How does Bobi Wine live? Moses Opobo has asked himself this question many times, and over the festive season, he set to attempt to answer it and found out this: the man lives like a gladiator—he gladiates!
You could have heard him call himself the ’ghetto gladiator’ in one of those elaborate intros to his songs if you are into his music. Well, it is not for nothing. Wine lives with rhythm and approaches life, views things from an artistic point of view.
Once, he intimated to me that his life is ‘an art piece’ and who am I to say no? When he steps into the public arena, he instinctively unleashes this ‘art piece’, usually to the amusement of his fans.
At Kabira Country Club
I called him up at about 2:00 p.m., and noisily, he invited me to join him and his gang for lunch at the Kabira Country Club, a posh hotel owned by Uganda’s – and East Africa’s – most loaded dude, Sudhir Ruparelia. The Kabira Club is located in Bukoto, which neighbours Kamwokya, Bobi’s birthplace, to the north. Bobi Wine fondly calls it ‘dangala Kamwokya’, or better still, ‘the ghetto.’ This ghetto has come to provide the artistic backdrop to the bulk of Bobi’s public profile.
Not only is he a ‘bad man from Kamwokya’, he is the ‘ghetto president’, ‘the gladiator.’ Of late, he has added the rather cheeky omubanda wa kabaka tag to his catalogue of titles. Kabaka is the title bestowed upon the highly revered king of Buganda, to which the singer belongs.
Bobi is a president too, and don’t ask which country he heads. Well, at least we know that he presides over the Firebase Crew. What on earth is the Firebase Crew? A loose grouping of Bobi Wine’s friends and really, anybody that believes in the ideology of the Firebase Crew, for that is what Wine believes Firebase to be.
Over the course of our interaction, he mentioned it twice that Firebase “is an ideology, a way of life; not a place.”
Where were we before I veered off? Kabira Club: here, I found the ghetto president with his manager, a younger brother and a splattering of his minders. They were having lunch – a business lunch with a bunch of concert promoters. Some payments were being made here and there, signatures appended on what seemed like contracts...
It was a very quick lunch and we were off, like vultures, that is the signature Firebase way of ending things. Once a deed is done, once a concert is nailed, or fish devoured at the beach, you must leave at once, like vultures after a fleshy feast. And once the president is in the car before you, then sorry, you aren’t making the trip with him.
The Cadillac Escalade
From lunch we headed to the parking lot, from which the singer’s prized Cadillac Escalade stood majestically amid other equally powerful wheels. We lounged about, cracked jokes and took pictures. Then we drove off towards Kamwokya, the ghetto, at a snail pace.
The Escalade is a real traffic stopper. Not only is it elegant and sexy, it has presence. It oozes class and opulence. It is a bully, which intimidates the hell out of all traffic on Kampala’s narrow and dusty roads.
To me, the real owners of this monstrous ride are neither Bobi, his wife Barbie Itungo, nor the rank and file of the Firebase Crew. The real owners of this ride are what Bobi Wine fondly refers to as “ghetto youths”, which loosely means all the socially disadvantaged young urban masses.
When the wheels of this SUV roll onto Kampala tarmac, these ghetto youths and indeed the town comes to life. They descend on it, mop it, kiss it, kneel before it, wipe it with their white handkerchiefs… you name it.
So it was as we rolled at a snail pace to a makeshift washing bay deep in the slums of Kamwokya. And that is Bobi Wine’s swag for you; keeping it real and local.
Here we bumped into his wife Barbie with her kid sister. They posed for pictures, evoking an innocence and playfulness about the couple that is rare to find in most relationships. Sometimes they looked like good, tight friends, while others they appeared like brother and sister.
We headed across the hedge from the garage, where final touches were being laid to a new structure that is to house the Firebase Crew. The following day, the crew would be shifting base from Bukoto, where it has called home for several years. Studio equipment is being fixed and acoustics nailed to the walls.
After a short “puff break”, he heads to the bank to deposit a cheque. He uses his wife’s purple Grand Cherokee as his Escalade takes a wash. We are back at the washing bay in time to pick the Escalade and hit the town. Bobi is still driving at his snail pace, “feeling” his ride, toasting to his accomplishments. He revs up the volume on the surround stereo sound and lowers it at will. He also talks incessantly on the phone. He talks about this and that; about how Buchaman was a “loser” whom he dropped just in time. Buchaman was Bobi’s long-time vice president before money issues drove a wedge between the two. “He had become a tax to me,” Bobi spits.
If there is one thing Bobi does well, it is to play host in the Escalade. He gives his passengers a treat. He turns on the A/C for the passenger seat one minute, adjusting the seats the next, and asking what your musical flavour is yet another minute.
The Escalade inched slowly, almost stubbornly past Kampala traffic, causing a huge public spectacle every while. We went to Venom Bar in the busy and crazy red night district of Kabalagala, and the Asian proprietor welcomed us like royalty.
The bar serves only in-house lagers, which it brews in its own mini brewery set right in the middle of the bar. The waiting staff seemed to be shocked when Bobi revealed to them that he does not do beer or liquor. Actually, he settled for a sweet, bluish cocktail which he sipped on half-heartedly.
We left Venom at 4:00 a.m. and the good news is that is a stone’s throw away from Salaama, where I stay in Kampala. I hopped on a boba boda (taxi motor).