Kanye West In Uganda

The opening line to one of the articles that ‘an excited me’ wrote, as we broke the news about Ye’s visit read, “American-based rapper Kanye West and wife Kim Kardashian will jet into Uganda in a private jet today.”

Around this time last year, Uganda was gearing up to receive the West family.

Actually…, the truth is, none of us was ready.

The news of his coming was untold, and not even my good friend Spacey from Marasa Africa could share any worthy information with me.

The couple had exclusively rented out the luxury resort by the Nile River owned by Marasa, the gorgeous Chobe Safari Lodge. I knew this because I had made a pretext call to their reservations office in Kampala to reserve a room at the resort when the rumors began to spread.

“We have no rooms available sir for the next two weeks”, the lady on the other end of the tele spoke so beautifully. That was quite odd for the month of October.

Chobe Safari Lodge, the resort where Kanye West, Big Sean, and Kim Kardashian vacationed in 2018

My passionate search for any valuable nugget of info led me to Swangz Avenue. I had heard that these chaps had been contracted to supply some of the studio equipment needed for Kanye’s project in Uganda, but they too remained tight-lipped during this episode.

When I contacted Jaylor, who at the time was handling PR at Swangz, she did everything a professional, like myself, would do. No photos, and very little info. Jaylor kale mwana gwe!

Kanye West In Uganda

I remember how I went frenzy with the pen that week to milk the little bits of this story as was fed to me by still undisclosed but dependable sources. my good friend Salim Segawa I bet remembers the number of times we texted each other to exchange notes.

We all told the “Kanye West in Uganda story” as we heard it from our most trusted source, but boy was it as tough as squeezing lemonade from a tired lime!

For me, this was yet another opportunity to tell the Ugandan story, of course with a tourism bias; only that this was a much bigger story than I had ever told before. This was a relation that I am forever humbled to have covered; a golden one, to say the least:

Some of the stories…

Yeezy Star Kanye West and Wife Kim Kardashian Flying To Uganda For Weekend Safari
PHOTOS: Kanye West, Kim Kardashian And Big Sean Stoked By Their Uganda Safari
An Open Letter To The Minister Of Tourism On Kanye’s Visit To Uganda
Kanye West, Wife Kim Kardashian Meet Uganda President – To Track Mountain Gorillas In Bwindi

My blog stats that week literally blew up before my eyes, as I uploaded every story about their time here. I could sense people were making cursory searches for the latest developments on this visit.

TMZ, BBC, and CNN seemed thirsty for details as well. They too relied on the stories we wrote to keep up with the West Family’s time in Uganda.

Although Kanye West and his crew were here principally to work on records for his Yandhi Album, it was the much-needed PR boost that Destination Uganda needed.

Until today, the story has never been told as well as it was (a few days ago) by music maestro Tshaka Mayanja. I am thankful that he allowed me to share it with you guys here.

Tshaka was one of the few people to have been contacted by Kanye’s team as they were making preparations, and he played a crucial role in executing the Kanye-Uganda mission. From organizing school concerts in 1985, to bringing in artists like R Kelly and then being asked to head such a huge project; Tshaka is a true living legend!

When you read his full account below, you can tell that despite being in direct contact with Kanye’s team, it took him way too long to accept the news.

In fact, it was crazier for Benon Mugumbya, the Production Director at Swangz Avenue who didn’t come to the truth until he met Kanye’s Personal Assistant at Chobe Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park.

“I remember getting to Chobe a day after Julius Kyazze and he introduced me to Kanye’s personal assistant, I whispered to Julius in luganda but with excitement ‘ekitegeza omusajja ajja ebyaddala’ (Kanye is coming for real). Julius gave me a look that felt like, with all this planning and running around and you are still unsure?”, Benon recounts how dumb he felt.

Here’s Tshaka Mayanja’s, or as many know him, Mr. Jazz Safari’s unadulterated account: “THE COSMIC SYSTEM HAS NO COINCIDENCES” 

It was Wednesday 03rd October, exactly a year ago this week, while I was on one of our trods, ‘olutabaalo’, with my brother Jajja Kalandalugo; we spend the day learning from various Elders in the hill (sadly, one of them has just passed on this evening), by Nnalubaale enjoying her breeze, giving thanks; Spiritual rejuvenation.

We always end up in the small village called Kiryankuyege in Buddu, at the home of my father’s eldest brother (now deceased too), to have “lunch” (usually at 5 pm) with his wife, the Nnamwandu and their daughter Julia, who happens to be my Godmother.

It’s only in this home that I ever eat Matooke. From birth, I’ve never really enjoyed Matooke to this day. But Julia’s ettooke, that’s a whole other subject!

