He made sure artistes were paid handsomely when he coined the phrase “No million no Chameleone.” Now that artistes are paid millions for shows, he has gone to the next level of using his brand for products, ensuring that he can make money even without singing. As he launches his Valu Valu album today, the singer will also be launching his Chameleone mobile, writes Abbey Rafsanjan Tatya
Car bond owners may rack up big returns, top CEOs will bag huge salary packages, and sports stars will ink lucrative contracts. But in Uganda few of them can match the combination of fame, public acclaim and monetary value that Joseph Mayanja aka Jose Chameleone has racked up.
Many music critics think he is only second to President Museveni when it comes to fame in Uganda, and yet he is arguably only behind Idi Amin when you cross the borders.
Yes he is in that league. Famous people have either done too good or too bad; they’re either too controversial or really honest. You will argue the whole day trying to place Chameleone in any of the above categories but the fact is that he must be doing something right somewhere.
When music was worth nothing more than just fame of appearing on radio or TV in the past decade, Chameleone came out and managed to parlay artistic success into financial fortune. He was one of the first artistes, if not the very first one, to get a million shillings and above for a performance. That is when he coined the slogan “no million no Chameleone.”
He attracted money to the industry and I think that is why most people credit him for rejuvenating local music at the turn of the century even though the revolution of Ugandan music was started years before, even Chameleone, left school to start deejaying in Kajjansi.
But this lanky star propagated swag and attitude in the industry fashioning a strong showbiz scene that is arguably only second to Nigeria and South Africa’s on the continent today.
“Music and showbiz is my passion but it is also what feeds me,” he says emphasising the point that he is as good a musician as he is a businessman.
His many business successes (and few failures) are there for everyone to see. While his money comes primarily from music concerts, Chameleone has business interests ranging from music to nightclubs, from estates to a beach, from a mobile phone store to a fleet of posh cars although he says people know less than he owns.
“I am not interested in telling people how much I have attained from their support. They want music from me and that is the story I always tell them,” he adds. “But again I am not stupid to have made all this money for all these years and I can’t have anything to show for it. I own stuff.”
The Valu Valu singer’s career and business interests are vivid testimony to the mainstreaming of contemporary Ugandan culture. Deals come his way in part because he is, simply put, cool and culturally more relevant than many guys in suits. He didn’t go far with education but he attracts a crowd, and he lends a kind of legitimacy to all sorts of ventures.
He has endorsed several products and big concert organisers always consider him first — including the first Africa-hosted World Cup where he performed alongside a star-studded line up.
Another potential bonus: Chameleone has been invited to perform at the Olympics in Britain. He has been in talks with the Samsung makers on a deal to do advertisement for their upcoming gadgets.
Chameleone of course has displayed acumen for business before. In the early 2000s, unable to find someone to produce his debut records free of charge as he was too broke to afford studio time, Chameleone joined Bebe Cool in Kenya and they started hustling.
But when a promoter, who would later become his wife, Griet Onsea showed up, Chameleone negotiated a deal to give her all his love but retain ownership of his music rights. Some artistes have had a terrible ending for selling their musical souls to a certain promoter or manager who came to them at a time they were
In the early 2000s, Chameleone also discovered that sales of MTN Uganda rose after the giant telecom company signed up a couple of artistes including him. But when MTN decided that they were no longer interested in retaining artistes, Chameleone moved on. Instead, he has started his own phone company, Chameleone Mobile.
He was in China last week and on Monday his cargo worth millions of shillings arrived at 8pm. He is now planning to work with those telecom companies to promote and sell his phones to his fans. He is still undecided on the price for the phones but he says it will be affordable. The dual-sim phone also plays MP4 and it is in all “chameleon colours.”
Of course it is not uncommon for grown-ups to start businesses that would support them when they retire but you have to give up for Chameleone for his tough-minded mentality that has always moved him from risk to bask.
Actually, when you meet Chameleone haggling in business it is hard to imagine that he can be an entertainer. When you see him busy on his music it is hard to think of him having time for his family and yet when he enters the family-time zone it is simply unthinkable to trace a wild character in him.
“My family is a very important part of my life; they are the reason I work day and night,” he passionately says. “I always spare time for them, but I don’t want to mix business and family.”
Whose characters can describe their names better than Chameleone’s? I mean, several artistes take up stage names that don’t reflect their characters in any sense but who can doubt Chameleone’s ability to blend in with the environment whether musically or attitude-wise?
He is like this one kid we all had back in school who always refused to leave with a black eye. He is not intimidated by anyone or anything because he just doesn’t care whichever way an encounter ends; he is up for the battle.
Chameleone says that he lives a free life. “The reason why many people are sad in life is because they put a lot of pressure on themselves,” he says. “The only thing that I’m scared of is not living up to the expectations of God. Otherwise I live life the way it is supposed to be.” Chameleone also says that it is his “free-style” way of doing things that has kept him on top of the musical game.
“You will realise that we have had many good artistes come up and disappear fast because after people believe in them they try to think outside the box but instead end up jumping out of the box themselves and getting lost,” he explains. “Some artistes complicate their own styles and lives by trying to get to the next level because they are worried about tomorrow. The best artiste never worries about their art.”
Chameleone says that he never knows what his next hit will be as he just keeps churning out song after song. “I never enter the studio to produce a hit,” he says. “I only record good songs and people turn them into hits. It is good to be natural and free.”Valu Valu is one of the biggest songs on the local music charts today and yet barely half of those who love it even know what it means.
“Valu Valu is a song I conceived in a playful manner. I always consult different people and on this
one my first consultant was my son Abba Mayanja (six), who said he liked the instrumental. Daniella (Atim, his wife) said she likes the bridge of the song and AK47 (his singing-young-brother) said he likes the part where I rant the word valu-valu-valu…”
After consulting others Chameleone also listens to his own song over 100 times, he says.“If the song bores me after just 10 times then it means that a listener would have been done with it five times earlier,” he explains. “I am the biggest fan of my own music so I always assume that people will like my music half-less than I do.”
Chameleone believes team work has also contributed to his success.“You have to give props to different people who I have worked with on different projects whether in the past or today; like the producers,” Chameleone says. “For example, producer Paddy has been tremendous. Honestly, he has never played something and I don’t like it; we have a musical connection that I cannot explain but I know that he likes whatever I do and I also love his everything.”
However, most people will tell you that Chameleone is simply the architect of his own walk of life.
He is as controversial as he is charming. He is probably the only person who can walk out of Catholicism to Islam and back to Catholicism in just a week and he gets away with it.
His mission is simple, “Live your life and let the rest discuss it.” Many people dread becoming a
topic of others but that is Chameleone’s cup of tea. That might juts translate why his father-in-law
Fr. John Scalabrini thinks Chameleone is like a political party in Uganda.
People believed him when he said he is Cha000,000 because he is one of the biggest earners in the industry. And when he self-christened himself Doctor, it was still okay as almost every Ugandan has either gotten a dose of charm or controversy from this lanky fella.
He has fought fellow artistes, he has regularly battled with the law, he has had brushes with death several times and he has generally fought to make it in life.
But the fact that he is still on top of the game clearly interpretes that Chameleone has fought and won all his battles.
Tonight he will be launching his newest album Valu Valu at Kyadondo Rugby Club starting 7 pm.
Entrance fee is Shs10,000 for ordinary seating and Shs50,000 for VIP and Chameleone will use this chance to also introduce the Chameleone Mobile to the public.