Tuliyambala Engule: The blurred line between MP Kyagulanyi and Bobi Wine
Although it is harsh to claim Bobi Wine's music career was on its deathbed before his political fame, it is understandable that his recent surge as a musician has been largely rebooted and rebranded using his political garb
PEOPLE | “Olutalo nga luwedde, tuliyambale engule” (When the struggle is finally over, we shall wear the victor’s crown). The opening line in Tuliyambala Engule, Bobi Wine’s latest song on the market, couldn’t have been any better.
It features a couple of surprise acts in Wilson Bugembe, a humble pastor previously not known to openly air his political views. How Bobi Wine managed to pencil him in remains another masterstroke.
Tuliyambala Engule is a song that has since had sections of the public debate whether it could be classified as a gospel song, or a secular one with subtle political undertones. The other acts on the song include Dr Hilderman and King Saha.
It’s the latest in Bobi Wine’s ever-growing catalogue of activism-themed songs, having done a string of others before. Time Bomb, Naye Mukama (featuring Karl Famous), Obululu Twebutwawula, Tugambire ku Jennifer, Situka and Freedom, among others, complete the line-up.
Bobi Wine remains the one artiste who chose the activism path long before suspicions about his political ambitions came to the fore, earning himself a string of endorsements in the process. When he sang Time Bomb and Obululu Twebutwawula, many saw him as merely a representation of the oppressed. A voice for the voiceless. Or a beacon of hope for those who had long given up on ever getting to have their cries heard by the powers that be.
Bobi Wine’s family was not exactly new to politics, as some of his brothers had been actively involved in politics before. One of them is Fred Nyanzi, more affectionately known as Chairman Nyanzi, or simply “Chair” — having been the LC I chairman for Kamwokya Kisenyi II for more than 20 years.
They had long been traditionally known to have a strong allegiance to the opposition Democratic Party (DP). It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise to some when he chose to join politics as an Independent candidate. It was a calculated move, and one largely meant to unite the neutrals and the disgruntled alike.
It was an election that partly caught him by surprise. The 36-year-old had set his eyes on 2021 before the Kyadondo East seat unexpectedly fell vacant. Having aligned his ambitions, he chose to go for it, and the end-result was that landslide victory.
This was to spell the dawn of a tough ride for the young legislator. His swearing-in, greeted with raucous fanfare, had the roads leading to his home jam-packed on the day he was officially ushered into Parliament. It was the acme of his self-actualisation, and the start of a new era in his life.
A revitalized music career
It would be quite harsh to judge his music career as one that was on its deathbed before he joined politics. Before then, he still had the odd hit every month, and had somehow managed to stay relevant in the industry. But this was an industry that had a growing number of entrants, and any slip-up could easily see one consigned to the musical backbench.
Bobi had carefully built this persona of a successful musician with impeccable business acumen. He lived in a plush mansion, owned a beach and was said to have several other businesses ranging from farming to entertainment; and from general merchandize to transportation, among others.
He was the model husband, what with the regular flaunting of his intimate moments with Barbie Kyagulanyi, his wife of over 14 years, and their four children on social media. Images of family photoshoots filled his social media handles, attracting lots of traffic to his account. Bobi Wine would go on to build a big following, more especially with the ladies, many of whom only knew a fraction of his songs.
He had been part of the much-famed BBC; a trident of Uganda’s musical Alpha Males that collectively ruled the airwaves for close to 20 years. Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and Chameleone were officially known as the big three, later joined on the entertainment high table by the dynamic duo of Radio and Weasel.
At their peak of dominance, it did not matter which artiste had more hit songs. The industry ended up with two parallel classes. At some point, we had the “Top Four”, comprising the most hardworking artistes of the moment, and then the “Big Four”. The latter comprised big boys who had earned their places over a longer stretch of time. Bobi, Bebe, Chameleone and the Goodlyfe duo of Radio and Weasel belonged to the latter.