It is in their home, that Buganda’s Katikkiro’s governing Mase, the Ddamula, was hidden from 1966 up to 1993, when my father presented it to the Kabaka who was still a Prince, before His coronation. I find so much solace in that small house, I’m not sure why.

The networks, especially MTN (on and off) and Africell (nonexistent), are dire in this village, so I usually put my phone in flight mode to save the battery. On this day though, around 6 pm, when I walked out of the house, my phone with the MTN line rang.

My Nokia E90 Communicator phone has “heard things”. I was very surprised coz the network in this village is usually very dicey. Well, this call came through somehow!

It was a +1 prefix, which meant either Jamaica or the USA. Only “Old Skool” folks call me on MTN as that phone is usually off anyways.

“Hey, is this Mr. T? Yeap, I answered. “This is Thomas from Kanye West Audio Chicago. Bill from Gearhouse SA gave us your contact. Have you seen our email?”

I didn’t quite digest that well, so I answered; “No I haven’t, I have no access to the internet I’m out of the city. I’ll check it out in about five hours”. He said it was kinda urgent, so he’d call me back. I said, no problemo.

I thought to myself, did I hear right, or is there some kinda confusion. We left that home, and continued to our family/ancestral home, at around 8 pm. We usually visit Taata Ben Ssali who was 96 years old then, and his son Yozefu who was over 77 years old, to have a chat.

It was our lutabaalo custom. Their house is opposite our ancestral home. Both of them have since passed on, within a space of about ten days of each other in fact! Very sad.

From there, we went home as usual, across the road, to sit outside under the moon and stars, enjoying ka Chai ak’okunkku. I brought up the subject of the call to Kalanda, and I told him I didn’t think that call was legit, but that I’d check it later. His answer was; “Eh, wabula Abakulu bo bakola”. We laughed about it.

At exactly 10 pm while driving back from Buddu, the phone rang again. “Hey Mr. T, this is Thomas again. Have you seen the email?” I told him I hadn’t yet, but I should in an hour. At 11 pm, he called again! That’s when I realized he was serious. I hadn’t yet checked, so he said I should call him as soon as possible, after reading it.

At 1 am, I found two emails;

Dear Thomas,
Thanks very much for the enquiry.
Please allow me to introduce you to TShaka Mayanja, who is Uganda based and will be able to assist you.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any further enquiries
Regards
Bill

The other email stated;

Thanks so much Bill!
Hi TShaka,
We are planning to arrive in Uganda on or around the 11th of this month. We’re looking to rent two PA systems as well as the necessary power to run them. One of which we will want to have set up outside in a tent so that we can record outside. We’re not sure yet where this all will be located or what the electricity situation will be, but wanted to sort out the equipment availability in the area ASAP.
Please let me know if this is something you can accommodate. Thanks!
All the best,
Tom

Eish, the calls were serious after all! 10th October was only a week away. What I wasn’t made aware of was whether this was a video shoot, a TV show or a concert. Above all, they didn’t know yet, where the set up would be. I did call Julius Kyazze the next day and told him about the possibility of a project, but I didn’t know much about it yet.

The following day, the list of equipment needed was sent through, and most of it was studio gear. So I called Benon Mugumbya, he told me he was in Kigali, we’d talk about it when he returned.

On Sunday 07th, he called me. He said he was driving from the airport, but was exhausted, and asked whether we could meet the next day. I insisted that all I needed was a few minutes. He said; “Kale, kankikwataganye Ssebo”.

I was at Magic Parking with a good friend of mine, Pastor Kyambadde Daudi, with whom we have endless debates about Spirituality, an understatement. 😆 I told him about the phone call, and mentioned Kanye West.

He banged the table, stood up and exclaimed; “Kiki? Naye Musajja gwe oliko n’ekikyaamu. Didn’t I send you a link some days ago nga Kanye agamba he’s going back to Africa for his Roots? Tewakasoma? Eh, eh. Ajja wano?”

I scrolled through my messages from him and saw the link, it was unopened. I recall seeing the headline but didn’t pay attention.

One was from TMZ the other from BBC. Pastor went on; “Naye banange ebintu byammwe ebyo eby’empewo. Kati nno Kanye kaakugweeko omutabuletabule mu by’Omwoyo. Mwe munamanya gyemunaakoma”. We all burst out laughing 😂

The only photo I could find on the internet pointing to a one Kyambadde Daudi who is a pastor

Benon finally arrived, I took him through, but he didn’t look enthusiastic, kinda like he didn’t believe this was going happen; maybe, he was just exhausted. Kyambadde kept saying; “Naye mwe, I don’t think you people have any idea of the magnitude of this project”. In truth, even I did not at the time. Heck, I only knew one Kanye song.

A friend called Ssekyaalo interjected; “Naye Roots lwaki togukola omulimu? Bino obisobola”. He was intimating ring fencing the project I think, something that I never do. Benon retorted; “Ssi bwebakola. Oluusi oleeta abalala nemukola mwenna, nemukikwataganya”.

