CHUBBY-cheeked Paddy Bisegerwa dubbed Bitama prances about on stage at the New Life Bar in Nakulabye. Afterwards, Bitama clad in a T-shirt, blue shorts and brown shoes mimics President Yoweri Museveniâ€™s and gestures.
Like the President, he wears a hat with a high crown and wide brim. Bitama speaks with sudden pauses, repeats some words and waves his white handkerchief at the audience.
Imitating the President, Bitama speaks with a strong Kinyankore accent. The audience bursts out laughing when he says obubina (bums) instead of obubiina (groups). Humourously, he twists the Presidentâ€™s words sending the audience into fits of laughter.
â€œThe guy vanishes into the character he is mimicking like a fish in water,â€ says a fan. â€œThese boys are really funny.â€ The spectacle is enhanced by jests delivered by the slender Allan Mujjuni, popularly known as Amooti.
The groupâ€™s dancing queens are a crowd-puller. The spectators, inflamed with passion, whistle, cheer or just scream with excitement as the girls wiggle their bottoms.
â€œAfter all the hype about the group, I thought their shows were very entertaining,â€ complains Edgar Kasumba. â€œI am disappointed; they are obscene!â€
Nevertheless, the artistesâ€™ crude jokes and obscene shows keep audiences coming back. They are popular with the young generation that forms a big part of the night club culture.
â€œThe pelvis-grinding dance excites me,â€ says Richard Mbaga, 33, smiling. â€œThe girls swing their bums like they are shifting gears in a swivel chair. Besides the guys are very funny, especially Amooti.â€
But some critics say the Amarula have run out of steam. â€œTheir jokes are crude and repetitive,â€ says 25-year-old Jane Namukasa. â€œThey only appeal to people with a morbid fascination.â€
Bitama and Amooti are two of the four artistes who constitute The Amarula Family. The artistes earn their living by mimicry. When the Amarula appeared on the scene six years ago, they were struggling artistes just eking out a meagre existence. The artistes' journey has been full of twists and turns. Their first show in 1999 at DV8 Bar and Bistro was a complete flop. But the failure did not drive them to despair.
â€œThe reception was poor. We knew people did not fully appreciate comic performance because it was unusual,â€ says talkative Bitama. â€œIn our subsequent shows we strove to teach people about comedy.â€
Realising that they were making little headway, they ransacked their heads for a promotional stunt. The artistes contrived a publicity gimmick. â€œWe decided to stage a vulgar show dubbed â€˜Miss Jeninaâ€™,â€says the boyish Nicholas Mpiirwe, nicknamed DJ Mese, without a prick of conscience. â€œWe featured six scantily dressed girls. One of them had only banana leaves around her breasts and crotch.â€
The show gave the nightclub addicts a real buzz. However, the group got a rap over the knuckle from Miria Matembe, the minister of Ethics and Integrity. But that was a blessing in disguise. They had always longed for publicity. That is all the artistes needed to create a niche in the entertainment circle. Their fans descended on Jenina Night Club, Nansana, in their hordes.
Paddy Bisegerwa, 23, Allan Mujjuni, 25, Nicholas Mpiirwe, 26, and Eddy Ssesanga, 22, took Kampala by storm. Their erotic performance, rib-tickling jokes and ribald humour made people throng to see their shows.
â€œWe introduced something new. Everyday was playing music," says Bitama.
The artistes grabbed the gap and started a new genre of entertainment. They blended comic performance with erotic dance. Their big break came at the Millennium show organised by Nile Breweries in 2000, at the Lugogo Cricket Oval.
â€œIt attracted 20,000 people. Everybody was amused by our jokes,â€ says Bitama.
Since then, the comic artistes, have been a major force on the local entertainment scene.
â€œAfter the performance, we began getting contracts with big corporations such as Mango, Nile Breweries and Sanyu,â€ says Bitama.
What is their secret?
â€œWe meet a cross section of people, observe and make jokes about them. That strikes a chord with the audience,â€ observes Bitama. â€œSo many people are under stress when they laugh, they feel relief.â€
Amooti interjects, â€œWe make people forget their problems.â€
Bitama and Amooti are old friends. Both were rapping and miming at Jenina Night club. Bitama is a great talker. After a few hours we are talking away like pals. He traces his comic nature back to his school days. Bitama recalls causing much mirth among his classmates when he told the teacher that women were the best goalkeepers.
â€œThe balls donâ€™t enter,â€ says Bitama with a twinkle in his eyes.
The comedian draws inspiration from Eddy Murphy, the comic actor.
Bitama grew up in Nansana and started dreaming about becoming a star in primary school. He dropped out of secondary school in 1999. He is acclaimed for mimicking President Museveni perfectly. The comedian says he conceived the notion of comic performances after watching comedians such as Mr Bean and Eddy Murphy.
â€œI sold the idea to Amooti. At first he was sceptical about it because of the expenses involved,â€ says Bitama â€œYou know, comedy entails buying costumes.â€ The duo established the group.
Amooti is one of the best comics who have sprouted over the airwaves. A native of Kasyari, Mbarara, he completed his studies at Kisubi Technical School in 1997. Charmed by the mysterious spell of music, Amooti chose music as a career. He tried his hand at miming and singing at Club Silk, Ecstasy and Vogue before forming Amarula.
The three artistes have displayed a gift for comedy. Their talents have not gone unnoticed by radio proprietors. Two years ago, Radio Simba employed Amooti to host, Mukulikeyo show.
â€œIt is basically comedy and music,â€ says Amooti.
Bitama and Mese work for Dembe FM. They present Katonda Bwatyo Bwayagade show, a blend of comedy and music.
â€œThe programme is broadcast between 4:00pm and 8:00pm, Monday to Friday,â€ says Bitama.
DJ Mese is a songwriter, singer and comedian. Mese was born and raised in Mbarara in 1976. Later, he relocated to Kampala. After dropping out of secondary school, he had a stint as a cashier at his aunt's video library. Eventually, he began rapping and miming for money. He teamed up with Ragga Dee and Irene in 1994. The trio formed the Homies Band. Their song Bamusakata, released in 1995 became a big hit.
When Karim Hirji opened Roads Night club (Viper Room)at Hotel Equatoria, D.J Mese was employed as the microphone controller (MC). Later he trained as a disk jockey under the tutelage of Elvis Kalema of Radio One. Thereafter, he also became a trainer at Jenina Night Club.
â€œThat is where I met Amooti,â€ says Mese. â€œWe decided to work together.â€
Eddy Ssesanga, the youngest of the four, was born in Seguku on Entebbe Road. Like most of his colleagues, he is a secondary school dropout. His music career began as a microphone controller at Jenina, where he met Bitama. â€œThatâ€™s how I joined the Amarula Family,â€ says Ssesanga. D.J Mese explains the genesis of the groupâ€™s strange name.
â€œIn 1999, we performed in Jinja. We bought Amarula, the most expensive liquor in the bar. It was our first time to drink it. We liked it, so we decided to call the group, The Amarula Family.â€
The group performs at Jenina and the New Life Bar in Nakulabye.
Do the artistes mint money? â€œWe survive and life goes on,â€ says D.J Mese. â€œWe can't complain, we are just beginners,â€ Amooti chips in. â€œWe would be making more money but the entertainment business is riddled with cheating. Often we are defrauded by dishonest people.â€
Their game plan? â€œSoon we are going to make a record of our shows on video,â€ says D.J Mese. Ends
Amarula Family Tipsy With Ugandan Jokes