The battle for the Kampala mayoral seat is projected to be one of the hottest, come 2021. While the current Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago is interested in retaining his seat, others such as Latif Ssebaggala, Abed Bwanika, Dan Kazibwe (aka Ragga Dee) and others are keenly eyeing the seat.
And now award-winning singer Dr Jose Chameleone (real name Joseph Mayanja) has thrown his hat into the ring. He said there was a wave of lawyers joining parliament, then journalists, and now it is only normal that many artistes are headed there. Last week, ending weeks of speculation, the Basiima Ogenze hit maker spoke to Carolyne Nakazibwe and Nicholas Bamulanzeki at DNA Lounge.
I will start with the elephant in the room; are you really standing for Kampala mayor?
Yes I am. I think it is my right to do that. As much as people have a right to vote, they also have a right to stand. So yes, I am.
And which ticket is Chameleone standing on?
Apparently if you observe, people are tired of the bickering in politics. Politics should be like religion; a Muslim should be able to sit harmoniously with a Catholic and a Catholic sits with an Anglican, and that is the environment I am trying to look at. Most people on particular tickets realise that the party they are standing for starts dictating the way they do their work.
I am coming as an independent, although I would love to associate myself with all the parties around. People of late have put themselves on pressure – I am FDC, I am NRM, I am People Power – which is not healthy for our country.
You have caused confusion with your recent actions. People are saying, Chameleone sang Tubonga Naawe for President Museveni in 2015/16. Chameleone was last week in Jinja with Democratic Party, wearing a People Power beret…
I understand, but when a leader visits a mosque, it doesn’t make him Muslim… those are roles of a leader. You have to harmonise; you have to be available in all avenues. But going back to Tubonga Naawe, that was a job, just like someone would hire me to sing at their wedding or a daughter’s party.
When I stage my shows at Lugogo, for example, I never segregate that I am now singing for FDC, or this is NRM; it is a job. Just like other companies hire me for gigs, that is how that thing happened. Just because I provided a service does not mean I belong there or not.
So, if people want to pin me down for that particular statement, then that is the environment and mentality we are here to change.
Well, the people’s understanding is that when one declares as an ‘Independent’ these days, that is automatically an NRM vote.
I know! But that is a saying of cowards. Not everyone in this nation has to subscribe to a particular party.
What made you realise you had something to contribute?
When service fails in a state, people start waking up. It is like getting up in the morning and you ask your wife for a cup of tea with ginger and she brings hot chocolate instead. And you tell her, I wanted ginger, but she returns with lemongrass tea instead.
Eventually, you get up and go to the kitchen yourself. So, people have yearned for adequate leadership and it has not materialised. Some of us got up because the tasks we send these people for, we too can do them. We can deliver services exactly the way we want them.
For example, the current lord mayor [Erias Lukwago] has been on for 10 years; ask him what he has done for the people…
He may have done something, but even the best dancer leaves the stage at some point. We want leadership that is cycled, and not stagnant. Otherwise, it is normal for people to run out of ideas. Our wave is not a colonial mentality; it is a millennial mentality. We see things in a fresh way, but they see things in an archaic way. And we are the majority.
You millennials and your proud majority are really giving our liberator a headache!
We are not giving him a headache. What happens is that the world transforms. King Solomon, the Nebuchadnezzars, all came and went. We should ditch the mentality that things are for life.
The thing with Kampala is, past mayors have ridden on cheap popularity. Things like, ‘let the street vendors stay’, ‘let taxis not pay tax’. I believe the city has become progressively messier because of trying to not upset the electorate. How would you do it?
I can tell you that those are some of the things I am looking at. For example with Kampala, I can give you the simplest examples; there are notices everywhere: ‘Don’t dump here’, ‘Don’t urinate here’, etc. But tell people not to dump after showing them facilities where to put the rubbish. The whole of Kampala has seven public toilets only.
The street vendors also have to trade in order to survive, but let us show them where to go. Don’t kick them off the streets and back to the village. And you cannot take a man away from his kiosk in Kamwokya and relocate him to Namanve. Such solutions will take time, because those problems also grew with time. But I can’t tackle those problems before embarking on the journey that enables me to find the solutions. So, let us start with the simple, obvious things and work upwards.