On Monday, it was a flurry of emails! It was only days to the arrival and even then, I wasn’t told yet where the project was and what exactly was needed. It was then that I was told it was a group of FIFTY people. Oh my gosh.

The list of items needed came in, a decision had to be made where these will come from. There seemed to be some miscommunication at this point;

“Good day all

Unless we missed something in previous emails, I didn’t see any requests from Gearhouse SA to supply equipment. As advised, export from SA to Uganda is not quick and if I read correctly that show is 11 October we will not have enough time to send kit. Please clarify. Thanks in advance”.

The reply to this email came from the US;

“This isn’t a show. We are setting up studios to do work, and 2 locations to play the music really really loud. 1 inside, 1 outside. Once again, not a show”.

By nearly 10 pm on the 07th of October, the venue had not been decided, but I had managed to locate some of what they needed. Then this email came in;

“Hi, team. Confirming we are 100% moving forward with everything and are now locking in the CHOBE Lodge. KW will fly on 10/11 and arrive on 10/12. Security is flying to advance today. The most vital element of this trip in terms of recording to Kanye is the outdoor studio. Thanks for all the help”.

CHOBE??!! I emailed them back and asked them whether they knew how far Chobe was from the city, and how difficult it would be to set up with the two days we had left!

A reply came in that stated that there were a couple of airplanes parked in Kajjansi, at my disposal! Daymn, I was beginning to learn what ‘big balling’ means. 😂😂

Views of the Swimming pool area at Chobe Safari Lodge Uganda where Kanye and Kim will spend the weekend.
Views of the Swimming pool area at Chobe Safari Lodge Uganda where Kanye and Kim spent their weekend.

I rang Julius and told him, tewali kwebaka! We had two days to set up three recording studios in Chobe. I’d never been passed Luweero. We agreed that he sets off with a crew while I stay behind in Kampala to wait for instructions and send whatever was needed. The demands were coming in thick and fast!

Before setting off, we were told the entire Chobe lodge had been booked out for KW, we had to find accommodations elsewhere. That meant driving in and out of the park deep in the night.

Someone gave me a contact for Travellers Inn Karuma. I called them and told them I had a team of over twenty people. They suggested we take all the rooms and also set up tents in the gardens. I must say, it was a nice, clean and comfortable Inn. Great service.

I rounded up teams from Buzz, Swangz Avenue, H Sounds, Gemi Live, Silk Events, Fotogenix etc, and off they went with Julius. They started building at about 5 pm!

While I was here in Kampala, more demands were coming in and more fires to put out. The following day, Julius rang to tell us Chobe had refused the crew to have meals there. It’s not like we wanted free food.

They gave an excuse that all the food was reserved for the guests. I was livid! I sent an email to the KW team and told them that if the crew had to drive out to Karuma for meals, it would take three hours to drive to and from, have meals; and work would have to stop.

The KW team head too was incensed. He sent an email to Chobe and told them that the crew should have meals at the hotel, he’d cover the bills. That Chobe fella wasn’t so pleased, we could tell.

Carpenters, dome builders, technicians etc all descended on the hotel to have meals. Later on, we were given the staff dining hall as our designated food place. It was nice and comfortable.

Soon as KW arrived, I set off early the next day for Chobe. We dropped off our luggage at Travellers Inn then continued to Chobe. All cars headed to Chobe had to have been registered earlier to be allowed entry. I’d emailed all the number plates for our contingent.

Chobe was on lockdown. On getting there, I found there was heat; someone had taken pictures of the guests and posted them on social media. That was a breach.

That’s when Chobe suggested it was our crew who might have done it; atte munaffe, ffe ba poloojo. I blew a gasket!

Kanye sits on reception desk at Chobe Safari Lodge, Uganda
Kanye sits on the reception desk at Chobe Safari Lodge, Uganda

First and foremost, our team was already overwhelmed by work to think about selfies. Secondly, the pictures and video were taken from the hotel lobby.

Thankfully, it was established that it was Chobe themselves, well their staff, who did. That was a relief. I couldn’t bear these folks losing trust in us.

KW had no set times. I’ve never seen someone so spontaneous. He could decide to work at ANY TIME. We bought mattresses which we put in the dining room, for some of the crew to stay overnight.

The three original studios now turned into six!! They wanted more set. “Are you sure?”, I asked. They said yes. We had to send for more domes, wood, furniture, etc. The planes were flying in and out of Chobe like Boda Bodas. Items from Kampala, from Nairobi!

