By Solomon Muleyi
Oh how the mighty fall! The Chameleone who recently went viral for kneeling after receiving a Range Rover is an ugly, grim shadow of himself, the Mayanja we once knew. Joseph Mayanja aka Jose Chameleone was the epic epiphany of great. The debate of whether or not he is a musical legend is yet to find a credible verdict. But in his glory days, Jose Chameleone was undoubtedly mighty. He had the hit songs. He had the money. The women worshipped him. The rich ate from the palm of his hands, only if he let them. He was not just a brand. He was a symbol of a legacy bigger than music. His followers at Leone Island would follow him to the grave. Chameleone was a mini-god in Uganda.
The respect and fear he evoked was akin to that of the great Drug Kingpins of Mexican and Columbian drug history. Like Pablo Escobar, he’d walk into a place, and the reflexes of the audience spelled a mishmash of fear, respect, anger, anxiety and sheer love. Some hated him for this bigger than life persona; an unhinged bully who got whatever he wanted when he wanted. But that was for those who so much as dared to cross roads with him. For the majority, he was a musical genius who had given the bubble gum music of the 1990s and early 2000s an eclectic touch that electrified and hypnotised. He was sought after like a bad drug with short-lived (but) fantastic heights. He had the effortless knack for making hit songs that appealed to all demographics alike. For his talent, he quickly became a shark in a sea that didn’t have many sharks, so he looked bigger than the sea that was the Ugandan musical industry.
To have him appear at your show back then, there had to be millions. ‘No million no Chameleone’ is what he was called. Whenever International artistes were performing in Uganda, he had to be on the menu together with the very best. He rubbed shoulders with all the international artistes who came around. He even received a BMW with a personalised number plate from legendary events promoter of the Silk Events empire, Elvis Sekyanzi, and he didn’t seem very amused. He didn’t kneel. He didn’t shout. He didn’t hug Sekyanzi like a kid who’d been saved of hunger. He was cool about it, like it was just another day.
In his defence, of course, Chameleone was heard saying the Range Rover came with an extra sh100m and that he was off for a vacation somewhere on the coast of the Indian Ocean. And maybe, in a flip perspective, that justifies his actions. A free range Rover, together with sh100m, will make any Ugandan wobbly in the knees and emotional. It would shake many marriages and dismantle relationships.
Ugandans are just making a big deal out of it because, of course, it is the mighty Chameleone doing that. His fans know a different Chameleone. The occasional change in colour is typical of Chameleone. Just not the shelving of his ego and dignity to the point where he kneels in praise for another human. That is why they are outraged. Otherwise; times are hard, COVID-19 is a wicked non-scratchable itch in the nether, let the man make his money the best way he knows how.