He is a musician, promoter, entrepreneur and to cap it up, a well known figure within Kigali’s entertainment scene. For the last 22 years Eugene Cobra has cut a niche for himself within this industry. He added another star to his credentials by opening up Mama Africa Restaurant the latest addition to the Kigali City entertainment outlets. In this interview with The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, entertainment guru Cobra shares his secrets that have kept him on top of his game.
Who is Cobra?
Within the entertainment circles in Rwanda I am known as Eugene Cobra. My background mirrors that of the other Rwandans. This is because I left Rwanda while still a baby in 1959. I came back in 1994.
In between I have done various stints within the entertainment industry in Uganda and Burundi, which if I add on to what I have done locally then I have a total of 22 years in the industry.
It must have been quite a long walk to reach where you are at the moment. Could you shed more light on that journey?
Yes, one can actually say that. In Burundi I owned and operated three night clubs one of which was known as Cadillac like this one in Kigali. I also had been operating a popular restaurant which had a seating capacity of over 250 people.
That should tell you that I am not particularly a green horn when it comes to restaurant business. When I came back to Rwanda in 1994 I started the Cadillac Nightclub plus a restaurant which people liked and which is operational till now. Infact I had a VIP club within Cadillac.
Currently I can say that there is ample room for expansion. I would wish to have more nightclubs opened here in Kigali if not then I would like to look at expanding within the region.
So what happened to your establishments in Burundi?
I had them closed due to management issues. In fact what happened is that I sold them off for the purposes of concentrating on solidifying my presence within Kigali.
That means that you had some capital to start off. Why did you pick on entertainment industry in particular?
I have already told you that entertainment is my core business. That is what I love doing best. I have ventured into other areas of business but I can only tell you that entertainment flows in my blood. I happen to be a musician and a Disc Jockey (DJ).
How have you managed to survive in this industry for the last 15 years?
Respect and humility is very important in this game. I can also add the fact that it is very important to be the person you are. If you are a DJ for instance, be that DJ whom people can love. And so on and so forth. This also applies to the restaurant business.
But mid way you must have changed course.
Of course one has to change according to the demands of business which can never be constant. Flexibility is key within the world of business. In this light I must say that it gives me great pleasure to have Mama Africa Restaurant. In fact with this new addition I am filling a void that has been existent within Kigali such as provision of specialised cocktails along with live gigs.
You know Kigali is now on the move and entertainment menu has to be widened. We need to see Kigali move to new heights within entertainment and show biz. Mama Africa is a response to that need.
Young people need to unwind after a hard day’s job. So Mama Africa provides that kind of need through an authentically African approach.
What needs to be done to take event management locally to greater levels?
I have given that question thoughts. Personally I have invested huge amounts to enable Kigali have the necessary infrastructure to host world class events.
I have bought a new 120,000 watt system for instance along with other equipment such as an all aluminium stage. Once a player within the industry has that kind of back up, it becomes very easy now to bring any international star.
Getting a serious sponsor, once the equipment is available becomes a matter of just striking a good deal. To answer your question I can say that since we now are at a stage whereby equipment which used to be an issue has been sorted out, the sky is the limit. Days are coming when Kigali’s party scene will register more gains than what you are seeing. It is just a matter of time.
We have a bold new programme to boost the local entertainment scene through inviting international stars to perform in Kigali alongside our own local artistes.
What is Cobra doing in 2010 within this area of event management?
We have just wrapped up a huge concert dubbed ‘By Bye Vacance’. It was a success by any measure. We are planning very huge concerts to be held in Kigali while at the same time focusing on other smaller ones in places such as Gisenyi.
In that, we shall be asking for support from the corporates such as Bralirwa and MTN or even Tigo to enable us attain greater heights. We are also focussing on making better local production of music to make it more commercially viable. This is another area that needs more attention.
Having been in the industry for this long what form of advice can you offer?
Respecting others is one piece of invaluable advice I can give. Don’t even give respect in a discriminatory way. Respect everybody whether small, big, young, old, male, female you name it.
Number two is don’t try to act what you are not. Be yourself. No matter your position. If you are a waiter serve people while having fun. The same applies to a DJ as I had pointed out. Do not try to the be person you are not.
It is as simple as that. Number three have fun in your job. It is good to have humour and to relax while doing your job. Do not take things so seriously as to let people think that you want to have a fight.
Timely communication and feedback is also very important for the purposes of surviving within the services oriented industries-like entertainment. If you follow such measures I am very sure that you will survive the rough tides within the industry.
You will stay relevant the way I have tried. Lastly I would urge our youngsters to maintain a positive posture and attitude in life and to have respect for authorities-this is very important.
Observers have noted that currently you look very fit and that you have lost excess weight-what is the secret behind it?
As someone who runs a restaurant and a chef in my own right I must confess by saying that I used to eat a lot. I used also to drink a lot.
I must say that both habits made me gain a lot of weight. However I decided that it was not good for my health. I embarked on a more rigorous regime to check on my weight through exercises.
I took up swimming plus watching closely what I eat. I also quit drinking. The result, I dropped from 147 Kgs to a mere 100 Kgs. I am feeling very fit right now and that is good for my job.
Most people spend their free time unwinding in clubs like Cadillac and Mama Africa. What do you do during your free time?
I like visiting my friends wherever they are. I like being in the company of genuine friends. I also like being in the company of elders.
I like to catch up and learn more about our culture. It is very important to keep abreast with our culture. You know some of us missed that chance of learning from the elders during our teen years.
This is the time some of us are spending with the elders for the purposes of acquiring and learning a thing or two about our culture.