BIG SIZE: Bebe Cool has been on fire this year. Was the pressure from the fact that he was turning 40? Were the new kids giving him a run for his money? Is it the Nigerian music invasion? Or was it because his family was growing by one? Edgar R. Batte caught up with the artiste.
You turned 40 years not so long ago, how did you celebrate?
My wife and fans organised a party for me. To me, turning 40 was not just a birthday, but rather the beginning of a new life. I now value a lot of things and understand life differently. Forty years of my existence can now tell me what my next 40 years must be. I am finding answers to questions I have always had. I have stopped blaming people for so many wrong things because some things are only visible by age but evaluated by the brain.
You seem to have rebranded; gone to the gym, revised your wardrobe and rethought your investment in music. What informed these decisions?
The exposure that we have had as Ugandan artistes with artistes who come here; it started from Kenya, then Tanzania, America and the latest is Nigeria. Someone had to learn something out of that.
What were Ugandans doing wrong not to hit in those countries?
The world market affected our local markets. I needed to adopt the trends and evolve. When I cut my hair, people said I was cutting my hair because I was turning 40. Musicians who never evolved or changed are now stuck in the same boat they were in yet the audience evolved. What comes into the country is in form of top class videos, audios, dressing, fashion, artistes with good bodies. Social media and the Internet have made the world turn around. You can no longer lie to people because they will go and research. I take time to take care of my body, I continue investing in music because any investment that does not have a heavy marketing department will go down. Lately I went to the US and worked with the world’s top producers, editors, directors and I have worked with Ugandan directors and tried to put them on the same level and make them understand that it is not a requirement for me but a requirement of the audience.
Turning to visual creativity, what do you think our big names like Sasha Vybz are missing that takes you out of the country?
The final picture. The likes of Sasha Vybz have knowledge but are not up-to-date. Every month there is a new lens, editing programme and lights coming up but the budgets cut them off. Ugandan producers or directors have that thing that once they get the videos and they get paid, they are okay. Some of us have evolved. You do not give me an okay product. You have to give me the best. If you do not give me the best product, I will look for someone who can.
There is a ‘Save UG Music’ campaign. Are you in?
I prefer to keep the discussion on Bebe Cool for now and restrain myself from commenting about the on-going campaign,
From your experience, what challenges does the average Ugandan artiste face?
The challenges are universal. Just because you are not in Kenya does not mean that the Kenyan artiste does not face the same challenges. It is only when it hits you that you wake up and realise that something hit your head. Stick to investing. You cannot milk a cow without feeding it. The biggest challenge is that most African artistes milk a cow without feeding it and some have already eaten one or two legs off the cow.
You had the opportunity to be part of Coke Studio Africa this year, what were the major take-aways for you?
It was my first time and I was very impressed. Coke Studio has always called me but my challenge has always been the deal. What do I want and what do they want? What do they offer, what do I offer? The deal this time round was good enough and I was excited. I worked with the right artistes like Jason Derulo and the most interesting thing is that I put in my time and I respected Coke Studio. By comments, Ugandans were impressed by what Bebe Cool presented. I think it was the right time and it exposed my capabilities and style to a bigger audience because it is a testing stage. You either know how to do your thing or you do not. It is not a challenging house but indirectly, you definitely have to challenge each other by producing and writing the best.
How much money were you paid?
What I earned is confidential. I always invest back the money in my music and that is one of the reasons people say I do not have a house. I know my music will buy the houses at the right time. My issue is always to challenge myself and invest more in music to raise the bar higher even for myself. Right now it is so high that I also have to try and stick to it and go beyond the same bar to create another limit above it.
Coke Studio is quite engaging. How did you balance it with family?
Family has never been a challenge. As a businessman, the reason I work is my family and it comes first. If you have less time for family and more time for business, then you are a wrong investor. We do everything together as family, be it taking the children to school or travelling.
Your wife, Zuena, is about to pop a tot, are you flying her to the US to deliver?
No. There is nothing wrong with giving birth in Uganda. My first two borns; Alpha and Beata, were born in Nsambya hospital. It is the third born who was born in the US because at that time I was under treatment and my wife was expecting. She got stuck in the US and could not fly back because she was eight months pregnant. My wife has been building her brand as Zuena for a long time and now she is one of the top cake bakers in the country. So it would be dangerous and unserious if she had her phone off for even one week because she talks to her customers herself.
You mean in her current state she is strong enough to bake?
She is doing very well. Sometimes I have to stop her from taking orders because the house is full of cakes. She keeps waking up at 5am and spends time in the bakery. The only advantage is that she does it from home.
How many children are you planning to have?
Seven, so one more to go.
Don’t you foresee any mistakes?
No mistakes. You plan life and stick to a plan. My plan is seven children. If she tells me that she is done with giving birth, I will respect that.
It is what I want. I grew up in a big family and I believe in numbers as long as you can look after them. We were always happy as siblings when everyone came back to our parents. I just want to see my boys play soccer successfully. I want to see my son Allan’s career grow big musically and I am lucky I have him.
Talking about Allan, I saw a photo of him and a girl somewhere on social media. Are you becoming a grannie soon?
I do not know because I have not seen the photo and he has never introduced any girl to me. I am not one to restrain people from doing what they want. He is above 20 and he is active, so I would not be surprised. However, I do not think he is ready to sustain himself financially because he is still staying at my house.
But if it happens?
I do not want to say that I will support him because my father did not support me and I am not doing it because my father did no support me. I now know why my father did not support me. He had to let me face the world. It was easier to face it yesterday than it is today. It is not just having children that we are worried about but also about diseases. I do not want to lose my son to funny diseases. I have always spoken to him about safe sex, especially using condoms.
You seem keen on planning, what is waiting in your musical store?
I have three videos in the pipeline for the next two months. I will be shooting one last one for this year and I will be back to the US in January or February to shoot three videos but the songs are ready. I bought some songs from Ugandan writers and I am working with a producer called Andre – he is good.
What became of your project to release a song and video every month?
I am fairly on it. I have been releasing a song and video every month because today’s world is all about content. You never know which song goes where.
Were you happy for Bobi Wine when he won the Kyaddondo East seat?
At the moment I have no comment as to who joins what and who does what in politics. To me, timing is very important and I do not know who plans what in life. We all have different plans and I prefer to stick to my gun that fires one bullet and it is music. Whether musicians join churches or other things, if the plan is to survive, I am not looking there.
But what are thoughts on Bobi Wine as an MP?
No comment. I prefer to reserve my comment until the right time.