2 December 2009

Uganda: Beenie Man Bringing Riddim to Kampala

When Beenie Man steps on stage to perform on Saturday, he will not just be the main attraction crowning the Chamuka Keys promotion by Crown Beverages Uganda. It will also be an opportunity for Ugandan music lovers to see and watch up close one of Jamaica's most famous music exports of late.

If there is one Jamaican singer nearly all Uganda's best known singers automatically mention as an influence, it is this lanky Jamaican. Born August 22, 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica, Beenie Man was headed for a musical career. In that heady time when Jamaica was just making a name for itself over reggae music, with names like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Beenie had an uncle who sometimes played for the legendary Jimmy Cliff who first gave him a taste of music.

An admirer of other dancehall greats such as Shabba Ranks, Beenie first came to international attention with the debut of his 1996 Maestro album. It is from that album that many Ugandans first heard of Beenie after the first wave of Jamaican music that washed up the likes of Shabba Ranks, Aswad, Maxi Priest and of course a love affair with UB40. The Beenie song most Ugandans would instantly recognise would be Who Am I.

That thumping single encompasses the passion and energetic stage style that has come to define Beenie's performance with unforgettable riddim beats. It was that single and the follow-ups that saw Beenie crossover from just being one of the stars of Jamaican music to getting worldwide attention.

In fact, another of his songs Girls dem Sugar eventually ended up as one of the many aliases by which his fans refer to him. The other popular nickname he goes by - the doctor - also actually comes from his 1998 album of the same title. You might also remember Beenie Man from a collabo he had with Janet Jackson Feel it Boy from 2002, and from 2003 with Street Life.

Beenie's success has not come without its bits of controversy. Coming out of a culture that frowns on homosexuality, he has been forced to tone down his lyrics to be able to perform in countries like the US, UK and Australia. He has also made much of his U-turn by joining organisations that campaign against homosexual intolerance. Not that he will be finding any such demands when he comes to perform in Kampala, a nation that is currently advocating tougher laws against homosexuals!

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