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Chameleone’s big brother talks about his famous siblings and why he chose design

There is one Mayanja brother who keeps on the sidelines, designing statement tees, websites and generally staying under the radar. HENRY KASOZI is the Ireland-based younger brother to Humphrey, and big bro to Chameleone, Weasel, Pallaso and AK47 (RIP). He talked to Carolyne Nakazibwe in an online interview.

There is a Mayanja that is not a recording artiste? Wow!

Hahaha, there is actually a few of us that are spectators [Humphrey in the USA, sister Josephine and half-brother David, are not recording artistes], although I love to go to karaoke bars.

Henry Kasozi

Tell me about Henry Kasozi. You keep such a low profile...!

My name is Henry Kasozi. People ask me why I am not called Mayanja. I am Mayanja but I loved my surname way too much that I chose to use it.
I keep a low profile because one of us had to…hahaa. I am not just built for that lifestyle. I think you reap what you sow and I look at my brothers being torn apart because of the lifestyle they chose and I am grateful I am not in their shoes.

What do you do?

I do too many things; but not to get you bored, I’ll mention the ones I am good at. I play a little bit of guitar, but my kids think I play the same song over and over. My excuse is, “that’s my signature sound!”

I am a digital graphics designer, which is a fancy way of saying I am a graphics designer. I design websites, edit films, do a little bit of animation, and many other things that involve sitting on the computer for many hours. I am also a fulltime dad, which is one thing I am so proud of.

Which brothers do you follow, or follow you?

We are a big family that is very close, since childhood. We talk with one another almost daily. I talk to [firstborn] Humphrey daily and we talk about football, although he has never kicked a ball!

Joseph [aka Chameleone, who follows Kasozi] is a hard man to get through to, but whenever he calls, we talk more about kids; he is a family-loving man and by the way, congratulations on Xara [Amani] Mayanja [Chameleone’s wife, Daniela, gave birth to her in the USA a few days ago.]

Douglas [aka Weasel, who follows Chameleone and Josephine] is the misunderstood fella; he has always been the very quiet one but, trust me, he is one of the toughest Mayanjas.

Where should I start with Pallaso…[real name, Pius, who follows Weasel] he is the tallest Mayanja and the most confident one. We talk about flingfire [the popular clothing line Kasozi has started]; he loves what I do and wants to see me get far. David, we live close to each other [David is in Manchester, Kasozi in Ireland]; so, basically we talk about the weather and plan our next trips together and my kids love him because every time he visits, he makes chapatti.

If I need someone to talk to, the first people that come to mind are my brothers.

You guys are really tight! Tell me about flingfire.

It all started from my love of travel. So many times when we travel, we buy at least a T-shirt for a friend or family [as a souvenir].

But after so many trips back home to Uganda and realising my friends and family were tired of the bitenge I had been bringing them, I found myself confused at the airport duty free with all the T-shirts either with a flag, or a crested crane.

My trip to New York made things worse; so many T-shirts everywhere and it was so easy to find something to take back home with you. My mind flashed back to our very own independence statue [near Sheraton hotel]. And flingfire was born.

I’ve seen the designs on social media. Your sweatshirts and tees are dope! [He capitalizes on the independence statue and year to create statement tees and hoodies]

Thank you, that means so much to me. I try to make them as simple as possible, but they do serve their intended purpose.

L-R: Kasozi, Weasel, Pallaso, Chameleone and AK47 before fame found them

I’ve seen Juliana Kanyomozi, Spice Diana, Chagga, your brothers of course, radio presenters and more celebrities rocking them. Are you targeting a ‘certain’ clientele?

When I started flingfire, I designed for Ugandans so that we could be proud of our independence. Of course I wasn’t alive when my ancestors fought for that freedom but from history, you know that it was a struggle and I do want us, and the future generations, to remember that.

I am not in any way targeting a certain class of people but I am very fortunate that what I’ve done so far is good and the celebrities have jumped onto the cause, which has made people to believe flingfire is for only a certain class of Ugandans.

