on the credits at the ending and promised myself that I would one day find him and explain to him why I should be the host of the show – even though I didn’t know what exactly I would say. I finally met JB at an Alliance Francaise concert, while I was there studying French. Striking a rapport from the get-go, he would soon become my mentor and we always stayed great friends since.

A few years later, he called me over to KBC for an audition to host Grapevine as the then lady host wanted to leave. This came to me as a ray of light as I had been dejected earlier on from failing to top at several other TV auditions. I got a script and spent only about five minutes reading through. The camera test in front of JB and the show’s creator Jakie Lidubwii was fun – though they advised that I needed more practice in front of the mirror. For many years, I practiced my craft by talking to myself in front of the mirror or walking solo in the streets. I practiced at every given opportunity until I gained confidence in myself. It was until this happened that I started to garner fans and get constructive feedback from viewers.

Throughout the years, I have learnt that being on TV is just a job as tough as any other. It’s only fun when you keep your passion and head grounded, know what you’re doing and love it all the same. It took me about two straight years to become a proper TV host and about three years to grow into a TV producer/director. There were many times when I wanted to give up, countless nights when I cried at the face of difficulty and times when I loathed my former producer JB for the tough love. Throughout my tenure on the show, I have known no other patient and humble Kenyan journalist as my former co-host Fred Indimuli (he now works at Citizen TV). I have gained so much knowledge in how the entertainment industry in Kenya, and beyond works. I have interviewed over 100 local and international celebrities and artistes. I have written over 500 TV scripts and hosted over 330 shows in total. I’ve attended thousands of concerts/festivals, danced a lot and made so many friends!

Grapevine and working at KBC has taught me some hard lessons, allowed me to grow and presented me with loads of opportunities. Through the show, I have travelled extensively, developed key relationships with industry players and renowned artistes. It’s hard to see where I would have been today without Grapevine, and JB. I would like to thank every single fan of mine for the love. Thank you to all fans of Grapevine and KBC for supporting me on my seven-year journey on the show. My diehard fans like Mum, Ludovick and Jalas – you guys literally made me stay this long. So many wanna-be TV presenters and journalists have come up to me thanking me for the inspiration. I am glad I touched someone, and hope wherever I go I will continue to shine a light. Thank you Victor Ochieng and JB for training me on script writing—I love it! Thank you JB for discovering me. To my co-host Abbih and all my former colleagues, we are still a team forever and I know that our paths will keep crossing – I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Right now my whole system craves for something different, challenging, bigger and better. It’s bitter-sweet to leave the show that I love so dearly but the break is necessary for me at this point in time to allow me to reflect on my past, present and future. Plus I can finally be free on Sundays, starting with my upcoming Birthday on Sept 4th🙂

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Back to Blogging – I Missed You!

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.09.28 AM.pngWhile I was away from Black Roses … I hosted numerous dope press conferences and partnered with Chiki to throw some ill parties. Nameless Timmy T-Dat, Yvonne Darc and and P-Unit came through to throw surprise performances, I am forever indebted to them. I went back to Oshwal Centre, where I used to be a waitress, to host an event I was running PR for. Here I met the man who had hired me as a waitress – my former boss right at the entrance. As I shook Mr. Kamal’s hand, I asked him, “Do you remember me?” “Of Course,” he answered. The event, a theatre by Bollywood’s top actor hosted in Kenya by Ranee Productions, was completely sold out and a huge success. That, and my bumping into Mr. Kamal was the ultimate homecoming – you should have seen me hogging the Indian delicacies at Oshwal just like olden days – as if I had been starving all my life. I have also interviewed Aloe Blac, Ginuwine and Waje, among Coke Studio Africa season 4 artistes. I am back this year as the show’s publicist. I also managed PR for the Live and Die in Afrika Tour, traveled to beautiful Diani, and Tanzania where I sampled such lovely sea food at Samaki Samaki. I finally left the Single Ladies Club🙂 And finally, I really enjoyed Maxwell and Twenty88’s new recordings.

It’s been three months since I shared any blog posts here but inside of me it feels like that was three years. I have been telling myself that I will get back to my blog but every time I try to, something (mostly work) pulls me back. It was during a meeting with the business manager of a new establishment recently that I asserted, ‘I really need to get back to writing.’ As if they knew that I had been struggling with getting back to normal blogging, the manager randomly pointed out to me away from the conversation we were having, “I do read your blog, and I remember your tales from Lagos [fondly]. I like the way you write – it’s hilarious and interesting! You take us to places and make us see things through your eyes,” adding, “Don’t stop writing.”