Kanye West's outdoor dome shaped studio at Chobe Safari Lodge, Uganda
Kanye West’s outdoor dome-shaped studio in Uganda

The next call I got was that KW had decided to stay until 23rd November and that the album was to be released here in Uganda. A month in Chobe running six studios! On top of that, The Soul-R&B Safari 11th Edition was to be barely a week after that. Very tight! The work ethic of this fella was abnormal.

Artists were flying in and out from overseas. Songwriters, Producers. For instance, we had never heard of an artist called Big Sean. He was there, very friendly, we had no idea how huge he was. Tuli bakadde wabula (loosely translates: “it dawned on us that we were very old”). 😆

Kanye lifts daughter North West. In the background is Big Sean
Kanye lifts daughter North West at Chobe Safari Lodge, Uganda. In the background is Big Sean

That performance by Kanye in the dome, when he walked out draped in the Ugandan flag; it started drizzling but he kept on going with his flow; you had to be right there in the moment, to see his Spirit soar.

I actually didn’t get to spend time with KW. Julius and Benon who were there earlier, spent a lot of time with him, one on one, away from his minders. That was rare, coz he was always surrounded by his team.

One evening, as we were under our HQ, which was under a tree 😁 (see picture below), I was feeding the ants like I usually do, with syrup. Hundreds of ants were on my table.

His security guy came running towards us. “Who is Mr. T? Kanye is ready to see you. Standby, I’ll come for you”.

Pastor Kyambadde stood up and said; “Kiwedde. Ho, oyo omumaze. Mwemumanyi gyekinagweera”. 😂

The guy then returned and told me to go and wait by the studio, KW was on the way. We all stood up and headed to the studio dome. He came with his minders and crew. I was introduced to him.

He held out his hand and said; “Hey man”. We stared in each other’s eyes for five seconds and said nothing. There was a group of people on the side who wanted to meet him. Still holding my hand, he said; “Should I see you first, or should I see them first?” I answered; “No problem, you can see them first. “Thank you man”, he said. And that was it.

Kanye West In Uganda
Kanye west inside his dome-studio in Uganda draped in the Ugandan flag

After setting up the extra studios, I received an email saying that he was leaving, so we would not be using the extra studios. It was now time to tear down and to pack everything up. The project was concluded.

While in Chobe, the sheer volume of calls Julius was getting from all sorts of people, from the high and mighty to the ‘in-between’, was astonishing. Requests for selfies, meetings, collabos; you name it. Some were offering thousands of dollars!

That’s when I realized how powerful our employer KW was. And not once, did our team betray the trust of our employers, as tempting as it was.

I had heard about Kim Kardashian, but I’d never watched her TV show. Watching her, KW and their daughter running around and playing like kids, in the wilderness/nature reserve was quite interesting. No cameras and flashlights, no make up, just letting their hair down, as the adage goes.

North West arrives at Chobe Safari Lodge, Uganda with mother Kim Kardashian
North West arrives at Chobe Safari Lodge with mother Kim Kardashian

After the project, I received an email from the KW team head who had stayed behind in the US to run the project on phone and email;

“Nothing but love for you and your guys! Thank you so much! It was a great pleasure to work with you”.

This KW Project made global news. All the mainstream news and entertainment channels, digital media, social media in the US and beyond, for days; there was news about Kanye doing his album project in Uganda.

Not many, outside the teams that were directly involved, know exactly how it was pulled off. We saw, heard and learned so much.

From organizing school concerts in 1985, to being asked to head such a huge project within barely a week, and pulling it off, It’s All The Grace of Ttonda The Most High And My Ancestors Through Whom I Am Spiritually Guided Itinually ☥ I wish my Father was physically here to see it.

These days, Pastor Kyambadde sends me YouTube links of Kanye holding invite-only church services, conducting choirs, etc.

Whenever we meet, he starts all over again;

“Ssabagamba? Kati omusajja mwamutabula. Kale just a handshake na kwetunulira mu maaso kyokka wemwakoma. Wabula Katonda amanyi ebintu. Kati olwo singa mwatuula ne mwogera? Ye album gyeyakola wano nga tefulumanga? Ye atte, lwaki munsi zonna yalonda wano? Haaa, atte laba bwaagwa kuggwe! Emyooyo gyamwe gyegyamuleeta wano, ssi bya album”. 😂😂

Translation

“Didn’t I tell you? You guys disrupted Kanye’s course. With just a handshake and a stare in his eyes. But God knows things. But, what if the two of you sat and talked at length? Let me also ask, the album he worked on while in Uganda, how come it has never been released? Why did he choose Uganda, among all the nations of the world?…. and he goes on and on” 😂😂

Written by 

My old folks call me Jonathan Benaiah but I prefer to go by as “The Ugandan Tourist“. I love to travel, write, take photos (of nature mostly). Ask me my best kind of trips and I'll tell you that it's those moments which allow me enough time in the African bush.