From Qatar to Paris, Messi to Mbappe; the Ghetto Kids legend is a spellbinder

Ghetto Kids are going places. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Their CV already had performances in Chris Brown, French Montana and Eddy Kenzo’s music videos. But when you add dining with football’s royalty at the Qatar Fifa World Cup, and a halftime performance at a PSG game in France, 2022 was simply beyond imagination for the kids

Dauda Kavuma sat in his living room, housed in a seven-room storeyed residence in a humble neighbourhood of Makindye - a Kampala suburb, watching TV.

His kids, you can call them Ghetto Kids, were at school. Kavuma, 36, is the brain behind that popular dance group of kids. 

One advert after another of the 2022 Fifa World Cup Qatar played on TV. They couldn’t leave Kavuma in peace. It was just months before the World cup kicked off in Qatar.

“The Qatar adverts triggered my mind,” he told Daily Monitor this week, “then I saw the World Cup song for Davido and those other guys”

The song is Better Together by Trinidad Cardona, Davido and Aisha.  “I said,  I think we should do something in this World Cup, but in an African way.

Shooting selves to Qatar

“I then thought of Arab countries and their culture… And then I also thought there must be a referee, and also the players! We had no jersey, so we had to cut out the sacks and white buvera (polythene).

“I had a big jersey for the referee and then also a ball. Then we had a banner that said: Fifa World Cup 2022, Qatar.

“So I told  the kids , ‘you have to come like this (gesturing), you dance, but if someone tries to play soccer, you the referee, you have to whistle. That would be a foul. You need to focus on dancing.’ I brought in that comic to be different.”

“So we recorded it and put it out there. We tried to talk to people asking them to tag Fifa, tag everyone who could help.

“Then one day, one of the organisations in Qatar called Visit Qatar, saw the video. It had gone viral in Qatar.”

Kavuma expounded: “So the Visit Qatar organisation contacted us on Instagram, email and WhatsApp. 

“A lady called Remah and another, Angela, contacted us saying ‘hey we saw this but, you know, we can’t give you a chance to go to the World Cup but at least we can invite the kids to come and have a vacation in Qatar. How is that?

“I said yeah (smiling), as long as we are in Qatar. So we thought, maybe, they must be lying. 

“Then they said, ‘we need all the kids in that video.’ You are not coming to dance, but to enjoy the sights and hospitality of Qatar.”

Long story short, Kavuma and his Ghetto Kids travelled to Qatar, all expenses fully paid for by Visit Qatar, and thoroughly enjoyed the home of the 2022 World Cup for one full week.

Unfinished business

“We got a very good welcome, the kids visited so many places and enjoyed memorable experiences, they got lots of gifts.

“They met Fifa Qatar legendary ambassadors like Samuel Eto’o, Emmanuel Adebayor and many others. So, yeah, the kids enjoyed themselves and then we came back.”

But once they were back home, something was still missing. How could they come back home when the World Cup was about to kick off in Qatar?

“I said no,” vowed Kavuma, “We wanted to be in Qatar during the Fifa World Cup month, but now we here, back home. This is not what I wanted!”

“So I told my kids we had to do another video. Then they dressed up, this time round, all of them in kanzu (tunic) and that cloth on the head (headdress, also called the keffiyeh).

“We did the video, and this time we made it clear that we wanted to perform at the World Cup. Again we tagged Fifa, Visit Qatar, and others…

“Thereafter, very many private people and organisations from Qatar contacted us, inviting us to go and perform, but not officially.

“And then afterwards, the Visit Qatar guys came back to us. In fact it was about four days until the official opening of the World Cup.

Living the dream 

“Visit Qatar told us that ‘you are coming to the World Cup’. They told me we were going to perform at the inauguration of the First World Cup in Qatar indoors before the Fifa president, as well as enjoy several experiences.”

Soon Kavuma and his Ghetto Kids were back in Qatar, and shared a hotel with the Costa Rican national team while there. 

“We visited many places again… The kids performed at Generation Amazing, an organisation that was responsible for all volunteers, ball boys, flag carrying and all that. 

“They gave us a chance to perform before all the Fifa delegates and president at the opening.

“We also had the chance to perform at the Fifa Fan Festival before Sheikha Moza (bint Nasser, the mother of Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad, the Emir of Qatar), President Kagame of Rwanda and the President of Senegal (Macky Sall).”

It is through this that the Ghetto Kids also got to meet former Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, and later Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand among several other stars.

Ferdinand did post a video dancing with the kids and called on Fifa to have them perform at the final between Argentina and France but the program for that had already been confirmed. 

The Ghetto Kids then had a chance to watch live eventual world champions Argentina’s opening, and only defeat, to Saudi Arabia in the VVIP section, where they got to meet Messi’s wife and her family.