Is this a Bobi Wine [real name, Robert Kyagulanyi, Kyadondo East MP] frenzy? It seems every artiste now is eying politics.
I first harboured a vision for mayoral leadership in about 2005! My dream was to become Kampala’s youngest mayor, but I was young and excitable. Those who think it is a Bobi Wine frenzy are also partially right.
Bobi Wine rang a bell and said, we are old enough now; we can do this. What is wrong with that? Everything on this earth was pioneered by someone.
In the music fraternity, the person who made West Africa popular was Youssou N’Dour. When Sony signed Youssou N’Dour other labels such as Arista Records rushed to West Africa to search for similar talent. So, someone has to crack the ice.
What does this mean for your relationship with singer Bebe Cool [the architect of Tubonga Naawe]?
Bebe Cool remains my friend. I shall not be isolated from Bebe Cool because of politics. We have not discussed my move for now, but this is not about my move; we are trying to move as a society. It is not individual.
The sentiment out there is that NRM felt Ragga Dee’s showing in the last mayoral race was very poor, so they are pulling him out and replacing him with Chameleone.
Let people watch this space. You will see NRM fronting their own candidate. As simple as that. If NRM is backing me, why will it be backing other candidates, then?
Bobi Wine has paid a huge cost in business, music and family; aren’t you worried about the backlash?
There is time for everything. When Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor or California, he kept acting. You just make the time. We shall cross that bridge when we get to it. If it becomes hard, it is better to serve people than serve myself. It is better to live for the cause than live for myself. Besides, the people I want to serve elevated me to this platform; if I am going to sacrifice my career to serve the people, even better!
The people who followed Jesus Christ; he told them to leave their jobs and follow the light, and they did. Who am I to be so selfish?
I have been singing for 20 years, what if I can serve the people from now on?
You are 40, right?
Yes, I am forty.
You realise in politics, government may block your concerts and unleash the machinery on you like they have done to Bobi Wine, right?
But I am not here as an anti-government leader. I don’t have time to insult the president. All I want is better leadership and I believe in dialogue. I don’t believe in the politics of being bundled onto police pickups, or chest-thumping.
I believe in things like the opposition trying to work together, that is the way forward. Why should we be like cows? They beat you to go to the pastures, beat you back into the kraal…it is a choice, what type of politics you want to join in. I am not a radical politician who will stand up and abuse Lukwago…no no no.
You sound like you have weighed all your cards before throwing your hat into the ring. What does this mean for Leone Island?
Music can be done as a passion instead of a career. I have a lawyer friend [Andrew] Kasirye. Look at [Alan] Shonubi [they are lawyers with a passion for playing good music]. You can create time if the need is there.
The president recently said, if you are a musician, go to Susana [nightclub] and sing and dance. “Bino si bya kuyimba (politics is not for singing)”. Why aren’t you listening?
I want to remind you that even our current leaders have other jobs. Lukwago is a lawyer. If they are saying we should go back to singing, let them also go back to their vocations. [Mukono North MP Betty] Nambooze is a teacher; let her go back to teaching. Otherwise, let us do things to the best of our leadership.
I assume you have a manifesto…
My manifesto are the people. You cannot decide what people want. It has to come from the people.
I see your foray into football, owning Wakiso Giants, and now a businessman owning DNA Lounge. Is it part of you growing your support?
I have never really supported local football, but as we grow, we develop different passions. Initially my friend approached me with a football club and asked me to work with them. I have been with Wakiso Giants from scratch and I like to be adventurous in my abilities and that is my team, for now.
Bobi’s family has been in the thick of his political woes. You moved your wife and children to the USA last year. Was it tactical for the times ahead?
No, no. I was just very fortunate. Opportunity is the scarcest commodity, especially in Africa. My sons Abba and Alpha were very good swimmers. Abba was even on the Junior National Swimming Team.
Through the Catholic Church, he won a scholarship to a Catholic school in Minnesota, where his swimming skills could be further developed. Being a little child, I first took him with Alpha to join the school as they lived with a friend.
