I write in defence of our celebs and in response to Mr. Pius Muteekani Katunzi’s article What if we ignored our celebs? (The Observer, February 8-10, 2010). It has become fashionable to bash and speak dismissively of our “celebs,” a code-word for Ugandan musicians.
I say “fashionable” because even our usually taciturn Ethics and Integrity Minister, Dr. Nsaba Buturo has started chipping in, saying if he had his way some of these musicians would be banned, or something like that.
Perhaps the most absurd comment Dr. Buturo made was in wondering how musician Bobi Wine can proudly call himself a “President of the ghetto.” The Minister went on to wonder how anyone can be proud of living in a ghetto. There are a lot of such comments going out on Ugandan musicians, or “celebs,” as Katunzi and others prefer to refer to them.
The point most people who have not lived or come from the ghettos Bobi Wine so proudly identifies with miss, was recently best illustrated during the ‘Nambi Show’ on NTV whose guest was none other than Bobi Wine himself.
When he was asked what sort of education he thinks would best uplift the largely youthful population that inhabits the ghettos all over Uganda, his answer was succinct. “Teach them how Bobi Wine or Bebe Cool made it out of the ghetto, show them our successes and our failures so they can learn to free themselves,” the musician said. “Give them hope.”
The attack on the arts did not begin this year. It started a while back with President Museveni fielding new excuses for old failures. Blaming the incredibly high unemployment levels in Uganda on institutions of higher learning that he claimed concentrated on churning out Arts students instead of “badly needed scientists.”
The thrusts have been increasing in frequency since. But our celebs are largely musicians, not neurosurgeons, scientists or soldiers, because they come closest to reflecting who we are.
Before a musician is a big deal in Uganda, he or she has probably been your waitress, barber or the guy you used to buy charcoal from down at Owino Market.
More than any other group in public life, once they are at the “top” of the social ladder, few of these musicians try to disassociate themselves from their humble backgrounds like so many other “celebs” in other domains. Jose Chameleone may drive an Escalade but he will also happily mingle and eat with the common people downtown.
Many may be quick to dismiss Bobi Wine as a braggart with his endless personal trumpet-blowing but he is also the same guy trying to uplift the poor-working-man’s sport of boxing by lending it the glamour of his name.
Most of the so-called “real” celebs Katunzi would wish us to celebrate more are content with waiting for the MTN Marathon before they can remember to, “run for charity.”
Am I excusing some of the nonsense that these musicians will routinely get up to that eats up column inches in newspapers? No, I’m not. But I would rather, any day, read about Bebe Cool’s marital peccadilloes than day in, day out be bombarded with the news of the shameless looting of our national coffers that many of these professors, doctors, engineers and Generals get up to.
One last bone of contention. Is Mr. Katunzi claiming that Professor Fredrick Kayanja’s achievements are more valid than “Dr.” Jose Chameleone’s and thus should be celebrated above the musician’s?
I disagree. Music and medicine equally heal. Let us celebrate them equally. I will leave you with an anecdote from singer Grace Nakimera about her Kawonawo hit song to illustrate this.
She says, “There was this time I was performing at K.K. beach. This guy came on stage. He had been affected by, I think, polio and he was on crutches. I was amazed at his stamina because he came on stage and danced with me the whole song.”
Grace says, “He told me that he has many problems. But listening to that song had changed his life and they did not matter anymore. He told me ‘I don’t mind anything anymore because you have shown me I can survive.’ I was so humbled. There are many people who tell me their stories like that. Deep, deep personal stories that could make you cry and realise you don’t have ‘real’ problems like some of these people.”
The Author is an Entertainment Writer for The Observer