His mu­si­cal shows sound more like cam­paign ral­lies than con­certs

The East African - - NEWS - By GAAKI KIGAMBO Spe­cial Correspondent

In his 15-year mu­si­cal ca­reer, it’s only now — as an MP — that Bobi Wine is be­ing wel­comed with an out­pour­ing of emo­tion, much to the cha­grin of the po­lice.

Dur­ing the In­de­pen­dence strug­gles in Africa, artistes were al­lies of the lo­cal peo­ple. Yet after vic­tory, many were la­belled pub­lic en­e­mies be­cause they re­mained crit­i­cal of the ex­cesses of the new gov­ern­ments that were sup­posed to rep­re­sent them.

One well-known story is that of Nige­rian mu­sic prodigy Fela Kuti — a po­lit­i­cal artiste who was fiercely crit­i­cal of his coun­try’s post­colo­nial lead­ers. In his book Ar­rest the Mu­sic! Fela and His Rebel Arts and Pol­i­tics, Nige­rian aca­demic Te­ju­mola Olaniyan tells of an in­ci­dent in 1977 when lorry-loads of armed sol­diers stormed a venue where Fela was per­form­ing.

The commanding of­fi­cer or­dered his lieu­tenants to “ar­rest the mu­sic.” He had meant to dis­rupt the show but his of­fi­cers didn’t know how to carry out the or­der. Fu­ri­ous that he was be­ing un­der­mined, the com­man­der drew his pis­tol and shouted the or­der more sternly. His sub­or­di­nates quickly scram­bled onto the stage and carted away Fela’s mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

Fela pi­o­neered the Afrobeat mu­sic genre that later in­spired artistes across the world, in­clud­ing Uganda’s Afropop/dance­hall mu­si­cian turned leg­is­la­tor Kyag­u­lanyi Robert Sen­tamu aka Bobi Wine.

Soar­ing pop­u­lar­ity

On Oc­to­ber 18, Ugan­dan po­lice pro­scribed Bobi Wine’s mu­sic shows that he had been stag­ing since his land­slide elec­tion to par­lia­ment in June. In his 15-year mu­si­cal ca­reer, Bobi Wine had never held back-to-back con­certs across the coun­try or been wel­comed with such an out­pour­ing of emo­tion. But now, ev­ery­where he goes, en­thu­si­as­tic crowds form long queues.

His shows, in­ter­spersed with calls to the au­di­ence to rise up and work for a bet­ter coun­try, sound like cam­paign ral­lies. Be­cause of giv­ing speeches in be­tween his songs, po­lice ac­cused him of in­cit­ing the pub­lic to vi­o­lence and banned his shows.

Kam­pala Metropoli­tan Po­lice Com­man­der Frank Mwe­sigwa, who signed the ban, said, “We did not refuse Bobi Wine to per­form at mu­si­cal con­certs. Rath- er, we re­fused Hon Kyag­u­lanyi Sen­tamu. We want him to know that there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween Bobi Wine and Hon Kyag­u­lanyi. We have no­ticed that Bobi Wine has been turn­ing into Hon Kyag­u­lanyi to make po­lit­i­cal state­ments at mu­sic shows. Bobi Wine is free to per­form at mu­si­cal con­certs, but the mo­ment we see Hon Kyag­u­lanyi on stage we shall ar­rest him.”

Bobi Wine, like Fela, has built his mu­si­cal ca­reer as a protest artiste to ar­tic­u­late the plight of the down­trod­den. He has said that he will nei­ther stop per­form­ing nor cen­sor his mes­sages.

Mu­sic as a chan­nel for mo­bil­i­sa­tion has gained vis­i­bil­ity in Ugan­dan pol­i­tics since Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni’s song ti­tled You Need An­other Rap? in the 2011 elec­tions. In 2016, the pres­i­dent re­cruited lo­cal star artistes to sing his praises. Their record, Tubonga Nawe (We’re With You), be­came the theme song of Mu­sev­eni’s cam­paign.

