Bobi Wine's Fire base crew is no more... His Excellency now leads the Republic of Uganja
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First published: August 20, 2007
A politician or a musician? This is what I set to find out when I visited Uganda's celebrated musician, Bobi Wine. If you recall Uganda's history, the Ugandan President Idi Amin banned the use of the title 'President' in any organization in the country because he was the only 'president' in Uganda. The days of Idi Amin are long gone. The man who calls himself the "Ladies' wine" and "The voice of the ghetto"- H.E. Bobi Wine has come out to claim the presidency of the "Uganja Republic" in Kamwokya, north east of Kampala. Famed for his famous catfights with other renowned music artists in Uganda, the self-styled 'Ghetto President' has come out to defend his stance and make his status well known to all and sundry. He is the voice of "his" people, the poor people in the slums.
Born Robert Kyagulanyi, His Excellency Bobi Wine is now adored and glorified in the slums - places he has sung about and portrayed in his music. If you have listened to his song Ghetto, you would agree with me that he knows what the poor man goes through. This is what makes him tick and the reason why he is riding on the success of his popularity, besides gaining more respect as an artist in Uganda. All this comes despite the fact that he has always been under the scrutiny of the press on account of his conflicts with other artists.
The year 2007 has proven to be a successful one for Bobi Wine. Belting out new tracks since the beginning of the year, Bobi Wine has maintained his position among the top musicians in Uganda and is enjoying a cult-like following. He is a god to some people. For now, Bobi has found a way of making the number of his fans grow by changing the name of his group from Fire Base Crew to The Republic of Uganja. The crew has created a more noticeable look to them, hoping it will gain them more popularity and increase their fan base.
Our interview took place his 'State House', as that is the only place he preferred to conduct an interview. Bobi Wine now gets to tell us what he is up to and his plans for the years to come.
Bobi Wine with Ghetto
Olive: Your Excellency, how are you doing?
Bobi: Oh, good, good. I am a little tired though. I have just been performing and I need a breather but we can begin the interview.
You have many titles bestowed upon you. Now I hear you are the President of the Republic of Uganja and the Ghetto. Don't you think all these titles are too heavy for you?
No man. You see, my people look up to me as a leader. That is why I decided to be called "President".
Why did you change the name of your music crew?
Initially, our small crew's name was The Republic of Fire Base. Then, we grew in number and decided to change our name so as to embrace everyone. It is now called The Republic of Uganja. The name is more mystical.
Some officials of the Uganja Government.
Bobi, you have been in courts of law this year over charges of intentionally crashing into another musician - Chameleon's car. You have denied these allegations. Can you please clear the air?
(Scowls in anger) This is stupid. For Christ's sake, these are malicious reports meant to tarnish my image. I can assure you that when both Chameleon and I were in court, the judge, after thorough investigation, found that the allegations were baseless and untrue. The case was dismissed thereafter.
Here comes another allegation. Is it true that you "borrowed" beats from a Jamaican musician, Lord Lardo's song-World News?
Oh not again! (angry tone) I still insist that people just want to bring me down. Reggae music falls in a very diverse category where several instruments are used and some beats are almost similar. Let me tell you that all reggae songs are similar and at the same time different in several ways. In reggae, the trumpets are used a lot, something I used in my song, 'Abalungi Balumya'. Some people listened to the trumpet sounds and just concluded that I stole Lardo's beats. Come on!
I can see that you are getting quite upset. Let's veer off that road. So tell me, when was the original Fire Base Crew formed?
(Looking relieved) Well, it was in 2001 after I released my hit song, Kagoma. After hitting big, I rose from the ghetto and poverty in which I grew up. Before getting rich, I thought that fame would bring me all the happiness that I wanted and desired but hmn... that was not to be.
I realized that I had left my friends behind suffering in misery. They were still down in the ghetto. I could not let them stay like that. Therefore, I decided to help them out. I did this because I knew I could not share with them my money. The best I could do for them was to appear alongside them when they went out to perform. Through this, they would get famous. You know, I was already famous. So, it kind of worked out. This stunt worked out and we later converged and formed the Fire Base Crew.
Tell me, since you are the 'Grandfather' of Uganja Republic, how many musicians have you nurtured?
Oh, so many. However, the most notable ones are Buchaman, who is the Vice President of Uganja Republic, Toolman, Nubian Lee, Master Parrot, Black Boy, Banjoman, Mickey Wine (my little brother), Fantom, and even Juliana... There are many others.
Have they all been successful in their music careers?
Most definitely... They are the top artists in this country. Look at the quality of their music, perfect! I churn out quality, nothing less.
But in recent times, some of Uganja's group members have broken away. Are there any underlying reasons as to why this is happening? Could it be because of any wrangles?
Hell no! Let me tell you something lady. Uganja Republic has always lived and will always live as a family. We are a big group that looks out for each other, in both good and bad times. Therefore, if someone does not want to learn to live together with others and stand certain things, then that person is free to leave. We cannot let such people spoil our success. We are each other's teachers. So, if someone cannot handle how we do things, why hold them back? Those guys left on their own free will. No one chased them away from Uganja Republic.