I think another reason why celebrities have embraced this product is because Uganda’s reputation right now is very good internationally and everyone is very proud to wear these clothes that depict where they are from. Mowzey Radio (RIP) and Weasel where the very first celebrities to wear them and also helped me launch them officially at their London show last year.

How did you find this creative side to yourself?

Before the music, we were all very artistic people. My dad was a very good artist; he still does art but a different form of art. I was working as an engineer for a very big and prominent company but found myself bored; so, I checked myself back into college and pursued a degree in creative multimedia.

This helped me polish the artistic skills I already had. And that’s the drive helping me come up with the designs from things we see every day in Uganda but choose to ignore.

Juliana Kanyomozi

Where can I get one in Kampala?

Many people have asked me this question, especially after seeing the clothes do rounds on social media. I take pride in what I do and I want the people of Uganda to get the very best of what I do.

It has taken me a year sourcing where I can have a home for flingfire in Uganda – a place that will represent not only the quality of the fabric, but how the product is delivered to the customer and I must say we are confirming that space soon.

Are you selling online?

Online we have been open for a year now www.flingfire.net, but it’s a pity that most people who want to buy these clothes in Uganda have no access to online payment methods and also the shipping costs add another burden to their hopes.

Now, tell me a little about your family in Ireland. Are you married?

I have two beautiful daughters. Skye Mayanja Kasozi, who just turned 11 years old in February and she is also the fastest swimmer in her age group in Ireland. The second one is Shyne Mayanja Kasozi who is going to be seven in March and she loves sweets and reading books.

My partner Inga is from Lithuania and surprisingly, we have never got married; maybe that’s the reason we have not divorced!
Inga is very much involved in flingfire; after her fulltime job in logistics, she comes home for overtime, to put the labels on the clothes, because she is good at sewing.

And now, without fear or favour, who’s your favourite Mayanja singer?

That’s the toughest question; it’s like asking me to choose a favourite daughter. You see, they all sing different styles.

When I am sad, I listen to AK47 [real name Emma, who passed on in 2015, aged 25] because I think he was going to be a very good artiste that never got a chance to grow.

When I am happy, I listen to Radio and Weasel, especially when I get notifications of sales in my store – I am walking down the stairs singing Juicy Juicy. When I’m feeling loved and want to show love, I pull out a little bit of Pallaso. My favourite jam being Tonkuba Mugongo.

When I have friends come over and we want to have a dance session, then I’m going to play some Jose Chameleone.  But I make sure no one talks because then everyone wants to ask you about his life and all the questions Jose hasn’t been able to answer in his interviews. So, I have a favourite Mayanja for every mood.

By the way, I’m really sorry about Emma. I pray the family is healing.

Emmanuel was our last born; the one Mayanja that was all-round. He was very smart in school, he was very respectful to his elders and he always called me to make me listen to his new music. The worst part about his death is that we have never had full closure.

We were robbed of a young, energetic, healthy man and we do not even know how it all happened despite having his groupies around and also being in a place he regarded safe, because it’s owned by his then-manager.

My mum has never recovered from that phone call – which mother would, anyways! But we have come to accept that he is not here with us anymore and try to find the strength to soldier on.

Godspeed! But how was it like growing up in the Mayanja household?

Hahaha, lots of fights. You can imagine too many teenage kids in one house. My mum had to make sure the pot of porridge was always boiling to feed us.

Sundays were the fun days; we started the day by attending church and if you dared miss church, you knew Monday was going to be rough for you at school.

You would have no sumbi [samosa] rolled in chapatti for lunch and on top of that, leg it five miles home from school [Kasozi went to Nakasero primary school, Mengo Senior School, Katikamu SDA, Progressive SS, Kyambogo (Itek, now university) and Dundalk Institute of Technology].

We’d gather after church, eat a good hot lunch followed by my dad’s favourite Michael Jackson film (Moonwalker). And this was like a religion; we did it every Sunday.