How could that statement not completely pull me back, even when I have felt that I had fallen off so hard?

Anyone who really knows me, especially followers of this blog know only too well that I am nothing and nobody without writing. That said, you would imagine that I never really stopped writing. During my hiatus from blogging, I was churning out so many press releases and media plans/proposals – basically work stuff. It’s been quite the professional growth over the past six months but quite the loneliness inside of Black Roses. I lost myself in a racing world for the past year or so and I think the break was a deserved time for me to go back to my roots and senses, to look deeper into my aspirations and dreams, and ask myself – what is it that I want to achieve with my writing, my life, my passion, my time and the people around me?

That said; the past few months have easily been my best yet in my adult life. Together with Sauti Sol – my friends and long-term clients/workmates – and Sauti Sol Entertainment, we managed to stage Kenya’s first professional nationwide tour, titled after the group’s third studio album: Live and Die in Afrika. I have seen Sauti Sol collaborate with Fally Ipupa on the upcoming Coke Studio Africa season 4. Tears warmed up my eyes when I saw them do the ‘Fally Shoulder Dance’ alongside Fally while recording the show in Nairobi . Only two years ago, we were all bundled up in Sauti Sol’s former joint house. Bien was beckoning me to join them at the living room to check out the ‘Fally Shoulder Dance’ in his new video: Original. Even though the vibes were cool and chill, as someone who has been with these boys from the day Sauti (formerly Sauti Sol) was formed, I could tell that they had held Fally with utmost respect. They were watching the video with so much envy as if he was someone they were far from ever meeting or worthy of collaborating with. Having seen them perform this very dance so well and performed with Fally this year was such a cool thing that again reminded me that life humbles you down. Just when you think you have everything – you could lose it all. And just when you think you can’t touch something – it very much could be yours the next day or minute.

I will be sharing more blog posts! I am back bitches🙂

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Why Just A Band Can’t Wrap Things Up Yet

I’ve been overly emotional of late. It sometimes annoys me but it sometimes makes me feel like I am at my best. I am crying if it’s too bad or too good, and I am simply not giving fake smiles or hugs any more. That generally goes for my reviews and sentiments so consider this particular blog heartfelt.

13001151_10153660530829492_6803405235153559249_nA couple of Fridays ago, I was a little heartbroken – to attend Just A Band’s Wrap Up concert. Nairobi’s coolest electro-pop and funk band just announced that they are wrapping things up – well, till further notice. Blinky, Mbithi and Muli are such cool multi-talented human beings, as if being a member of JAB was never unique enough. Throughout JAB’s career, they have shown versatility with each member exuding aesthetic in everything they touch.

On the musical spectrum, no other Kenyan band oozes the fresh cool vibes that is JAB. You should see the kind of crowd they pull. It’s not just in how they sound but in their style; from how they walk, talk and keep calm. It’s even in their choice of naming albums. When JAB’s debut album: Scratch to Reveal came out in 2008, it was as if clairvoyant of what would become of the telecommunication industry of Kenya (the rise of Safaricom and Airtel airtime scratch cards), and at the same time a renaissance of the charity sweepstake scratch card days. Their second album: 82 (2009) birthed the single Ha-He whose video went viral establishing JAB’s brand as Kenya’s most unique musical exports. Their third album Sorry for the Delay (2012) was an ode to their fans appeasing them for the hiatus. Most of their videos flaunt stellar direction and cinematography. The message and videos of songs like Usinibore, Matatizo and Winning in Life show that JAB music has a lot of depth.

12985609_10153660548559492_6260422368897281077_nThe trio DJ too. They also have a book out! Just A Book🙂 They have hosted several art installations across the world, adding to their illustrious global travel and tour escapades. JAB could have easily been another cool European or American band, but I even feel bad imagining that because no other band (maybe apart from Years & Years) can come close to JAB cool and I would hate it if they weren’t Kenya’s own.