But I realised they would be overwhelmed; you know America. Everything is new. I got worried; here I was thinking I was giving them a better future, yet I was dumping them in a deep lake that could swallow them.
I thought my wife [Daniella] should go guide them. But she could not go and leave me with the youngest children; so, I chose to relocate all of them. Those who look at it as a point of criticism are misinformed. Those are the opportunities everyone is dying to achieve in this world. And my children are not the first to study in the USA. They are still Ugandans and when they have a holiday, they come home.
One may say, but you bought a house. Yes! An investment is an investment; I don’t ask why people buy houses in Ttakajunge. It is just a matter of choice and putting your money where you want to.
Does that mean you have dual citizenship?
No. I am a Ugandan and my children are Ugandan. They have student visas, with the exception of one of them that was born there.
Of all your children, who is taking after you the most?
Funny, they all have portions of me. Abba would be so much like me but he is not as pushy. He has even outgrown the music. When you play for him his song from back in the day, he doesn’t want to hear it.
And his young brother Amma plays the song all the time and Abba says, “Amma switch it off!”
Alpha is so musical. We have tried to push him into sport, but he has shown he is into music and coding. And now I have a beautiful girl. Zara Amani.
On to music. Are you working on anything currently?
I am in studio. I am compiling an album to be put on all digital platforms. Our music industry deteriorated a bit; we lost publishers like Kasiwukira, Lucin… Now people drop a song such as Wale Wale, accompany it with some other forgettable songs on the album and call people to Lugogo, which is really unfair.
I’ve had a gap of seven to eight years without releasing a solid album; so, I am working on a variety album that I can put on platforms such as Spotify, iTunes… Yule is one of the singles off the album; I’m still thinking about the title.
A few years ago you were boasting about having kicked Congolese music(ians) out of Uganda. They are coming back, as Ugandan dance music goes into decline. You saw how popular Awilo Longomba’s recent Kampala concert was.
We kicked Congolese music out of dominance. You cannot make someone forget music they have ever enjoyed. Besides, they are bringing it back to be celebrated as memories, not current. I can ask you, what is Awilo’s latest album?
Everyone still knows Coupe Coupe Bibamba from years ago. They are like memories, just like Tugende Mu Kikadde.
The music industry seems to be regulated by ‘outsiders’. Before musicians take on national leadership, why can’t you be in charge of your own affairs?
At the time we joined Uganda Performing Rights Society, the thing had already been taken over and we were surrounded. They had their contacts with ministries…there was nowhere we could start. Nevertheless, we have created Uganda Musicians Association and we have opened an office at National Theatre. Some have criticised it, but that won’t stop the organisation. We are trying to organise ourselves better.
If you bumped into the Chameleone of 2001, still high on Mama Mia, what advice would you give him?
I would advise him strongly about his financial decisions. Besides being a very successful artiste, there are many wrong financial decisions I have made, which is normal; it is not about how many times you fall, as long as you fall and stand again.
I can see you do have regrets.
Yes, I do. Financially. Now why was I buying a beach? I once bought a beach and sunk money into it, then the government told me the place could not have a beach for purposes of the lake’s ecology. That was in Buwaya. I put in about Shs 400m. Why did I waste that money? It is now overrun by grass.
What is the biggest misconception Ugandans have about you?
They have never thought I’m a serious man. But if I were not serious, I would never have gotten this far. If I did not have the intellect, I would not have lasted the last 20 years. It takes a lot of brainwork to be able to remain relevant for 20 years. People overlook that and think my brain jumps around the way I jump on stage. I am a very wise man.
If you were not a musician or now, politician…
I would still be in the creative arts. I love to create. Even in school I was in wood carvings, batik, painting. I have never seen myself far from art and creativity.
And your educational background?
I went to Nakasero primary school, then joined Mengo Senior School, Kawempe Muslim Secondary, Kawempe High School and then Katikamu SDA for HSC, but sat for my A-levels at Progressive SS. Then I went to Nairobi to pursue music.
Those who think I don’t have the papers…hee. Even now I am still in school, but I keep my cards close to the chest. They will see.
Any last word?
I would love to thank my fans for the support. They should not worry, because the nature of the country is like this. What we are doing now is being done by everybody.