Chameleone the musician is a genius and is very supportive; he plays almost every single instrument and it never ceases to amaze me. Having produced his music for the past ten years and remaining on top- this is no easy feat. He’s very passionate, competitive and music is a way of life for him.
I think people look at him as a legend in a more personal way because the music has grown in peoples’ hearts over time and memories are important to people.
Personally, as a musician, he’s given me hope and made me believe the dream was real. Almost everything I’ve done musically has his imprint on it and I’ve been able to learn from his mistakes.
Chameleone is very generous and everything he’s earned he’s shared with the family; as his little brother, I’ve enjoyed the fruits of his labour.
– Pallaso, East African Recording Artist
By Chao Tolle
During his 36 years on earth; Jose Chameleone has lived a very full life.
Née Joseph Mayanja, in Uganda, Chameleone as he’s known among his fans has a near fanatical following in Eastern Africa including Democratic Republic Congo where he was received with a military reception in the Eastern town of Goma in late November 2015 having gone to perform at a show. Online footage shows fans lining the streets to receive the superstar as his cars snaked their way through from the airport and pitching up outside his hotel singing his songs in the pouring rain. Just recently, in Uganda, he entertained crowds of up to 50,000 people; meanwhile, in neighboring Tanzania, his hit song “Valu Valu” was received warmly seeing him sell out his shows in the country.
His crossover appeal, undeniable due to his ability to sing in his native Luganda language, English and the regions Lingua Franca – Swahili; has opened him up to a market of over 150 million people.
Ugandan Superstar Dr Jose Chameleone was the headline act for the 10th Edition of The Koroga Festival, a bi-monthly music, arts and fashion event hosted by Capital FM in Kenya.
“I started my career here [In Kenya] and I’m happy to be able to be back where it all began,” he says as he settles into his suite following a rapid transfer from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Beneath his gruff exterior, I come across an affable man: fascinating and engaging; strikingly modest, appreciative and devoid of any boastful arrogance when speaking about the accomplishments under his belt.
Accomplishments, which have seen him, work towards conflict resolution and disarmament using his music in a pied-piper sort of way.
“I once read an interview in which Joseph Kony, Leader of the Lords Resistance Army mentioned that he loved listening to my music; this presented an opportunity for me to use it [my music] for a great cause because it meant that he listens to me. I reached out to the American Embassy in Uganda and asked them to use my music in passing a message to the rebels to peacefully disarm and come home. My wife, who’s Acholi, helped me translate the song into the language native to the speakers in the affected areas; and, as a result, many rebels came home having heard the song that urged them to abandon the rebel way of life. Many have been received by their families and [have] been reintegrated into society.”
“Come Home” was composed to lure the Lords Resistance Army Rebels fighting under Rebel Leader Joseph Kony to abandon their activities in the bush, and return home. The song, which was blasted on speakers by African Union Regional Counter-LRA Task Force (AU-RTF) and US Special Operations Forces over the dense Central African Republican Forest, is one of the moments he’s most proud of in his career.
“That’s some of the unreleased works of Chameleone, you’re probably the only person in Kenya to have it,” – the superstar says as we sit down for a chat.
I have always looked at music as a tool for development – not just to be danced and listened to, but to be understood. My story is written in people’s hearts – not minds. I try to overlook setbacks and believe that I will get over them – when they seem impossible I leave it to God.
– Jose Chameleone
Jose Chameleone, I soon learn is a man of many surprises and talents.
“What do you think of my band? My bass guitarist is very talented,” he continues excitedly as he heaps praise on them.
Some band members stream in and join us following their intense three hour sound check under the watchful eye of the band manager; their affection and genuine love for the star evident as they trade stories. One of them tells us of the free milk and meat Jose supplies them with off his farm where he keeps cows and goats.
“I neither eat the meat nor drink the milk – so I give it to my team,” he says simply when I ask his motivation for the act.
The conversation between Jose and I continues as we talk philosophy, global politics, and music as a tool for development.
“A lot of regional artists are doing West African fusion in their music; but, how many have broken through? It isn’t because the music isn’t good, but, because they are exporting a sound that West Africa already has … I believe that if we maintain our sound and work together at improving it – we can see our music embraced in the regions we are trying to target.”
