Musclemen: Bouncers are part and parcel of the entertainment circuit. From breaking up fights in bars and nightclubs to acting bodyguards for celebrities, it’s always a hard day or rather a hard night at work, Emmy Omongin writes
When you find his burly frame manning the entrance to one of the top casinos in town, you will not think that Dennis Akampulira, is a Makerere University graduate, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. “As we all know, getting a job in line with what you studied is really hard. That’s why I ended up doing this bouncer job. I had passion for bodybuilding and weight lifting. When I graduated, I had nothing to occupy me, so I would always end up in the gym,” he recalls. While at the gym, Akampulira made friends with other bodybuilders who were working as bouncers and they hooked him up with gigs in different nightclubs in town.
The 122kg heavy, well-endowed Akampulira says he later settled for a permanent job at the casino.
On job hazards
There are bouncers who keep order at hangouts and then there are those who mostly work as bodyguards for celebrities and socialites. Most jobs come with hazards and being a bouncer includes getting injuries. In nightclubs, they are involved in breaking up fights and on several occasions bottles and glasses are thrown their way.
This job can sometimes be life-threatening and who better to tell this story other than Abasi Kabyobyo, alias Cobra, a long time bodyguard of singer Bebe Cool who almost lost his life when he and the singer were shot at by a trigger-happy cop in 2010.
On the fateful day, news quickly filtered through that Bebe Cool had been shot at, at Centenary Park, but few cared to know that Cobra, his bodyguard had been shot six times. He got two bullets in the abdomen, two in the hand and two in the leg but he fortunately cheated death and he is now back on his feet. “I was doing my job, my boss (Bebe Cool) was going to be shot. As I dived to push him away, the bullets got me instead. After that, I don’t recall what happened,” Cobra narrates.
“When I regained consciousness, I learnt that Bebe Cool and Short Kut (another Gagamel Crew musician) had also been shot at. Cobra was out of work for more than a year as he was confined to a wheel chair. Because his only source of income was his body, he had a rough time, but Bebe Cool who was also then using a wheel chair supported him.
Bebe Cool sued the state on behalf of all those who were injured and court ruled that the government should compensate Cobra with Shs80m and Bebe CoolShs380m.
“I was glad because at least justice took its course. Unfortunately, up to now, we have never received that money.”
At the centre of celebrity fights
Beef is part of the music industry and most of the time, when it is reported that certain artistes fought, it is usually the bouncers throwing the punches.
The artistes usually throw the first punch and dash into their cars while the bouncers take over, each trying to protect their boss.
“I remember back in 2009, I beat up Mowzey Radio. We were at Resort Beach. Out of nowhere, Radio poured booze on Bebe Cool. At first I wanted to beat him up but my boss stopped me. As we were trying to leave, Radio again threw a glass at Bebe Cool. It was too much. My boss then told me to go and teach him a lesson. I beat him up,” Cobra narrates.
Hit on by females
It is not always a gloomy day at work for the bouncers; their jobs also come with perks. The brawny fellows are a target of several women who want a well-toned man.
Akampulira confesses to hooking up with some of the popular female celebrities after duty. “While at a night club one time, I was guarding the VIP section. A popular female celebrity offered to buy me drinks but I declined. She was offering me expensive alcohol, Red Label. When I declined the booze as I am not supposed to drink while on duty, she sent someone to get my number. I gave her the number and we hooked up later,” he says. “Most times these women get drunk during night outs and some are married, but if she has found you attractive, why not?” quips Akampulira. However, he does not see the point of pursuing a relationship beyond the one-night stand, no matter how much the girl pursues him.
Cobra says that Bebe Cool pays him Shs400,000 a month and an allowance of shs40,000 per week for food and transport. “I do not go with him everywhere. I only move with him during concerts and to places where he suspects there will be trouble,” he says before adding that even if he doesn’t move with his boss, he sends him money every week for his own social obligations. “I have a gym called House of Pain in Katanga where I supplement my income.”
As for Akampulira, he says that he earns Shs200,000 from his day job at the casino and Shs20,000 per night as a freelancer at night clubs.
Sometimes the bouncers are hired by socialites to accompany them on night outs. And these are big paydays as they earn anywhere between Shs50,000 and Shs100,000. The socialites hire them because moving around with a bouncer is looked at a status symbol. Socialities like South African self-styled tycoon Ivan Ssemwanga and his wife Zari sometimes hit nightclubs with five or more bouncers.
Bouncers are in most cases looked down upon. People have a perception that bouncers graduated from bodybuilding gyms. Akampulira confesses that many people think he is a school dropout, yet he is a graduate. “Clients and revellers think my muscles are a compensation for my lack of intellectual capacity. But that is not true at all. They think everyone who is a bouncer is a failed and ignorant person.” he laments.
Another big challenge according to Siita, a nightclub bouncer, is that it sometimes becomes hard to take the insults that they get from rowdy clients as many of them are under the influence of alcohol. “One must not be short-tempered and take up this job because they may end up beating up almost everyone. The call us all sorts of names, but I have now gotten used,” he says.
Hate them or love them, bouncers are very much part of the set-up of the entertainment business.
on the other side of the pond
Hollywood bouncers: Being a celebrity bodyguard in Hollywood is a lucrative career compared to what their Ugandan countrparts earn. Income ranges from about $500 (Shs1.2m) to $1,000 (Shs2.5m) a day all the way to $10,000 (Shs25m) a week to guard A-listers who want to put paparazzi and stalkers at bay. Some celebrities just want to make grand entrances and their are companies that specifically deal in providing them with security detail.
ARE BOUNCERS ON STEROIDS?
Bouncers are heavier than the usual beings. You cannot get a bouncer job unless you are heavily built. Most people accuse them of building their bodies through steroid abuse. Anabolic steroids make people appear more muscular and powerful, but they come with several side effects.
Cobra, Bebe Cool’s bouncer confesses that he once wanted to use steroids to build his body but his boss stopped him. “Bebe Cool told me that if one uses steroids, he is just digging his own grave. There are many complications and side effects. I listened to him,” he adds.
According to webmb.com, a website dedicated to health issues, anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, a male hormone. The site warns that throwing one’s testosterone out of balance can have wide-ranging consequences and should only be prescribed by doctors.
According to the website, men who take anabolic steroids may develop breasts, get painful erections, have their testicles shrink, have decreased sperm count and become infertile or impotent.
Women on the other hand can grow excessive facial and body hair, have their voices deepen, experience menstrual irregularities, and have reduced breast size.
Both men and women can get acne, jaundice, become bald, have tendon rupture, heart attacks, and develop significant risk of liver disease and liver cancer.