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Saturday, November 1, 2008

I can't deny my ancestry

I'm Nubian and one of the grandchildren of the late Idi Amin Dada. My name is Ugly, Abbass Amin told Dennis D. Muhumuza

Anyone who has heard, read and watched films about Idi Amin Dada knows that beyond his capriciousness, he was a man who captivated more than he repelled. When “Big Daddy” got down to dishing out tips to Ugandan pugilists, playing his beloved accordion or wooing pretty women, he was simply irresistible.

Would the lustrous elements of the Kakwa boy who was deficient in formal education but ruled Uganda for nine years, be reflected in one of his grandsons, a rapper? It appeared not on first sight. The wiry and glum-faced Abbass Hassan Muhammad Ibrahim Amin was wearing wrinkled black leather boots that could do with some mending at the cobbler’s. But when he introduced himself, it was with a burst of energy tinged with characteristic assertiveness that was known to strike fear in the hearts of those who knew his grandfather well.

“I’m Nubian and one of the grandchildren of the late Idi Amin Dada,” he thundered. “My name is Ugly.” Looking him over: The not-so-shapely big nose, lips and rough outlook brought him closer, physically, to his own description.

“Don’t raise your eyebrows,” he said, “Ugly stands for “U gotta love yourself!”

The self-loving 25-year-old is the only son of Hassan Amin and Aisha Ibrahim Rajabip. His father, who shares a mother with Taban Amin was an air force soldier in the 70s and died in 1986. His mother, a business woman, stays in Kibuli. Ugly won’t say more but readily talks about the good his grandfather did.

“People shouldn’t just say that Amin was terrible. They are supposed to see what he did. He liberated the country from mental slavery whereby we did think that it was only the Asians to run our economy. But now move around Kampala; it’s we the Ugandan people running our own economy,” he said.

Ugly is alluding to the 1972 “economic war” in which Amin expelled about 80,000 Asians and handed over their businesses and properties to the locals. It disturbs Ugly a lot that his blood relation with Idi Amin is affecting his music career: “I would have gotten a promoter by now but for my association with my late grandfather. A gentleman came to me and said, 'I would have helped you because I like your music but the problem is because of this.' But you know you can never run away from yourself. I mean I’m Amin’s blood and there’s no way I can run away from that. I’m composing a song that will make people accept me and forget about the bad side [of Amin]; why have beef with a dead person; when someone is gone, whether he was a murderer or a thug, we just have to look at the positive side and move on.”

Moving on is what Ugly is doing through hip-hop, a lifestyle began at inter-school music contests during his early formative years in Nairobi. He returned home in 1997 after Standard eight at Mashimoni Primary School and attended Kololo High School, and later on Kololo SSS to study Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB).

“I would be a doctor by now but I was very crazy, which resulted in poor academic performance prompting me to do a diploma in counselling rather than studying medicine at university,” he says.

It’s not that Ugly has any regrets, after all he counsels using hip-hop. In Break Through, for example, he warns against drugs: “As a teenager, drug abuse nearly wrecked my life; we used to sniff shoe gum just to be high…I was taken to a rehabilitation centre in Nairobi and when I came out, I said I was not going to do drugs any more because drugs destroy.”

Ugly’s music, done in many languages is reminiscent of Bongo Flava from Tanzania (and Kenya). “I rap in Nubi because I’m Nubian; I rap in Swahili so that I can be embraced in East Africa; and in French because when I go to Kigali, I can easily be welcomed.”

His is what is called conscious rap; focusing on the suffering of street children, ethnic rivalries, poverty, a poor education system, unemployment, crime, insecurity, child labour and how these weigh heavily on society. He also preaches hard work, reassurance, togetherness and love.

In Una Nubi, he implores Nubians to come from their hideouts and accept their identity. And in Cing-Cing, he uses the symbolism of a beautiful bird that has left him, to tell a true story of how his girlfriend left him because of the attention he was giving hip-hop.

As the man behind Arise Hip-hop Uganda with its membership of over 70 youths, Ugly is determined to help hip-hop culture find acceptance in Uganda, and also guide young people to keep away from drugs, alcohol and sex.

“We are moving to schools and to NGOs like Naguru Teenage Centre advocating, as Barack Obama says, "change we can believe in" and the only change for the young people that Arise Hip-Hop Uganda is coming up with is captured under one theme: Rise up and move on,” he says.

Ugly performs and emcees at the Hip-hop Night at Sabrina’s Pub on Tuesday nights. When he hit the stage last Tuesday, clad in a black T-shirt with a scary monster plastered on it, Ugly roused the audience with a magnetic performance of his militaristic hit, 999.

He has also found time to write a movie script titled Ugandan Hustler. “What’s the right way to hustle?” he asks, “Should we steal? No. Should we work? Yes. But how should we work? cientifically, the definition of work is force times distance. So that person who gets a metal bar and hits someone and goes away with the money, is working. But it’s wrong work which we can never embrace as Arise Hip-hop Uganda.”

In 2030 or after, Ugly will be playing politics because, “I’ll be a little older and wiser and Hon. Amama Mbabazi and President Yoweri Museveni would have retired!”

For now, he’ll do with his circumstances, not minding his weathered boots as he directs Arise Hip-hop Uganda, cuts more CDs and labours towards the reunification of the Idi Amin fraternity. Then his reward will be a royal Nubian Crown, should there be such a thing!

--Daily Monitor, Monday October 6, 2008