Karl Marx was right in observing that behind every revolution, there was a poet.
Movements have to be mobilized – and poetry has the magic. However, he should have added that, in the same vein, behind every oppressor (autocrat, colonizer or capitalist), there is an equally talented poet.
So, Slavoj Žižek would notably claim that behind every genocide, there was a poet. The 2016 election was a musical election. The contest between “Tubonga Naawe” and “Toka kwa barabara” demonstrated a moment in Uganda’s history where music was central to political mobilization.
The Tubonga Nawe musical, which rented most of the best hands in the industry, had one stubborn exception, Bobi Wine. A year later, Mr Wine would challenge colleagues showing them that instead of fighting for crumbs left behind by the big eaters, they actually had power in their hands.
It was a lesson to many, except one man, Bebe Cool. With Bobi Wine’s fame growing “like a bushfire in the harmattan,” Bebe Cool has remained alone convinced that Tubonga Nawe was not a mistake.
The state has been pleased. Thus, a Bobi Wine show for Boxing day would be cancelled by the same man who instead advertised a Bebe Cool show for the same day. With Cool emerging as Bobi Wine’s counterfoil, media interest was piqued.
Capital FM and NBS TV invited him to their premier political shows The Capital Gang and The Frontline, respectively. I do not intend to comment on Big Size’s intellectual weight. Instead, his performance reminded me of an incident of mine I had with the singer sometime in 2009.
Were it to be successful, I would be credited for being first to package him as a national poet. As a young editor at Fountain Publishers, I had just returned from India for a course in book publishing. Inspired by the industry in New Delhi, especially regarding the diversity of books Indians published, I sought to make some changes on Kampala’s publishing scene.
Books about Bollywood stars, Shahrukh Khan, and Priyanka Chopra had left an impression on me. Encouraged by the very creative Fountain MD, James Tumusiime, we debated the candidate for the project.
Son to a former minister, with music that was critical of Museveni’s tribalism (Kawuna) and corruption (Corruption), older in the industry, and with a controversial life and career, among other things, we settled for Bebe Cool.
I was dispatched to find the singer and talk him into the project. There was a bar in Nakulabye called Password where we met the first time. Bebe Cool was slightly tipsy but coherent enough.
I took him through the proposal, and as hard as possibly could, explained what it meant writing a book – as different from a newspaper article. He was enchanted that a memoir with a reputable publisher as Fountain would not only intellectualize but also accentuate his star.
I then asked him to find time and visit our offices for his knowledge of the industry. A date was fixed. One Friday afternoon, I received a frantic phone call from Mr Cool. He wanted to see me urgently.
He required me to run to either Bukoto or Ntinda, or somewhere thereabout. Why did he want me for something urgent before visiting our offices as planned? Books are slower and are often written retrospectively (often through research and memory), not as events in motion.
Had he mistaken my trade for journalism? I quickly informed my seniors who, despite their flabbergasted selves, encouraged me on. I quickly jumped onto a bike riding from Makerere University where the Fountain offices were then.
Midway the journey, Bebe Cool called again and demanded I go with a camera and recorder. His voice seemed agitated and wrought with emotion. I had neither gadget except a notebook.
I diverted the bike to The Independent magazine offices in Kamwokya where I have friends and thought would get these gadgets. I failed. I called Bebe Cool to announce to him my challenge with the gadgets especially since this meeting had been unscripted.
Upon hearing this, Bebe Cool went bonkers uttering the most X-rated expletives: Fs after Fs. “Never ever call me again,” he declared.
I returned to Fountain to narrate my horrors as the project concluded before kickoff. The next I heard, he had become buddies with President Museveni, singing for the NRM and trying to graft himself into a regime/national poet.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.