Like a butterfly’s transformation from a caterpillar – has been the careers of all of JAB members. Starting out as the silent deep husky-voiced co-producer and JAB’s lead singer, Blinky now speaks out a little more, produces way more for himself and others. He is also a TED fellow and an RBMA Alumni. I feel like Mbithi’s cinematography hasn’t been celebrated enough. Among many other awesome things, he co-edited  and co-directed the viral Ha-He video with Jim Chuchu and, every other JAB video after that. He has also shot such beautiful videos for other artistes including Kavi and Mayonde. Muli is just the biggest little secret we all need to uncover. Just give him a blank piece of paper, and pencil and see what kind of caricatures he can craft in just seconds. Former JAB member Jim Chuchu is the baddest photographer and video director in same measures, I know of.

Why would they wrap up things on such a high? JAB can’t wrap up things yet because it’s time for us to hear a Blinky album, watch more Mbithi films, videos and documentaries; and read and marvel at Muli’s amazing comics and graphic novels. That “last” JAB concert was literally the hottest concert I’ve been to. I don’t think Goethe-Institut’s auditorium was the best venue for JAB’s final bow, plus the venue has bad acoustics and ventilation.
12718030_10153660531079492_5138452341942349722_nDespite the experience being marred by bad sound and extreme heat, sweltering in sweat – I was the happiest human being to see and be part of JAB’s real Day 1 army. We chanted and sang to all songs together. At one point, it felt like we all were real friends and knew each other. It kills me to imagine a hiatus from these cool people, both JAB and their fans, but as a friend and fan it gives me gratification to allow JAB to be. I can already hear sounds of JAB’s new album🙂

 

 

 

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5 Mins with Koffi Olomide

10323986_1754219214807989_4171300665942369401_nMeeting the legendary Congolese sokous artiste Koffi Olomide, thanks to Koroga Festival, during his recent trip to Kenya was magical and surreal. Koffi is also a dancer, composer and producer, boasting several hit singles including the recent viral video: “Ekotite”.

I had so many questions and such little time with him that I decided to have more of a conversation other than an interview with him. We start by him marveling at my height. “You are almost like my daughter Didi.” After which he quickly opens his Instagram and shows her off, asking me, “Don’t you know my daughter? She’s a model. Don’t you follow her?” Of course I start to follow. At the end of the interview he is the first to ask to take a selfie with me🙂

You are a joker if you live in Africa and you don’t have a Koffi story or don’t remember Koffi’s older music fondly. Growing up, Koffi Olomide, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Papa Wemba, among other African legends, were the soundtracks of our home and household.

Read my interview with Yvonne, here:  Still a Princess – Yvonne Chaka Chaka at 50

I noticed that there was something special about Koffi from a tender age because of the kind of people around me that got down to his music. His fans ranged from me – to my mother, father, older sisters and young uncles. It was not normal that this one man appealed to such a stratified audience.

I will never forget joyful parties at home, when my father was still alive and the life of the party, seeing my aunties confidently shaking their fat asses to Koffi music, as beers and loud music blasted ruled our evenings. It was almost OK to go insane and break a bone, as long as it was Koffi music. I caught onto dancing much later in life, so as everyone was dancing I was always keen to notice Koffi’s attires and that of his troupe of dancers.

I always wondered how much he spent on costumes and the same time always marveled at his genious. With time, I started following up on popular African culture and in music very few alive, Koffi being one of them, have shaped the Lingala and Sokous genres.

Koffi was really glad to hear that my mum influenced my love for music, and insisted on inviting her to his concert. Our 5 minutes together was fun and actually felt like an hour. Listen in as Koffi reveals that he’s got some Nigerian blood, shares all his names and the secret to why he still remains popular and relevant, years later.

 

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NAVIO: Still Uganda’s Chosen Rap King

12596466_10154043734431414_1250972032_nYou can’t beat Navio’s worldview. Born, Daniel Kigozi, in Kenya, the Ugandan rap king schooled in Kenya and South Africa, lived in Zambia and holidays in Tanzania, among global destinations. Of late, he is constantly somewhere around the world thanks to his music tours and travel. “My Kenyan fans, unlike fans in lot of places in Africa, understand where I come from. I think it’s because I am born here so it’s nice to connect when I am back,” Navio says jesting that Kenyans on Twitter would kill him if he missed to come launch his new album in Nairobi this time as his last album had a Tanzanian and Ugandan launch. We are sitting by the pool area at his Nairobi apartment on his last day in Kenya. We have had such a tight schedule, running a media tour and producing an event – all in one week.