How­ever, the mu­si­cians who par­tic­i­pated in the record had to later apol­o­gise to their fans. Bobi Wine in­ter­ceded for them against a boy­cott that the op­po­si­tion had pro­nounced against their subsequent per­for­mances.

“As ev­ery­one knows, this is not pros­e­cu­tion. It is sim­ply per­se­cu­tion,” Bobi Wine wrote of the ban.

“You no­tice that when some of my artiste col­leagues sing po­lit­i­cal songs in sup­port of the regime — the real in­cit­ing songs be­cause they get most peo­ple an­gry — po­lice don’t come out to stop them. In fact, they are given pro­tec­tion.

“We shall record songs and they will be lis­tened to. We shall awaken our peo­ple. Our peo­ple shall arise, and they shall lib­er­ate their coun­try. Op­pressed peo­ple shall not al­ways be op­pressed,” he added.

En­try into pol­i­tics

Since his en­try into pol­i­tics in June, Bobi Wine has at­tracted pub­lic de­bate.

Bobi Wine the politi­cian would still be la­tent if the coun­try’s elec­toral com­mis­sion had con­ducted last year’s polls in ac­cor­dance with the law. From his stand­point, it was no longer enough to just speak out against in­jus­tices when he could get in­volved in lead­er­ship and be part of find­ing so­lu­tions.

“He had, in the past, ap­peared to only be a ganja-smok­ing dread­locked Rasta with some nice beats. Peo­ple are sur­prised that he is more than that by how knowl­edge­able and ar­tic­u­late he is,” said Rachael Ki­conco, who was a key re­source per­son in last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of her fa­ther Amma Mbabazi.

“His nov­elty stems from the fact that this is an MP not afraid to speak out and speak loudly to the en­tire pop­u­la­tion.


Yusuf Serunk­uma, a doc­toral fel­low at Mak­erere In­sti­tute of So­cial Re­search (MISR), is re­search­ing the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween pop­u­lar cul­ture, iden­tity and the pol­i­tics of recog­ni­tion.

“Even when we dance to their mu­sic, the gen­eral pulse is to dis­miss artistes as clowns — as lowly peo­ple. Many are so­cial out­laws: Their fash­ions are strange; they of­ten drink hard or abuse drugs, and some­times are caught up in re­volt­ing cir­cum­stances. This dam­ages their so­cial-moral stand­ing,” Mr Serunk­uma said at a sem­i­nar or­gan­ised by MISR on Au­gust 25.

At the on­set of his par­lia­men­tary jour­ney, ob­servers won­dered whether by join­ing the club he had al­ways crit­i­cised in his mu­sic, Bobi Wine would re­main as trans­for­ma­tive, rev­o­lu­tion­ary and in­flu­en­tial as he is as an artiste. So far, he has shown that although he is in par­lia­ment he is not of par­lia­ment.

At the MISR sem­i­nar, di­rec­tor Mah­mood Mam­dani said to Bobi Wine what he thought about the cur­rent state of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Uganda.

His re­ply was that par­ties were the most ef­fec­tive plat­forms of or­gan­is­ing even if the Ugan­dan ones were still grap­pling with end­less and point­less bick­er­ing. How­ever, he did not pro­pose any con­crete ac­tion to fix the prob­lem.

His crit­ics have latched onto this to write him off as a po­lit­i­cal up­start. Time re­mains the true ar­biter of Bobi Wine’s po­lit­i­cal tra­jec­tory.

We shall record songs and they will be lis­tened to. We shall awaken our peo­ple. Our peo­ple shall arise, and they shall lib­er­ate their coun­try.” Bobi Wine

Pic­ture: File

Ugan­dan politi­cian Robert Kyag­u­lanyi.

Pic­ture: File

Ugan­dan mu­si­cian Bobi Wine shares sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments to those ex­pressed by Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni 37 years ago.

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