Ugandan journalist Robert Walakira, who is based in the United Kingdom, this week penned a very touching tribute to celebrated Ugandan musician Paul Kafeero, who passed away in 2007, which he presented at the Vocational Awards ceremony which was organized by the Rotary Club of Nansana on Wednesday this week.
Here below is his glowing tribute to the fallen singer, who was one of Uganda’s finest music talents and was awarded by the Rotary Club of Nansana this week for his contribution to the country’s creative industry;
Rotarians, members of late Kafeero’s family, his friends both online and in-person, thank you for sparing the time.
To all Paulo Kafeero’s fans, let me borrow the great man’s phrase: “Bako mugyeebale emirimu!”
Madam President, indeed the poetry of the man you are awarding tonight is legendary, and I thank you and your Board for acknowledging his contributions not only to Luganda as a language but to our country’s creative industry as a whole.
I bet that many of the people here will agree with me if I said that: Kafeero was NOT one of the best storytellers, but he was the greatest storyteller of our generation. He led the pack.
Therefore, I am intrigued to share with you my account of Kafeero, the man who entertained millions.
I first acquainted myself with Kafeero during his UK Tour of 2004. I had just started a filming startup in London and his promoter, Mr Lawrence Muyimba commissioned me to shoot his concerts.
I interacted with him briefly, however, I got close to the man in 2006, when I was working as a journalist for Eyecon Magazine.
The year 2006 began rather rosy and promising for Mr Kafeero. His fame had soared and he had concert triumphs at West Ham Stadium and at the Selby Centre in Tottenham.
Kafeero seemed poised for good things that year. Promoter Yunus Ssengo wanted him to be a resident artist at Club 19, and The Buganda Centre UK had also arranged a series of gigs for him in Manchester and other British cities.
Unfortunately, Kafeero was hard-pressed by a much more severe matter that was only known to him and perhaps a handful of people close to him.
His confidants in London included: Robert Kageme, Bob Mpiima and Matovu Joy of the famous Bakayimbira Dramactors.
The trio fiercely kept Kafeero’s illness a top-secret. They even managed to hide it from the management of Kalah Records. Kalah Records is a Ghanaian world music distribution label that signed Kafeero in August 2006.
And Kafeero’s contract with them entailed the following: the recording of a new album, the penning of Kampala mu kooti pt.II, and the re-issuing of both Lucia and Muvubuka Munange from his old catalogue.
Although Kafeero was sickly, it is reported that he thwarted the idea of going to any British hospital because he did not fancy being used as a guinea pig.
And I will tell you why.
Kafeero’s judgment of hating hospitals was swayed by a fallacy that was doing rounds within the London Ugandan community that went like something like this: “bwoogenda mu ddwaliro ne bakujakko amazi ku mugongo, eyiyo nga basima.”
Sadly, many folks fell for it and the community lost quite a few people as a result.
It took the intervention of Dr Ssekweyama, one of Kabaka’s representatives in the UK to talk Kafeero into accepting treatment.
More or less immediately after a chat with the Kabaka’s rep, Kafeero checked into Croydon’s May Day hospital and was later transferred to St George’s in Tooting.
While at St Georges, however, Kafeero was diagnosed with a pressing disease and he was told that he had only weeks to live as the virus had begun to damage his immune system.
The news came at a time when he was celebrating 22 years in the music industry that had seen many of his peers die in their prime.
During the autumn of 2006, Kafeero’s appetite for food decreased, he was sickly and was losing weight at record speed.
The winter season did not do him any favours either, however, the guy from Bukunjja had a way of glossing his problems with a perfect smile, especially when he had a pint of beer in his hand.
He often joked by saying “Depot naziggula” as he embarked on what he did best, and that is writing music.
Since he was given weeks to live, the clock was ticking and it was ticking fast. Kafeero could not allow any slippage and he managed to write an album in a very short time scale.
He christened it with a befitting title “Nsonda nnya.”
The album was produced by Sam Kadhume in Forest Gate, and I was among the three lucky fans who were allowed in the studio located along Romford Road.
During the recording sessions, Kafeero danced a little and was full of jokes. I remember him saying: “Akasajja kano ka Wulumbe nkakabube tune essembayo.”
It felt like Kafeero had given up on life as he moved his drinking habit a notch up from a normal can of lager to the hard distilled liquor.
Whilst in the studio, though, it dotted on me that the Prince of Africa was on his way out. He was very skinny and had lost control of his bladder.
He had a strong urge of visiting the loos habitually.
As a fan, it was painful to see him in such a state.
I must say that: considering his health condition at this stage, it was a remarkable achievement for him to having pulled off that album.
After he was done with the recording, Kafeero was set to fly back to Entebbe, however, a few days before he boarded, he phoned me up and asked me to arrange for him both, a videographer and a photographer.
It seemed like the singer had made up his mind, and it was time for him to say those important goodbyes to his British fans through Eyecon Magazine, a magazine I published at the time.
Death was something Kafeero had come to accept and he was very calm while on set.
It was only on a couple of occasions that I thought that he showed signs of drifting away from his intended message. And that only lasted for a few seconds.
The first one was when he was talking about his children, and also during his oration of the loans he had acquired from one Marvin Ssemmango.
Kafeero was petrified by the thought of defaulting on the loans. He knew that if he defaulted, it will give Marvin an edge on confiscating his properties.
When we were done with the filming, Kafeero flicked through the pictures and asked me to delete the ones he disliked. A decision I respected.
That was the last time I saw him as he flew back a few days on.
President, I could go on and on about the late Paulo Kafeero but let me stop here.
Before I hand back the mic, though, Madam President, please allow me to thank Bob Mpiima for housing Kafeero during his stay in London, for feeding him, for giving him the emotional support at the time when he needed it most, and for managing to beat the British system when enrolled Paulo Kafeero on the register of the National Health Services, although Kafeero was on a visitors visa.
Bob, indeed “gwe wali omanyi okupanga.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your indulgence.
Note: Robert Walakira is a legendary journalist based in London, UK and was one of the few people who personally knew Paulo Kafeero.