“I am the No. 1 hip hop artiste from Uganda and I do authentically Ugandan hip hop music,” says Navio. I like artistes and especially men who are confident and know their place in any circumstance. Meeting and working with Navio during my stint as Coke Studio Africa Publicist in 2015, and again this year for the Kenyan launch of his fourth studio album: The Chosen – left me feeling really like I am really The Chosen one. Like what’s not to love about Navio? I remember drooling over him while watching MTV back in the day. I digress – I meant to say, as a person Navio is so cool and easy to work with. His work ethic is at 100% No wonder he’s remained so focused and relevant in Africa’s hip hop scene straight up over the past decade.

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Navio & The Mith arrive in Nairobi. Photo Credit: Smiles Beckwith

There is something more to Navio than just your ordinary rapper. I can point out that he’s quite sensitive, mature and delivers killer freestyles (he can literally spit fire on any topic you throw at him, just as long as he’s in the zone). As much as I am his host, he constantly wants to know if I am fine and is never a bother. Working with him is something I’d easily get used to. But you will know that he’s still a typical rapper just by the show of his entourage. He is accompanied to Kenya by The Mith, Flex D’Paper and his videographer Shiloh; add me and my assistants at Anyiko – PR and my oh my! I wish I could record all presenters’ faces every time we walked into a studio. We were actually restricted from rolling as deep into a certain radio station, lol. But that’s what I love about Navio’s style and attitude – he’s so inclusive, and so are his people. Even though The Mith is himself another top Ugandan rapper, he’s here solely to support Navio. While at interviews Navio prompts The Mith to speak and is quick to introduce Flex D’Paper as “Uganda’s new kid on the block” when it comes to rap.

Before Navio embarked on his solo career, he was a member of the legendary Ugandan hip hop group: Klear Kut founded in late 90s. They are celebrated as the pioneers of Ugandan hip hop scene and its sprouting culture. The group originally comprised Navio, Papito, Abba Lang, JB, and The Mith. Among firsts, the group had the first Ugandan video to air on MTV. They were also the first Ugandan hip hop act to be nominated at Kora Awards in the categories of Most Promising and Revelation of the year for the song All I Wanna Know. A beaming Navio recalls the good old days, “We were the benchmark. Uganda always had people rapping but it wasn’t done professionally. Klear Kut came in and had a proper album launch that turned into a full on fiasco. We were equivalent to Kenya’s Kalamashaka at the time; a reporter once said that we were cut like a K- Shaka, were like Lost Boyz but with a refined vibe like Jay Z’s.” It’s great to see long time friends and partners Navio and The Mith still working and rolling together, despite the fact that the larger group is now defunct. Navio says, “We were young then but until today we are still friends. If the friendship dies then the group dies.” About a reunion – they never left. Navio confirms that a Klear Kut album is coming out soon with the title: Beast African with a new single called Let it rain.

Make sure you check out The Mith’s second album Destination Africa.

I just don’t understand why the East African music scene is sometimes so fragmented. There are hardly Ugandan rappers known in Kenya, unlike the case of their Tanzanian counterparts. This is despite the fact that Kenya and Uganda are geographically closer to each other. What boundaries have tied us?If indeed Kenyans or Ugandans have been tied by something, I wonder why few Ugandan rappers today make an effort like Navio, to specifically come to Kenya, to promote their music through events and media tours.

Something isn’t right.

According to Navio, among other things, language barrier has contributed a lot to this, seeing as just a handful of Ugandans speak Swahili, unlike the blanket case for the larger East African region. “As soon as you cross a certain line into Uganda, there is no Swahili or Arab influence so it’s Ugandan dialects only.” On the upside, Navio says, “Because of that, Uganda has an industry that fully supports itself and that’s why most Ugandan artistes sit thinking and waiting on their next shows in Uganda. As for me I am always thinking continental because my mind is open to outside influence. As Ugandans, we need to start branching out more to the rest of East Africa, and Africa. People are slowly starting to see us.” He is quick to name drop several Ugandan hip hop artistes I’ve never heard of. “60,000 people wave hands at their concerts in Uganda but as soon as you cross the border nobody knows their names but it’s something we are trying to change. I am not the last artiste you will know from Uganda,” he tells me.

You can also read my article on why Collabos are the future of African music

Fresh from releasing his album’s new single: Throne featuring Kenya’s king Kaka – Navio’s other song with King Kaka: Rusha has already been ruling Kenyan airwaves. There seems to be no other secret formulae to breaking boundaries other than cross collaborations—something Nav knows too well.