Most of Bobi Wine’s musical duels were with or against Bebe Cool, his friend-turned-foe. The two were previously part of Firebase Crew before Bebe Cool left the camp to start Gagamel Phamily, drawing his inspiration from Gargamel, the label that was started by Buju Banton, his childhood idol.
But Bobi Wine had music of his own, and his and Bebe Cool’s rival camps remained at loggerheads. The long-standing feud would later give birth to what we now know as Battle of Champions, reaching its peak in 2012 in an intense six-hour battle at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds that came to a grinding halt at 3:30am.
Fuelled by the thousands of social media fans from each camp, these were feuds that helped to prop him further. These were the battles that partly helped him to remain relevant in the industry. It’s the reason he continued to out diss-songs aimed at his arch-rival. Songs that included Kadingo, By Far and Matyansi Butyampa.
Long walk to global fame
Bobi Wine migh have been a household name, locally, but he struggled to make his mark on the international scene. Until 2012, the closest he got was “Little Things You Do”, a collaboration with Kenyan artiste Rosemary Wahu Kagwi, better known as Wahu.
Bobi Wine then courted Mr. G, the Jamaican artiste then riding on the crest of his 2010 hit single: “Swaggerific”. It was a project aimed at propping Bobi Wine’s international profile as a musician. Long story short, the Jamaican eventually pitched camp at Bobi Wine’s on his third visit to Uganda, having first arrived in the country in 1998.
Bobi Wine and Mr. G would go on to record several songs that included Dilemma (featuring Cindy), Girls, Filthy Rich and Clean and Out; songs that never really brought him the global fame he craved for.
It was after this disappointment that Bobi Wine returned to the Bobi Wine of old, keeping it local while plotting a remake of sorts that would give rise to the activist we see today.
It was a hustle that eventually paid off as the songs released after that spell were the fuel that kept crowds fired up during his 2017 election campaign against FDC’s Apollo Kantinti.
His was a victory that had been partly bolstered by the 2016 election fuelled Tubonga Nawe, a collaborative song that featured a several artistes led by Bebe Cool, his seemingly eternal nemesis. Growing discontent by the urban public against the government’s misdeeds effectively meant that anyone running against the establishment stood better chances. In the face of this, no one stood a better chance than Bobi Wine. Not even FDC’s Kantinti.
Following the extensive media coverage that followed his landslide, Bobi had finally got the global fame he once craved. Locally, the neutrals had been swayed. Bobi was one of their own, and his views mirrored theirs.
His ever-growing fan-base was now in overdrive. Previously viewed as an upstart who stood no chance upsetting the status, the Opposition now had a dream mascot for their desired regime change. The Bobi Wine brand had soared to greater proportions and would go on to feature in just about every by-election, flooring the incumbent NRM candidates everywhere he went.
By the time he showed up in Arua to lend his support to Kassiano Wadri, he was no longer a threat that could be ignored. Along with 33 others, he was accused of having had a hand in a rock-hurling incident that left one of the cars in the presidential convoy vandalised.
Bobi Wine has since recorded Kyarenga, a multi-lingual song that eventually became the single most popular song of 2018. It was a song that he would go on to perform at every given chance, whether invited as Robert Kyagulanyi, the politician, or Bobi Wine, the artiste.
The government now had to devise every possible means to have him stopped in his tracks. What followed was a string of efforts to suffocate him economically and otherwise, stopping no less than 40 of his planned concerts in a spell of less than three months.
Would he take on Bebe Cool in another battle?
Certainly. He may not have come out tops in that 2012 battle, but a repeat of the same, today, would have the crowd eating out of his palms. This wouldn’t be a walk in the park, though. Gagamel Phamily retains the core of its most radical fans, and they would do everything within their means to have their man carry the day. In the end, the power of converted neutrals and opposition sympathisers would just about have Bobi Wine edge his nemesis.