Thursday, April 30, 2009

How A Rich Man Can Sing For A Poor Man (Or How Bobi Wine Remains on Top)

And Other Overheard conversations...

“The one thing I cannot do without after my family are my Firebase Boys. I need to know that they are fine every time. I can’t live without them. They give me reason to work harder. They are my constant reminder that life can change and that I can change someone’s life. “
Bobi Wine, Ugandan singer responsible for such songs like Mazzi Mawanvu, Kiwani, Taata w’Abana

Casual Ugandan Speak

“Baganda, ha! They are total hypocrites. Me I can’t trust them. There is a way they are not straight people. They can pretend and greet you but in their hearts, you know they hate you as long as you are not a Muganda. They wait for an opportunity to turn on you. The day this government goes, you wait and see. They are bad, bad, bad people! Me I can’t trust them. I know them! As long as you are not a Muganda, you can never be one of them. They wait and wait until the time is right for them to strike you down.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

The temperature in Kampala

“I’m more than alive. I’m African, you know that.”

I have been a Navio fan since way back when I was a broke, struggling hack at a weekly newspaper called The Sunrise whose offices are still in the National Theater. Amazed that, unable to afford my own mobile phone handset then, had called on a public payphone, the whole of Klear Kut would turn up at The National Theater to be interviewed by me.

When you have been as poor as I have been, you can smell money and you never confuse that smell with the smack of class. They are two things you spend your musing nights striving to think up new ways of attaining and spit-polishing your tired shoes to help you aspire to. Now a meeting of money and class can be overwhelming and that is what had happened during that first interview when in the midst of this bustling, frat friendly Klear Kut group, I had their attention. There have not been many times when meeting someone I’m supposed to interview I have been dazed into forgetting what I’m supposed to be doing there. Meeting Klear Kut for the first time was one of those rare occasions.

Looking back now, looking at the photos they posed for in front of the National Theatre, prancing, strutting, mugging, five years ago, the start-ups and upstarts we all were, make me smile. Exactly the same smile that crept on my lips as I heard Kid Fox begin No Culcha, off Navio’s solo album Half the Legend. Kid Fox sounding like some bygone 19th century European explorer and anthropologist summing up the results of an African adventure, probably at the court of Kabaka Muteesa I, portentously announcing, “What we found was a completely uncultured society barren of any true culture.”

You want to smile and shake your head in pity at those fools who thought being African was spear carrying and it seemed uncoordinated native dance we broke into without seeming prior notice like we were in an earlier musical film of sorts. You want to bunch your first, shake Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, and declaim, “We showed you! We are still here! We have refused to die like you wanted!” No Culcha is that kind of dangerous song! It makes your blood boil and it makes you hold your head high, and it sends your heart gleefully somersaulting like boys enjoying their acrobatic athleticism. You want to be in a night club when this song comes on and ‘cut’ some strokes like before you had any cares. It revives!

No Culcha made me listen to that other gem I have never had time for, I confess now, Kid Fox, never mind I have ridden in his battered Toyota wondering if my career was on the right track. Reminding me, No Culcha, when great voices tango like lovers, outside the booth concerns discarded, how watching or listening or reading or loving and you happen to witness to giftedness unfurling you can never be a pessimist or hate life however much suffering you go through. You know without a doubt that you are in the presence of divinity and you do not need anymore to have been there but you know how pacing up and down trim and slender Museveni must have felt when the soldier came and saluted and announced, “Kampala is secure. Kampala is ours, Sir!” after twenty years of active sabotage and fruitless planning, because that 27th comrade was in actuality saying, “Here is Kampala, it is yours at last,” and he could look into Janet’s eyes and see no more scorn at his underachievement anymore. The days of dreading terror over.

That kind of immensity, that is what we have when you hear No Culcha for the first time, and then pause stunned as Kid Fox trails off. You wonder if in replay two hours later, the magic will still be there. Will parts of your heart that had not throbbed in joy since you gave up on so many things throb again as the opening bars of No Culcha begin with those calculative drumstick snaps? Can No Culcha possibly be as good as my emotive ear made them, and then you click the play of that media player and it is better than you remembered!

Now if you listen closely, No Culcha might not only be one of the best club bangers you have listened to, it could also be one of the most controversial songs in a long time released by a Ugandan singer. There is a line or two there I suspect Navio was chuckling as he rapped into the mid section of the song that I think you should find for yourself instead of me prejudicing you against the song. Bound to make some people clap rhythmically in delight and some howling for the temple walls to be torn down and the bastions breached. I was five hearings into No Culcha before I caught my breath and I was like, ‘Wait, did he say…hell, he did! Balls!” The slyness of it all!

Thank you Navio, for No Culcha. I would have rhapsodized about Robbery, also off Half the Legend, that chiller for all the cool kids who are often stunned to find themselves unmasked and in love for the first time, hey tell us about it! But No Culcha with Kid Fox featuring, don’t let no man doubt you! Set the sky in my mind on fire. I want to blow the last good ear I have. No Culcha overdosing. The path to heaven is through a rasta’s garden.