From Uganda to Nigeria then UK, South Africa and back to East Africa, Navio’s Chosen album flaunts collaborations with some of Africa’s brightest hip hop artistes. They include Ice Prince Zamani, Charlie King, Keko, Kella, Izzo Business, Silvastone, Vamposs, Khuli Chana, AKA, Cleo and Maggz.

His most memorable experience while recording was his chance meet up with Tanzanian rapper Mr. Blue, famed for his disappearing acts and

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Photo Credit: Smiles Beckwith

unexpected recurrences. After seeing each other last as teenagers, Navio reunited with Mr. Blue recently at Tanzanian annual festival Serengeti Fiesta. The two would later record Ayaya – the album’s 10th song and about how East African men marvel at the beauty of women. I still wonder how Navio manages to say No to the ladies. He’s amused at my question, posing, “Why would you say No to the ladies? East African girls are beautiful and very respectful. So girls – keep being fans and supporting the music.” Another song Gbesile with Burna Boy was recorded and filmed across Lagos and Kampala. “It was time to collaborate,” he says of the Nigerian artiste, adding, “We are friends and meet at awards ceremonies all the time. [In the song] Burna Boy does Yoruba like he hasn’t been heard before. This one was for Port Harcourt.” Navio says that he plans to drop more videos off the album and is going to be working with Kenyan hot group: The Kansoul on “something hectic.”

Navio is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most important hip hop figures in the last decade. “I challenge my flow in hip hop. To be versatile, I am not afraid to experiment a lot. Being Uganda’s finest is pretty cool but you have a finest for each genre. Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, Juliana and many others are the chosen in their genres,” he says. Dishing on how fast The Chosen was put together, I learn that Navio is not one to camp in the studio. “I don’t like being in the studio much so when I get in I try to do it right.” Throughout my time with Nav, his mind seems to function like an eagle with eyes forever cast on the next prey. He is always talking of projects we should do in the coming months – I respect his vision! He concludes, “A lot of my past collaborations have been commercial but The Chosen was done for people to know the status of Ugandan hip hop. It’s definitely one for the record books even though it has one or two commercial songs in there. The Chosen is a pivotal project in my career.”

BONUS: So thankful to Industry Nite for letting me co-produce the Feb edition that hosted Navio. I also thank all my media familia who hosted Nav during #TheChosenNairobi Tour. We had a ball and must do it again.

I also interviewed Uganda’s beloved singer Jose Chameleone. Read all about it.

 

 

 

 

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Jose Chameleone: ‘I would fear Chameleone if I didn’t know him’

IMG-20160128-WA0018From a young age, the Ugandan singer Chameleone (Joseph Mayanja) was always eager and hungry to make big moves. I don’t know what’s more undeniable about him today—his hard earned success or his catchy hit songs delivered in his signature raspy voice.

I first met and worked with Chameleone during my stint as Publicist of Coke Studio Africa and can attest to his brilliance and dedication while at work. I am surprised that he remembers me quite well. “We even took pictures,” he recalls and is quick to give me his direct contact this time. We meet again in Nairobi this year at my exclusive interview with him at Hotel Intercontinental Nairobi, right after his performance as the headliner at Kenya’s Koroga Festival (Jan 2016). Chameleone says, “Koroga Festival is different. I had a chance to mingle and sing with people. I love to feel felt and that’s not something that you can get everywhere. That warmth made Koroga Festival very outstanding for me.”

At sixteen, Chameleone moved from Uganda to Nairobi (in the then hotbed of East African music) to kick start his career in music in the 90s. Living solo and in a foreign country was difficult but its something he had to do since his parents had first been opposed to his decision to take up music at an early age. His mother cautioned him while asserting that music wasn’t a wrong choice but the timing was, “You need to do things adjacent to your age. You can’t be living by yourself at fifteen; that is a different shade of you. You need to adjust accordingly, like a chameleon does.” That’s where the stage name Chameleone originated from. “I grew up with music as a passion but it needed a jump start.” Kenya would later be his career’s birthplace. For this reason, Chameleone easily feels at home while in Nairobi and is considering relocating back. “My wife and kids are reluctant. I was here for about three months last year so I am sure I can do it again.”