He singles out Kenya’s Sauti Sol and Tanzania’s AliKiba among others as artists who’ve remained authentic and who have a great role to play in spreading their brand of music to the rest of the world.
Sunday: 1400 hrs
Having ensured his band had done their final sound check on the morning of Koroga Festival – Jose chose to relax whilst having lunch with his immediate team, which comprised of East African recording artist Pallaso, his personal DJ, hype man and media team ahead of his appearance. His “Kitchen Cabinet” as he fondly calls them, has been with him a long time and as we get closer to show time they form a wall of protection around their brother and friend, their leader, the artiste Chameleone.
With the authoritative air of a General leading his troops into battle, Jose Chameleone walks through the hotel lobby greeting personnel and security officials who instantly recognize him. Before jumping into the car he makes time to take photos with children who walk up to him while thanking their parents for supporting his music career. En route to Koroga Festival’s venue, Nairobi Arboretum, in two darkly tinted passenger vehicles; he’s quiet, determined and focused on giving Kenya – the birthplace of his musical career, a fantastic performance.
There is a rush of movement as high profile VIP guests, armed Administration Police Officers and select fans all clamor for a piece of and a picture with Chameleone, who’s in his backstage holding area ahead of his performance. Reggae superstars Morgan Heritage, on transit in Nairobi, and special guests at the Koroga Festival, meet the artist backstage; and plans are cemented for a private lunch between them following his press engagements the following day.
The man who has no imagination; has no wings – Muhammad Ali
Draped in a white towel reminiscent of a championship boxer and flanked by his media team, DJ and Hypeman – Jose Chameleone walks out of his tent with the determined look of victory on his face. The mood changes and the crowd, anticipating his arrival, gives him a warm Nairobi welcome as soon as the heaving crowd heard the superstar’s distinct gruff voice, reminiscent of whiskey and cigarettes, take to the stage with his intro song “Jamilla.”
An explosion of sound erupts and caqptivates the crowd, Chameleone treats revelers to a set that spans through his musical career with songs such as “Tubonge,” “Milliardo,” and “Wale Wale” amongst others, backed by a 14-member band that includes trumpets, saxophone, bass guitar, drums, African Talking drums, backing vocalists, among other instruments.
Like an adult falcon whose thin tapered wings allow it to fly at high speed and change direction rapidly; Chameleone surprised the crowd when he slowed his high octane performance and poured out his emotions while performing “I’ll Always Love You” by Whitney Houston on the saxophone – a tribute for the ladies who had come to his show. Interacting with his fans, he took their mobile phones during “Valu Valu” and sang into them, while also inviting female fans and children on stage to dance with him during his exhilarating all–inclusive performance. The more than two and a half hour up-tempo set saw him take requests after performing his hugely popular track song “Wale Wale.”
Spent and excited from the love, admiration and seal of approval from the fans – Chameleone leaves the stage – his homecoming show complete. He thanked them in an emotional monologue for helping launch his career 15 years prior. It was a touching moment – a moment when Jose Chameleone had finally come full circle.
For a man who thrives on victory and isn’t afraid of trying something new, Jose Chameleone plans to spread his brand of music to the world, reminiscent of Emperors of old – who set out to conquer new lands. Coupled with his ability to see way beyond the entertainment value of music as well as paving the way for artists coming after him; one gets the sense that the “Jose Chameleone Movement” is well under way and will not stop until its mission is complete.
The Ugandan artist with uncompromising beliefs and whose unique sound comprises of Ugandan folk music, Central African rumba, zouk and reggae is finally back home; home where he started.
The night ends late with a double celebration: his DJ’s birthday and a successful show at the Koroga Festival.
“I tried many times to showcase my talents in Uganda, my home country – but no one, not even the existing artists wanted to give me a chance. If I had given-up – I wouldn’t be here. Upcoming artists should keep trying. Talent will always have a way,” Chameleone finished.
The 10th Edition of The Koroga Festival was held at The Arboretum in Nairobi, Kenya on 3rd of January, 2016 and featured JB Maina, Tony Nyadundo, Ken Wa Maria and Uganda’s Jose Chameleone.
*The initial date of 20th December 2015was postponed by Festival Organizers due to inclement weather conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon at the time.