The Uganja Republic carrier.
Since you began your music career, how many albums have you released?
I have nine albums to my name. My first album, Namuleme was released in 1999, though it was not really promoted. The next album, Kagoma (small drum) in 2001 was an instant hit. This is the album that catapulted me to fame. In 2003, I released Funtula, which had the title track that I did with Bebe Cool. Bambam in (2003) was the next album to be released. That same year, I released Mwekume (protect yourselves). It featured the title song I did with my friend, the late Weatherman.
In 2004, I released Taata W'abaana (Babies' Daddy), and I did the title track with Juliana Kanyomozi. In 2005, I brought onto the market the Wendi (I am still around) album. Last year, I released the famous Bada album. This year got better with my Kiwani (fake) album. I have been consistent with my music as you can see. It is going to get better in the years to come.
Kiwaani by Bobi Wine
Looks like you have remained local rather than gone international yet some Ugandan artists are crossing borders. Why?
Look! I got into music because of what I have to say. I want my music to look for its effect on the people, not me to do it. I want the people to feel it, to let it rain down their souls. I am not going to force my music on anyone, alright?
With the rate at which musicians are doing well financially, some people are now taking advantage of it to make a quick buck. Are you one of them?
(Laughs)... aah... I have my money.....man (pronounced maen). What more do I need? I got into the music scene because I had talent and am putting my university degree to good use. (Bobi holds a bachelor's Degree in Music, Dance and Drama from Makerere University). This money issue does not bother me one bit. I am a rich man. Let me put this straight. Fame and fortune are aspects of life but life is bigger than both are. You cannot compare life to money. Those who are in this for the money are doomed. What will happen after the money is gone, eh?
Which places has your music career taken you so far?
First of all, I have earned a huge, and I mean a huge fan base. In Africa, I have been to Zambia, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Burundi, among others. I have been invited to European countries and the United States to perform.
Is the reception you get there overwhelming?
The reception is good. People truly appreciate my music, though they often do not understand the language. I have been reliably informed that my fans in Zambia love my song Kiwani. The only fan base that rivals my home fan base is in Rwanda. Goodness! Those guys are crazy about Bobi Wine.
People on other continents love my music especially the Ugandans in diaspora. I am usually invited to perform there. But I'll tell you one thing. The home base is always the best. I truly adore my fans in Uganda and the way in which they have supported me through the good and bad times.
Apart from music, what else do you do?
Well, you know I am the face of the ghetto people. I am also the spearhead model of sanitation and advocate for humanity in this area. I am the face of Centenary Bank Limited, Lifeguard Condoms and Aqua Safe companies. I am also a signed artist for MTN Uganda. I have been an advocate for safe sex in Uganda through encouraging people to use condoms. One should guard life well, with Lifeguard condoms.
Do you have any other sources of income apart from music sales?
I am a farmer. (laughs cheekily) Looks like you do not believe me. I have a farm where I grow different kinds of crops. I also rear animals. (Crew member, Nubian Lee concurs with him). I am also in the real estate business.
Attending to official business: Bobi Wine takes a call during the interview.
You recently starred in a movie, Divizions. Should we expect to see you featuring in other movies with time?
Most definitely. In any case, I studied drama. So it is in line with my career. Divizions was a stepping-stone for my acting career and I am ready to take on the world by storm. Watch this space. Nalo!
Does that mean that you are going to abandon your music career for acting?
No. I will always be in music. Unless I find someone as good as me to do it, then I can quit. However, is there anyone like me yet? (Pauses briefly)... I do not think so.
I hear that a Ugandan journalist wants to write a movie based on your song, Kiwani? Are you aware of this?
Eh, this is the first time I am hearing about this. I think it would be a good idea because the song talks about social issues. It would be good to portray this in a movie.
Would you accept to star in the movie if you were given the role?
I would take that opportunity with open arms. It would help me to improve on my acting skills.
Let's get more privy now. Is Bobi the musician the same as Bobi the husband?
(Laughs) Well, I am the same person, whether at home or work. There are a few differences but they are not much.
Describe yourself in four words.
Only four words? I can describe myself in more than a thousand words. I am open hearted, a happy person, short-tempered and friendly.
Do you help Barbie (wife) out with the baby and house work?
Definitely... I had to learn all this after Solomon's (son) birth. Even before Solomon came, I would cook for my queen and I still do. I learnt how to bathe the baby, change his diapers and feed him. I really enjoy being a daddy.
Bobi Wine ft Nubian Li -Adam ne Kaawa
Many people look up to you as their idol and want to be like you. What should they do to be as successful as you?
I keep seeing people join the music industry and struggle to rise to the top. But if you do not have the perseverance and patience, then you are bound to fail. They should try to learn to earn success, not copy it. Most upcoming artists imitate existing musicians and this leads to their failure.
Okay Bobi, thank you for your time. By the way, those ganja ear pins look good. Are you willing to part with them?
Ha... Come back tomorrow and you will find brand new ones waiting for you. Have a nice time.
Thank you man... Have a nice time too.
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First published: August 20, 2007
Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.
A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.