Chameleone’s is my first interview of 2016 so I feel it’s fair to ask him his most memorable moment of 2015. “Unfortunately [for me] it wasn’t good. I lost my brother AK-47. It’s painful but it’s a reality that I lost a brother that I dearly loved. I believe that God takes what is his.” AK-47 was also a performing and recording artiste. Chameleone comes from a family of music royalty. His other brother Weasel is one half of Uganda’s successful music duo: Radio & Weasel. Another brother Pallaso, an artiste, has accompanied him to Nairobi. At the interview he is taking behind the scenes videos and photos of Chameleone and can easily pass for a tour manager. At certain points, Chameleone forgets that this is about him and starts to tell me about Pallaso’s career, even singing to me the hit single Go Down Low, urging me to check out Pallaso music.

“Music is us. We are music men straight from the background. My great grandfather in the kingship times was a drummer and my grandfather was a guitarist. My father used to play the Trombone and Brass,” says Chameleone, adding, “ I am the one who took music to a professional level in my family. Son of a soldier plays with a gun and the son of a musician play with a guitar. To all my fans, you love me – I love you – that’s very obvious”

After failing at an attempt in music, one of Chameleone’s sons: Aba Mayanja has excelled in swimming. Boasting several gold medals and national accolades, Aba is undoubtedly one of Uganda’s most promising young swimmers. “I don’t want to force him to do anything – I want to support him.”

There seems to be a well-thought out model while naming Chameleone songs. Check this out: Valu Valu, Wale Wale, Gimmie Gimmie and Moto Moto, among others. “There is no order, I just follow my vibe. I am not the one who usually picks the titles. I don’t even have a songwriting book. I write about moments and use my state of mind. The melodies that come out is a feeling of the moment. I play unreleased songs in my car for months,” he says, jesting, “My wife and kids really suffer.” Chameleone names songs from what his first listeners feel and suggest. As for his hot hit singles across East Africa and the globe, he says, “To record music I put Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi too into consideration to break into the market. Beyond that, I also do good music. People also know that I am part of them.”

Watch Wale Wale

Through decades in the music industry, one of Chameleone’s stand out qualities is his consistency. To many artistes, his type of longevity is hard to attain. However, for Chameleone he has found his own formula. “The industry has welcomed different people who think and operate differently. To some artistes music is a business; to me it’s a passion. I always feel hungry and upcoming. My passion has been my drive. I am formulated to the people [my fans]. As long as they find me relevant I get nightmares; I feel like I constantly need to make them new songs.” Declaring Mama Mia as his magnus opus, he says, “People ask me how I have been relevant for fifteen years and I ask myself, ‘How can Mama Mia be relevant fifteen years later?’ When it came out I was eighteen. I ask myself, ‘How could I have sat down and thought that myself?’”

Together with Ugandan artiste Bebe Cool, in 2005 Chameleone joined forces with Kenyan group Necessary Noize (Kevin Wyre and Nazizi) to form the now defunct Kenya-Ugandan reggae group: East Africa Bashment Crew. Chameleone plans to reunite the full crew, “I am still masterminding that. That’s why you saw me recently with Bebe Cool on stage. The problem is our schedules as we are all now established and busy on travel and tour.”

Chameleone says that he’s currently working on a marshalling a team of major artistes in Uganda to “rejuvenate the harmony” of the yesteryears. Digging several artistes across East Africa including Sauti Sol, Alikiba and Burnaba Classic, the music man is convinced that we [as Africans] have to invest largely in our local content. “We have a defined culture and we should maintain it. We buy a lot of culture but don’t sell enough of our own. Don’t follow the trend, transcend.”

Fancy matching pants and jacket; a big gold chain and shades in broad daylight, I am indeed sitting here across a superstar. It feels great. I ask him about misconceptions behind the facade. He has been accused of sometimes holding hostage the Uganda music industry Lucious Lyon style. Controversy goes that for a new artiste to succeed, you must be friends with Chameleone or else, who knows?

“I can’t be friends with everyone because I am not an angel. The problem I’ve realised with the Ugandan society and Africa’s at large – people read the box not the content. I am not trying to behave like a superstar but I am not going to walk into a place and start saying hello to every one. When you keep yourself reserved and quiet people say that you are mean but these are words of weak artistes that can’t make their music pass through. I have established [the careers of many other artists]. If I were mean would I give them an opportunity? They fear me. I would also fear Chameleone if I didn’t know him.”