At midnight, the atmosphere at the Eritrean Community Center was one of a regular social gathering rather than a concert. A few people danced to the East African tunes that DJ Dan from Kenya was mixing on the turntables, but the great majority were in their seats chatting with buddies.
“Did I come to a concert or did I come to church?” joked Veronica Rotich from Kenya in reference to the seating arrangement in the hall.
An hour later the scenario was very different as Chameleone rushed on the stage to the beat of his hit song “Kipepeo,” the Swahili word for butterfly. Chameleone was a dazzling sight impeccably clad in white from top to bottom, adorned with rings and a bling pistol for a belt buckle. At the end of the night he gave one of his rings to a very pleased female fan.
With him on stage was a new addition to his Leone Island record label, younger brother Weasel, dressed in a brown T-shirt and jeans. As the duo worked through Chameleone’s award winning hits like “Jamila,” “Dorothea,” “Mama Rhoda,” and “Sivyo Ndivyo,” they hyped up the crowd with their energetic dance moves. By the end of the night Weasel could not keep up with his brother and opted to sit at the back of the stage despite Chameleone’s nudging him to rejoin him at the front of the stage.
For those closer to the stage, mostly the younger crowd, the concert was extremely enjoyable and entertaining. Albert from Kenya repeatedly expressed his delight by saying, “This is good! Everything is good!”
Next to him was a young lady also from Kenya who screamed her way through every song, but “Mama Mia,” which she sang.
“I am not from Uganda and I don’t know many of the words to his songs, but I absolutely love him!” she exclaimed.
At the end of the night she was visibly exhausted.
“I have to go now, I can’t breathe!” she said.
For those further in the back the reactions were different.
“He is a good performer, but the sound quality in here is terrible,” remarked Abass Mawanda from Uganda.
Event organizer Francis Ssenoga from Uganda echoed the same sentiment.
“The sound is so bad,” said Winnie Muyingo, who later made her way to the front of the hall for a better experience.
The turnout though high, fell short of what many had anticipated would be a jam-packed night.
“I expected to see more people here,” said Joba Mawanda, who had attended Chameleone’s concert in Boston a few weeks earlier. “The Boston concert was sold out, despite being held in a hall three times this size.”
Some speculated that the reason that others may have decided to skip the concert may have been the choice of venue.
“In the future hopefully we will have African concerts in nicer places downtown,” said Kakuba from Uganda.
Born Joseph Mayanja, the artist took the name Chameleone from his mom’s advice, for what she said was his ability to adapt to whatever environment he is in for his advantage.
Since the release of his first album ‘Bageya” in 2000, Chameleone has put out an album every year and with each he continues to prove that he is a musical force to be reckoned with. He has gathered numerous accolades along the way, which include winning two Ugandan PAM Awards (Pearl of Africa Music), a East African Kisima Award and nominations for the prestigious Sub-Saharan Africa Kora Awards, UK MOBO Awards (Music of Black Origin) among others.