They are commonly referred to as the big three; Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone in no particular order. They represent a breed of musicians that have revolutionized the face of Ugandan music over the past 10-15 years. They revitalized the average Ugandan’s interest in local music.
They revived the musical taste we had long lost to Soukous, Rumba and others from DR Congo. A genre we had grown to call Lingala, largely because of the predominant language (Lingala) in which the music was composed and sang.
The only genre we could call our own, --Kadongo Kamu was failing miserably in attracting crowds, and no show promoter worth their salt was willing to organize a concert that featured local musicians as headliners.
Outside of these, a younger generation cropped up. Some were from within their circles, while others sprouted independently. But the big three’s influence is perhaps more pronounced because of the state of Ugandan music at the time they broke through.
So the big three is only a title; A classification, if you like, and not necessarily an index ranking of who’s topping the charts at the moment. Otherwise, they would be called the top three.
The Jamaican Influence
While the Kadongo Kamu folks had stuck to the basics and monotony –singing in their original voices, style and lingua, this new crop of artistes appeared to draw their inspiration and style from elsewhere. It was around the time Jamaican Artistes were big hits in East Africa.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to sound like Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Shaba Ranks. Bebe Cool, Chameleone, Buchaman, Mad Tiger, name them all. They all grew husky voices. Others copied their dressing and Hair Styles. Until recently, Tool Man still spotted a similar hair style to what Shaba Ranks bore in his hey days. While all this was going on the late 90’s, their influence did not really gain momentum until the duo of Bebe Cool and Chameleone decided to hit Nairobi towards the turn of the century.
Ogopa DJs did their part in fostering an upturn in their fortunes, but the duo did not lose touch with their Jamaican influence. Upon return to Uganda, they teamed up with Bobi Wine shortly after, before falling out over a number of issues.
Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine now ganged up against Chameleone before the two falling out later. Bebe Cool would later make up with Chameleone, before the two fell out again, largely over the latter’s insistence on attending Bebe’s now arch-rival, Bobi Wine’s wedding.
Bebe Cool appeared to draw inspiration from the beef between Jamaican artistes Bounty Killer v Mr. Vegas, as well as Elephant man v Beenie Man. Such feuds often fueled CD and concert sales both in their homeland and abroad.
He would admit to the same much later, during an interview on Bukedde TV --Omubimba, hosted by Miles Rwamiti(Now at NTV) before the two fell out. He was quick to vouch for a new and different approach though, if the industry was to see more growth.
In the end, three major ideologies had been imported. 1. The language –the adulterated patois used in many of today’s local songs; 2. The Beef, which you could say is on its last legs and lastly, 3. The musical style; one can comfortably say Kidandali (or what some connoisseurs call Afro-beat, these days) is a derivative of the original Jamaican dancehall beat.
Why maintain the beef?
While the beef was perceived to be real, a number of insiders strongly believe that it was only a façade created to keep concert revenues flowing, and point to Bebe Cool as the chief protagonist of the soap opera that has persisted throughout the 13 or so years since the trio first had their break through.
By the time Ugandans started paying attention to their music, piracy had set in, and music sales were on the ebb. The only way they could earn an income was through organized concerts and hired performances.
The bigger the crowd one attracted, the higher they would earn in concert sales. Consequently, the higher the asking fee would be in subsequent performances at different events. At the same time, each of them earned themselves a legion of loyal fans, with each camp claiming their star to be number 1. Having this kind of feudal façade kept them on their toes.
When Chameleone’s star was on the up, he coined the now forgotten phrase: “No Millions, No Chameleone”. Shortly after he had won the PAM award for the second consecutive year, he referred to the 5 Million prize money as an annual payout.
His rivals were not to be outdone. They soon followed suit. The trio now command hefty performance fees ranging from $800 to $2,500 each, in uganda, based on the location and the duration of the performance. This is no small money, considering that one can have at least 10 shows in a month.
The Birth of Battles
In 2011, Chameleone and Bobi Wine organized what they called a reconciliatory musical battle. It had initially been sold to the public as a battle of wit and talent, although both artistes admitted towards the actual battle date that the battle was only meant to signify the end of their beef.
“I and Bobi Wine have had a lot of ups and downs. However, ever since Bobi Wine visited me in the hospital, I felt touched about his generous act. From that time, my opinion about Bobi Wine changed. Battle of Champions is a concert we have organized to prove to our fans and everyone that Bobi Wine and Jose Chameleone are no longer enemies”, Chameleone would later say, in one of his final interviews in the run up to the D-Day.
The public had gotten sold. The fans from both camps were already charged. Not many could change their minds, if even they had read the interview. It was clear what that money was at play, here. Each of the camps pocketed about $10,000 (UGX 25 Million).
Certainly, no one else in the industry probably knew better how beneficial –financially, such a concert could be, than Bebe Cool. He elected to plot against Bobi Wine. He knew the public could not wait to be witness to such a contest. So he played his game well, Bebe. He knows how these things work. Like the way he handled that mini-divorce that attracted a record attendance for his Bamugambe album launch in 2009.
The stakes were certainly higher. He gave every media house the interview they wanted. Interviews filled with such venom that every music fanatic really looked forward to the big day. His cut in this was estimated to be about 60m; More than the combined pay-out from the previous battle between his nemeses.
Realizing how much he had reaped from this contest, he planned his next move. He plotted for the Goodlyfe duo of Mowzey Radio and Weasel. In public, he continued to diss them, calling them all sorts of names et al, while silently sourcing a promoter for their musical showdown. As usual, the public was polarized. Battle lines had been drawn.
Jibes involving all sorts of comparisons, ranging from age, through family and financial muscle to Awards and other achievements were traded. The payout would certainly be bigger. An estimated UGX 100 Million is believed to have exchanged hands, for each camp. This was way higher than any of them have sold album rights for, ever.
Bebe Cool rode on the crest of his social media following to claim victory, although both camps would call for a truce thereafter. One could even be tempted to think the ceasefire deal was already struck by the last and joint press conference at Kyadondo. Both camps smiled to the bank. Beef had won.
The latest advert for one of Bebe Cool’s perpetual annual shows now features Goodlyfe as headliner acts for his show on Boxing day. You can expect a packed show. Many a fan still want to witness the honey moon.
At the moment, Bebe and Chameleone are not on talking terms, although the former still reserves some respect for a man that prefers to call himself the musical doctor. Another battle could be on the horizon next year, featuring the two. And the public will again part with their hard-earned money to see two grown-up men fake another truce.
The payout will certainly be big. But it may probably not be bigger than the Goodlyfe – Gagamel package, partly because Chameleone seems to have lost the belligerent verve that once saw him trade jibes at the slightest provocation. This will most likely make media interviews and press conferences less interesting, and may not sway the neutrals.
By the time they are through, Bebe Cool will have pocketed a total of at least $100,000 (over UGX 250 Million) from the three battles. Now you know why beef thrives in the Ugandan music industry, and world over.
Dixon Okello, a renowned events’ security provider, and an ever present figure on most of these concerts had this to say: “There is no bad blood or beef In the Uganda Music Industry. All our top artists and promoters are business guys, who will always take advantage to fool the public and ignorant fans are still falling for it.
What is shocking is that some fans even fight believing in all these lies. I have handled most events organized by these guys, and I know for a fact that Ugandans are being taken for a ride. Stop being fooled. Just enjoy the music."