They also watched live England vs Iran at Khalifa International Stadium.

PSG connection and special treat

According to Kavuma, they had been booked in to stay for the entire duration of the World Cup but along the way, Visit Qatar, also sponsors of French club PSG, pulled another trick out of the bag.

“A certain man had come to Uganda and brought us several PSG jerseys since these kids love the likes of Mbappe, Neymar, Messi… So we had done several dances wearing those jerseys,” explained Kavuma.

“The Visit Qatar team had seen them, and they ended up connecting us with PSG, telling them that ‘these kids are football fans and would love to visit PSG.’

“What we didn’t know, we found out after arriving in France, is that in the PSG family, there are very many fans of Ghetto Kids.”

So PSG’s invitation to the Ghetto Kids to visit France and perform as well as attend a match meant they had to come back to Kampala and work on their visas. Quickly!

While in France, the Ghetto Kids visited PSG Merchandise Store, where they helped themselves to jerseys and several memorabilia, and toured the Parc des Princes.

On the final day, the kids would watch a match between PSG and Rennes, but there was something more special for them… A privilege!

“First, they told us, ‘you will perform, but just for a few seconds,” Kavuma passionately shared, “things kept changing… Then they said you will perform behind the goal.

“Then eventually they said, ‘no, you are going to perform in the centre of the pitch’ and that has never happened before because the centre of the pitch is really given respect.” 

They performed two songs - Champion and Dance - at half time. The kids were also the mascots at the match.

Here, they hugged and took pictures with Kylian Mbappe, Presnel Kimpembe, with Neymar and Messi just within their touching distance they could not believe their eyes!

The whole spellbinding experience in Qatar and France will forever remain ingrained in the kids' memories.

Kids share their memories

For young Ghetto Kid Shakib Mutima, “seeing Messi and Neymar” was simply “unbelievable,” while Ashraf Mbazira cannot get Quest, Doha’s high-tech indoor amusement park, off his tender head.

“We went to the rollercoaster, it was good but I was scared… But the experience was interesting,” said 12-year Mbazira.

For 13-year-old Zawedde Kisakye Priscilla, the experience did not spare her taste buds. “I met the best cook in Qatar,” she said, her happiness overflowing from her smiling, infectious face.

Maria Florence Nakiyingi, 11, also loved but was scared of the roller coaster in Qatar, but the picture moment with “Mbappe and Kimpembe was beautiful.”

For young Akram Muyanja, both Qatar and France were wholesome beauty. “I saw my player, Lionel Messi,” he smiled through the answer, “I love him a lot. We took pictures with his wife.”

For lively five-year-old Josephine Busingye Daniella, Qatar and France were summed in one word. “Messi!”

Young Arban Kavuma remembers going to different places and visiting different beautiful hotels. 

“We had fun both in Qatar and France,” he said, “I met my favourite players Mbappe, Messi, Neymar Jnr, Donnarumma (Gianluigi), Kimpembe and Navas.”

Dauda Kavuma says they do not usually pump up their upcoming events but can for certain say this year’s programs are positive and that “there is something big coming for us and the country. Just stay tuned.”

The raw tale of Ghetto Kids

The Ghetto Kids journey has seen them perform in the USA, UK, Australia, Qatar, France, Oman, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan among others.

Their wider breakthrough came in 2013/14 when they featured in Ugandan celebrated musician Eddy Kenzo’s Sitya Loss video. 

But the real origin of their story can be traced to about 30 years ago in Gombe, Butambala, Central Uganda.

Kavuma is one of 30 children fathered by his late dad from six mothers in Gombe. Because of his father’s quick passing, Kavuma was fast on the streets to fend for himself at such a tender age.

“My father died when I was around seven years old,” narrated Kavuma. “There was no clear plan at home so I had to go on the street to try to make ends meet.

“So one day, I was watching a football match by the street. Then the ball came in my direction accidentally and I controlled it. 

“Then the guy (Kaita Musa - RIP) in charge, who I later learned was the headmaster and coach of the school (Gombe Standard Primary School), saw me and called me, ‘young man, come in.’”

Young Kavuma moved to the pitch and was given three chances to shoot at goal and he scored on each occasion.

“The man was impressed and asked me if I went to school, to which I said no, and then asked where I stayed, and I told him ‘around his school’.

“I used to admire that school because of their white uniform. My dad had promised to take me to that school but he died before.”

The headteacher, Musa, then asked Kavuma to keep coming for training and later got him a place at the school, where he studied from primary three to seven for free because of his football talent.

Musa then recommended Kavuma to a secondary school, where the latter finished senior four, from which he was also put forward for Kibuli Primary Teachers College (PTC) - all scholarships riding on his football talent.

“Then I promised myself that day that at least I’ll help someone when I grow up. That is where the inspiration for something like the Ghetto Kids started.” 

