How DV8 Bar deviation created a youth culture

Jesco Plaza was constructed at the former DV8 Bar premises on Wilson Road in Kampala. PHOTO/PATRICK SSENTONGO

What you need to know:

During its heydays in the late 1990s and early 2000s, DV8 Bar became a haven for burgeoning talents.

In the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, DV8 Bar, a modest establishment nestled on Wilson Road in Kampala, quietly nurtured and propelled the careers of some of Uganda’s most renowned and influential artistes over the years.

Now defunct, DV8 Bar was the brainchild of Indian businessman Karim Somani. He envisioned a space where artistes could experiment, collaborate, and evolve in their artistic endeavours.

DV8 Bar’s strategic location in the heart of the city, just metres away from the Old Taxi Park, made it easily accessible for its predominantly youthful clientele. This diverse crowd included high school and university students, young adults, and the youth.

The establishment’s midnight closing time made it the ideal prelude to a night of partying, acting as a waiting space before patrons ventured to bars that remained open throughout the night. The bar’s humble beginning speaks to the fact that it played second-fiddle to Cineplex Cinema, located just above it.

Change in plans

Initially intended as a cinema bar, DV8 was situated in the waiting area that directed patrons towards the cinema. The bar derived its name from the verb “deviate” per veteran singer Daniel Kazibwe, alias Ragga Dee.

Over time, the waiting lobby evolved into a famous hub for lively conversations, gossip, social debates, and discussions that led some individuals to deviate from their initial cinema plans, thus inspiring the name DV8.

As social conversations flourished, alcohol and drinks were introduced, complemented by music spun by the house deejay, Nista. Gradually, the cinema retained its audience, but a dedicated crowd began to form around the lobby, transforming it into a fully-fledged bar.

The house deejay would go on to pioneer the creation of cutting-edge Karaoke nights on Monday and Wednesday, setting a blazing trend that ignited the passion of the youth of that era. Among the luminaries who graced these nights were Ragga Dee, who fondly recalled the electrifying presence of colleagues such as Krayzie Native, comedian Amooti Omubalanguzi, then a singer by the name Buggy Wugy, DJ Messe, among others.

 Rise of music icons

During its heydays in the late 1990s and early 2000s, DV8 Bar became a haven for burgeoning talents who would later dominate Uganda’s music industry. Among the early artistes who frequented the space were Krayzie Native from the Bataka Underground and his crew, Kuk li, Myco Chris, Gento P, Fada Pest, Chizzo, Titan Takuba, and many others.

As the musical stars of the 1990s began departing for the diaspora for greener pastures, a yawning chasm emerged in the local music scene. This set the stage for a new generation of artistes to rise. This generation, which included artistes Navio (Daniel Lubwama Kigozi), Jose Chameleone (Joseph Mayanja), Benon Mugumbya, Vamposs, Michael Ross, Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi), Bebe Cool (Moses Ssali), and Red Banton (Tony Lubega), among others, found DV8 Bar to be their creative playground, further popularising it.

“We were all starting out at the time, some of us were still in school. The place was our official meeting point during the holidays. Friendships and partnerships were all forged there,” says singer Vampino, whose real name is Elvis Kirya.

He added that their generation focused on genres such as reggae, dancehall, and hip-hop, which were gaining popularity among the youth. DV8 Bar’s Karaoke nights and Reggae nights during the week provided a platform for each artiste to showcase their musical prowess, fostering a sense of healthy competition.

Vampino further explains that back then, unlike today’s music industry driven by financial gains, passion was the driving force. Performers did not expect payment; instead, they received tokens of appreciation from the few patrons who recognised their talent. After their performances, they often walked back home, with some sharing their earnings with others.

Lost innocence?

Over the years, these young artistes grew into industry giants, and several successful careers were launched at DV8 Bar. It witnessed the emergence of iconic groups like Klear Kut, a hip-hop outfit comprising Navio, The Mith, JB, Papito, and Langman. These friends had initially participated in rap battles at the bar, eventually forming Klear Kut in 2001 after winning the DV8 Talent Competition in 2000.

Other artistes, including the duo Benon and Vamposs, honed their skills at DV8 and went on to make significant contributions to Uganda’s music scene. However, not all memories were rosy, as DV8 Bar also played witness to the rivalry between three of Uganda’s most prominent modern musicians—Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool, and Jose Chameleone.

As their careers blossomed, competition intensified, leading to occasional conflicts. Chameleone, in particular, frequented DV8 Bar to perform alongside colleagues. Bobi Wine, on the other hand, observed Chameleone’s performances to gain insights into the artistry of his uptown counterparts. Joseph Batte, a Ugandan music chronicler, recollects a particularly intense moment when Chameleone made the heart-wrenching decision to sever ties with the establishment. This pivotal decision came about as a result of a menacing threat from Bobi Wine and his formidable cohorts, who reportedly pledged to bring Chameleone’s life journey to an abrupt end. It was a moment that underscored the intensity of their rivalry.

Alternative to Sabrina’s

DV8 emerged as a rebellious counterpoint to the establishment of Sabrina’s Pub in the mid-1990s. At that time, Sabrina’s was the go-to spot for budding artistes looking to cut their musical teeth, primarily through karaoke nights. However, it had a strict focus on pop and R&B music, leaving those inclined towards alternative genres, particularly Hip-Hop, in search of a more accommodating haven.

DV8 filled this void, offering a much-needed platform, especially for the early pioneers of the underground Bataka movement.

DV8 fashioned itself as a progressive and alternative space, catering to the aspirations of the younger generation eager to usher in a new era of music and urban culture. As Jenkins Mukasa notes, Sabrina’s Pub primarily attracted uptown artistes and A-list partygoers, while DV8 became the go-to destination for the emerging generation of youth. 

The distinction between these two hangouts was stark, encompassing not only the artistes but also the hosts who set the tone for the evenings. To underscore this divergence, Denis Mawanda held the microphone at Sabrina’s whereas the youthful and energetic Collins Serubiri took command at DV8. Veteran TV personality JK Kazoora fondly reminisces that DV8 served as their launching pad, providing an audience of fellow youth who cheered them on as they ascended to platforms such as television.

“Most of us were first noticed as young entertainers at DV8, an opportunity that Sabrina’s never extended to us,” he told Saturday Monitor.