We had the technicians, sportsmen and singers.

I give a lot of credit to my parents [Proscovia and Gerald Mayanja]; my dad was a poor guy but knew education was our only way out and he heavily invested in it, although we all chose other routes.

My mum fought our battles; she knew having many boys was going to be a challenge, not only at school but on the village too. She was a disciplinarian – all those things of “don’t talk to me with your hand in the pocket” and she had the hardest backhand slap!

All the toughness you see the Mayanjas exhibit is because we were always told, “You will amount to nothing”. This was a constant reminder at school and on the village.
Thanks to God, He was good to us.

Who would you say is the shyest? The loudest? The most thoughtful? The handful?

Shyest? I have always been the shy one. I chose to remain in the background because I don’t know how to handle attention. However – and this is something people do not believe – Chameleone is as shy as I am, but he is so good at his job.

The loudest… I think that award goes to me. Because my voice has never done a lot of mileage compared to my brothers; they spare their voices for the big occasions and they don’t speak loud unless paid to do so. Therefore, I, Henry Kasozi, take the award for loudest.

The most thoughtful award goes to Humphrey. Hum is that one person that will tell you straight up if things will work or not. Surprisingly, he doesn’t think much about himself, but will make sure his siblings are okay.

The handful? You know that one even before I answer. That award will be shared between two Mayanjas: Jose and Pallaso. Joseph loves to talk, he will talk you to sleep and he has a story for every event. Pallaso is a big bear.

He has no fear, whatsoever. He will try out something just because you said he can’t do it. I challenged him to a swim race and we touched the wall at the same time even when the odds were against him.

Kasozi (L) with Chameleone at the Ugandan embassy in France

What is the last book you read?

I haven’t read a book in a long time; however, I am reading a bedtime book for my daughters every day before bed and it is called Bad Dad. It’s a very interesting book that [as I read it,] I laugh more than Shyne. It’s meant for kids but everyone who wants to have a laugh and also learn how British people live should read this book or buy it for their kids.

And movie?

This has reminded me that I still haven’t watched Black Panther. I am such a boring person. I really don’t like watching films and funny enough I enjoy filming and making movies.

I did watch a movie last weekend to bond with family and that was Shrek. My daughter chose it and I was happy to be off the computer and spend time with the Kasozis.

Do you plan to expand flingfire into other merchandise too?

I have big dreams for flingfire. I guess that’s the reason I took the leap of faith, quit my job and put all my energies in this venture. When I started, it was strictly Ugandan, but after a few months of production, I saw interest in other countries.

I rebuilt the website and extended flingfire to all African countries. I want to see flingfire on everything that’s Ugandan and speaks quality, class and fashion.

Any plans to resettle in Kampala and become another singing Mayanja?

Oh yes, settling in Uganda is next on my list. I left Uganda a long time ago and never gave it a chance to shape me. I didn’t get a chance to hold a job in Uganda, pay rent, or even own a car in Uganda. I really miss these things and I want to be able to experience them and then fully say, “I understand the Ugandan way of life”.

Singing? Who will listen to my music? My brothers are so good at what they do; I wouldn’t want to be in competition with them. I want to show a different side to us.

I always wonder: what are the holidays like in Mr Gerald Mayanja’s home when you are all home?

The best way to know Tokyo is visit it. But to help you imagine holidays in our home, picture Jose pulling over with a loud car; a few minutes later Weasel in his car with friends tagging along; then Pallaso with his music crew. They would usually be coming from a show that either went very well or had a few difficulties.

They would find the rest of us home and as usual mum is pacing around the house trying to make us taste a little bit of everything she is cooking.

My dad is always glued to the television watching either news or music videos; my sister helps mum prepare the food as though we have a kwanjula.
When all the dust settles, we are just kids at home again.

My dad always takes this chance to pull out the family album so that he can embarrass us in front of our mates.

carol@observer.ug

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