While at Kibuli in one of the family lectures, a teacher had seen something in Kavuma, who was the sports minister at the time, different from football. 

“After the lecture, that teacher told me that ‘Kavuma, you know football has to end here. You need to join some music. It will help you a lot. I don’t know, maybe he saw something in me that I didn’t see, myself.”

So Kavuma took to comic dances and doing his communication through music.

After Kibuli PTC, he did teaching practice at Kibuli Demonstration, Kisugu Primary School and later Citizen Parents School.

While at Citizen Parents, he met three kids who had failed to pay their school fees and taught them a dance skit. He later went with them on the street and people started tipping them.

As they danced away, a then kids program presenter at the defunct WBS found them and gave them a chance for auditions for a certain competition. A goat was the prize.  

The competition was at Namboole and Kavuma and his three kids beat the competition and won their goat. 

“We sold the goat and used the money to pay for the three kids' school fees. So there I got an idea that I could actually use this talent to make money for these kids' school fees. 

“That’s how I started majoring in this - helping kids using the dance.” After this and all the publicity derived from the WBS events, Kavuma and his kids were flooded with invites to perform at parties and other events. 

Turning point 

Then the meeting that changed it all! In 2010, Kenzo was performing at the Zoo in Entebbe. Kavuma organised his kids and they lurked around.

The three pioneer Ghetto Kids are Alex Ssempijja, Bashir Lubega - who is working in the USA, and Hassan Sseruwu, studying at university in Florida, the US.

At the Zoo, Kavuma and his kids head-on targeted Kenzo. At the time, Stamina was the hit song. 

So Kavuma unleashed Ssempijja with explicit orders to go and upstage the stage. Literally! 

“I told Alex that when you see Kenzo and hear Stamina, jump on the stage. Make sure you dance where he can see you. And I trusted Alex. He was a great dancer and got Kenzo’s attention.”

There were many other kids but after, Kenzo sought out Ssempijja and asked him who he had come with. “Of course I was right there,” jumped in Kavuma, laughing.

Kenzo left his contacts with Kavuma and told him to look for him for an upcoming video the singer was going to do. 

They did a few videos with Kenzo in 2011 but later pitched Kenzo to give them a song as featured dancers in his official videos.

He gave them three song choices and they settled for Sitya Loss. “We trained Sitya Loss and then looked for Eddy Kenzo but we couldn’t find him. 

“We kept trying until we got him. Finally we shot the video and Sitya Loss became our breakthrough and the song went viral. I was a teacher but trust me I didn’t know what ‘viral’ meant. Now I know.”

Unfortunately, Ssempijja - the boy who mesmerised Kenzo at that Entebbe Zoo concert - died in an accident in 2015. 

“We lost him in a bicycle accident. He was with my other girl, Patricia Nabakoza, but we are thankful Patricia survived.”

The kids and school 

Nabakooza, 18, is in her senior six vacation preparing to join university. “I’m going to study journalism. Mass Communication,” she said, proudly. 

Under the Inspire Ghetto Kids Foundation; a community of children representing the dreams, aspirations and desires of the many kids living in the ghetto, streets and other unsafe places lacking the basic needs of life, Kavuma is taking care of 30 children.

Twenty-seven are day scholars living with him at his storied seven-room house and boys quarters in Nsambya, while three are at boarding schools.

They own a van that takes the children to their respective schools and back home. 

At home, there is a matron who takes care of the girls, and the two sexes have different sections of accommodation. 

These children come when they are as young as three years, and “I don’t bring kids that are more than six years. Seven at most because after that, you are bringing in questionable vices,” explained Kavuma. 

“So they come in young and grow closely bonded as brothers and sisters. Some are orphans, others have parents who can’t afford to take care of them, and others are off the streets.”

Kavuma’s own three biological children live with the other kids here, while his fourth is with the mother, with whom they divorced, in the USA. 

“But I’m seeing someone here with whom we are raising our children,” said Kavuma.

Money to take care of the children comes from well wishers, friends, donors, their half a million subscriber YouTube channel - which brings in an average of Shs3m per month, and several other gigs and events by the kids.

What kind of help would he love from the government of Uganda? “Maybe bursaries to more of the kids we keep bringing in, in some of the best government schools, and giving us preferential passports that would ease our travel.”

In their living room, they have many beautiful trophies and awards, but the one that stands out is the masterpiece portrait from Bad Boy Entertainment for French Montana’s Unforgettable Video they appeared in some five years ago. 

It reads: Presented to Triplets Ghetto Kids, 10 Commemorate RIAA Certified U.S Double Platinum Digital Sales Of The Bad Boy Entertainment, Epic Records, Single, ‘Unforgettable’ Feat Swae Lee. This video has had 1.5 billion views on YouTube.