Still keeping cool
Like a proverbial cat with nine lives, Ugandan singer Moses Ssali aka Bebe Cool has been to hell and back. The award-winning musician talked to DAVID ODONGO about his shooting, wooing his estranged wife back, battling court battles and cheating death twice
His trademark dreadlocks stand out just as his mood swings like a pendulum between rationality and agitation. Crowds mill around him, his attention clearly divided between his crew who are psyching him up for the gig, and female fans fighting for his autograph.
He takes a glance at me as I field a few questions, which are met with monosyllabic responses before his attention drifts off…
Ever controversial, Bebe Cool is like a diamond in the rough. He is boisterous and sometimes dismissive.
Perhaps that’s the reason he was roughed up by fans during a performance in Denmark two months ago.
He skirts around sensitive issues while trying to glean the truth but Bebe Cool is a survivor. The singer was shot five times almost a year ago and a few weeks later his car was written off after he was involved in a nasty accident.
Two months down the line, Bebe Cool survived the Kampala bomb attack — in June during the World Cup, which saw his car blown to smithereens.
"What can’t kill you, definitely will make you stronger," says Bebe Cool who was crawling towards the car before it was ripped apart.
It’s been a year full of pain, tears and blood that has tested the very core of Bebe Cool’s strength, character and iron will.
But the self-proclaimed Reggae Emperor is back in Uganda’s showbiz capital. Just recently, he scooped the prestigious Pearl of Africa Music Awards (PAM) for Singer of the Year, in absentia.
Just a fortnight old in Kampala, Bebe in his typical fashion is already attracting controversy. The singer who was performing at Nkumba University in a show dubbed MTN Krazy Kampus Konnection, left the stage straight to his car and drove off when his musical nemesis Bobi Wine walked into the venue ready to perform. In the seven hills of Kampala, two cockerels cannot be in one venue, so the showbiz organisers always make sure that one star performs and leaves before the other one arrives.
But as a second thought, before cruising away in his Bafudde (Isuzu Trooper), Bebe spared a few minutes for Pulse.
"It’s been a bad year. I have escaped death four times. But when I started music, I only had one intention. Doing it to my best ability, which of course, is better than anyone else in Uganda," he quips. "Success is what has kept me sane, desire to succeed beyond the obvious. Nothing will stand in my way to success. Only if I lose my voice," adds Bebe, who says he was a struggling foreign artiste in Nairobi 13 years ago.
"I was a foreigner in Nairobi and had to work harder than anybody else to succeed," he says.
"By the time I was leaving Kenya, I was proud, yet very humbled that I was a household name in Kenya. Going back and establishing myself in Uganda wasn’t easy. It was hard work," adds Bebe.
The son of Jaberi Bidandi Ssali — a former Local Government minister running against Museveni for Presidency for the second time — has no love lost for his dad and has stuck to his guns rooting for Museveni.
In the last presidential elections, he even composed the song, Ekisanja — loosely translated to ‘Give Museveni a third chance’
At the time, Museveni was embroiled in a bitter constitutional battle that could have barred him from seeking presidential re-election for the third time.
Any new year comes with great expectations but this was not the case with Bebe. In January, under unclear circumstances, a police officer shot him as well as his two bodyguards.
"I was not drunk nor were my bodyguards but I was shot five times," he insists. He denies interfering with police work by thwarting police efforts to arrest a couple engaging in a sexual act in a car in a public.
Earlier in the night, Bebe Cool had performed at Lugogo Cricket Oval during R Kelly’s tour, from where he went to Club Silk.He says the management couldn’t let him in because his rivals, Radio and Weasel, were already in the club.
"I was escorted away by a bodyguard and police officer," narrates the singer who headed to Nakumatt for shopping. "I was intercepted by the cop who fired a bullet each at my bodyguards before shooting me five times in the legs," he recalls.
The police report differs with Bebe’s account saying they tried to arrest a couple having sex in the car and the man asked if he could call his lawyer, only for Bebe Cool to turn up. Fracas ensued and guns were fired when Bebe and his group tried to disarm the law enforcers.
In a strange way, Bebe feels that being shot was a blessing in disguise, potentially saving his life when a terrorist bomb rocked Kampala.
"The first bomb went off, and I was lucky. I was crawling to my car when the second blast went off ripping apart my car." He says pensively
President Museveni reached out to Bebe Cool, and offered him and his family Sh 5.6m ($70,000) to pursue treatment in the US.The president also flew him to United States for specialised treatment.
It seems that Bebe Cool’s relationship with his dad is estranged as he is getting cosier with President Yoweri Museveni. After recently winning the PAM award, he cited the President and afew others while giving his father a black out.
"Museveni has done a lot for me. He paid my hospital bill and is a very good friend," explains Bebe.
In May, Bebe Cool’s Honda CRV suffered a tyre burst, swerved off the road and rolled over.
Fortunately, Bebe and his wife, Zuena Kirema — former model and mother to his son Alpha Thierry (named after former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry) — only sustained minor injuries.
It was sad for the Arsenal supporting musician as Zuena had just come back to their matrimonial bed after separation.
For the better part of last year, Bebe Cool was a lonely man after Zuena left him. They separated for six months before they eventually reconciled and have been inseparable since.
"People say I sang Agenze to woo back Zuena but I composed it for people like Weasel and Radio, to show them what good music is. Music that touches people’s hearts," he explains. "I love my wife. Every relationship has its ups and downs and we have sorted ours out," he continues.
"She has been through a lot and is the most understanding person I have ever met," he praises Zuena adding that they both have survived a road accident besides marital woes. But Bebe’s temporary split with Zuena brought in new suitors, the Good Lyf Crew duo of Mowzey Radio and Weasel TV. The younger musicians went all out to attack Bebe in their songs as they serenaded Zuena in a hit song Zuena bringing forth beef.
Now Bebe dismisses Radio and Weasel as hotheads. "They are just hotheads. Kids who want to run before they can even walk," he says.
In the song Zuena, Radio croons asking her hand in marriage and extolling her beauty, while Weasel on his part raps that Zuena is married to a monkey and should get a real man.
But Bebe Cool trashes the song as cheap publicity stunt.
"Those are antics to get noticed. The song is crap. Radio and Weasel got famous through violence, and they will only remain relevant through fighting and not music. They are of no consequence in my life, I don’t even think about them," he enthuses.
In June, Bebe Cool, in a wheel chair, staged a show, which turned chaotic as angry dissatisfied fans turned against him and slapped him before the cops rescued him.
He still recalls the Denmark saga saying they were just hooligans. "I have no time for hooligans. I am a professional artiste. I know what to do, how to perform and I always give my all," he explains.
Come June, Al-Shabaab bombed the eatery where the final World Cup match was being screened and Bebe was caught in the melee escaping death by a whisker.
A few months ago, Bebe Cool stunned the audience when he said that he is not ashamed of coming from a well off family. He was referring to Chameleone and Bobi Wine’s humble background.
"Those born in rich families can always inherit a house without struggling to build one. There is nothing wrong with being born in a rich family. I thank God I didn’t struggle as a child," he says.
His father is chairman of Ugandan People’s Progressive Party and has been Local Government Minister for 24 years. Last week, at a political rally, his father accused Museveni of luring his son with money.
The singer just launched his album, Kapeski (Big Size) at Kati Kati Lugogo Bypass over a period of three days. In the album, he worked with four different producers: Rinex, Kays, Paddy Man and Kali Weed. Always a man of big means, Bebe felt that were he to launch the album in one day, he could end up locking out some of his many supporters.
Bebe Cool is expected to join President Museveni this week on his campaign trail until February next year.
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