Time has a magical spell on the life of things. If Kyarenga had come three years earlier, perhaps it would have remained a little known love song. But 2018 was simply a good year that the song serves a duo-function: as a love song that is simply political.
The song’s magisterial punch – and perhaps the genius of its creator – lies in its subtlety and excellent disguise as a love song. This enabled it to avoid censure in a context of a paranoid state, which has taken the habit of banning anything seemingly revolutionary – such as the symbolic red clothes, red caps, and music with overt political claims.
Amidst great political struggle and cruelty — Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers beating up MPs on the floor of parliament, amending the constitution amidst egregious levels of corruption, endless murders of women and Muslim scholars — the newest and most powerful opposition star in this time, known for his rebel art and music released a “love song” – whose political imagery risked being missed.
Well, we/they missed it. No, they didn’t. It is simply difficult to make an argument for its censure: It is a love song. Isn’t all politics a matter of love and death? Oh, isn’t love a matter of politics?
Kyarenga’s love-powered lyrics have a distinct message with strong political overtures. The opening Ateso ice-breakers repeating, “thank you so much,” is suggestive of its imagined politics.
As the song lays out its conflict – a contest between two lovestruck men over a country beauty queen – Bobi Wine, the more charming suitor, takes the pains to address his listeners about the object of his heart’s desires: “When she laughs, I freeze/ When she speaks, my heart lightens up with happiness/ Her eyes have flashes (like a camera)/ Every time I see her, she is sunshine.”
These descriptions are denotatively speaking about a country belle, but to settle for this is to miss the imagery. These same words are often used to describe Uganda. Didn’t the love smitten Briton, Winston Churchill describe Uganda as “the pearl of Africa,” a phrase that tastes the lyrics above?!
The song then takes a swipe at the village belle who seems not to understand what she wants swinging from one corner to another. Doesn’t this sound familiar about the wananchi? The voice in Kyarenga then challenges her sweetheart not to be hypnotized by the money-blessed-obese suitors, who come with cash but treat their lovers like trash!
As the conflict grows, the charming suitor assures the belle that he cannot stop rambling on because his passion for her is simply unstoppable: “Seeing me ramble on non-stop like one who swallowed a CD is statement of my powerful emotions for you/ Even if you were to bring a bulldozer or trucks of teargas, I would not abandon my love for you.”
As a political artiste, for Bobi Wine, those lines are biographical. He has been talking like a CD player about Uganda for years, and this comes like a declaration that neither harassment nor threats will stop him.
Interesting how the thugs (led by comedian Salvador Idringi, who actually is a private guard at the beginning of the video, hewing wood for the family, and helps the paterfamilias break sugarcane – like most security officers) hired to beat up the successful suitor, abandon their dangerous mission for a dance competition.
If this does not resemble the events we saw in Egypt during the fall of Hosni Mubarak, then the concluding scenes drive the point home more powerfully: The security persons – Salvador and team – dress upwards and join the rest in dancing to the victory of the younger suitor.
Didn’t the security officers in Tahrir Square join the protestors and dance to the fall of Mubarak?! It is here that the song gets its most romantic (and political-revolutionary) effect of a happy-ever-ending: The ending scenes are tactfully crowded with joyful humans dancing to their victory.
With Swengere, who stars as the girl’s father, also seen dancing to this victory, the absence of Patricko Mujuuka – the swanky and money-blessed-dandy-dullard – is too loud to be missed. When governments fall, everybody else re-emerges with the new power in town, except the president of the previous regime.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.