Patrick Ssenyonjo is only 8 years old but that hasn’t stopped him from winning a U.S. music award, finding success online, and struggling with the local government.
Part of Fresh Kid’s success can be chalked up to his honesty about his life in Uganda where many people struggle with poverty as they suffer the consequences of government officials mired in corruption. Patrick raps about his life and the way his parents struggle to provide for him and his siblings.
His hit song “Bambi”—which means “Please” in Luganda—has racked up more than 200,000 views on YouTube and gets right to the point:
“Don’t send me back to the village where there’s no help
I remember a time when money was scarce
Getting fees and food was so difficult.”
Patrick grew up in Luwero, just north of Kampala, the country’s capital. His 40-year-old father, Paul Mutabaazi is illiterate, like many others his age. Speaking of his son he said, “He could listen to a song on radio and immediately memorize it and start singing it.”
Fresh Kid quickly found success after asking to open for a favorite singer of his who was performing near his home. In what must have been shocking and some of the most exciting news the young boy had received thus far in his life, his proposition was accepted and Patrick was paid 500,000 shillings ($136) for his performance—an amount that roughly equals a month’s salary for a schoolteacher in Uganda.
Patrick’s father then connected with a talent scout who got to work booking more shows and helping to produce Fresh Kid’s songs.
Francis Kamoga told the BBC that he found Patrick and brought him to Kampala.
“I discovered him in a rural village miming some songs, brought him to the city and started paying his school fees,” he said.
Patrick made headlines previously after Uganda’s minister for children’s affairs Florence Nakiwala attempted to bar him from performing due to child labor laws. Nakiwala told the BBC that children under 18 should not work and expressed concern that he is missing school because he is working too much. His manager insisted that Fresh Kid attends schools but that didn’t stop Nakiwala from warning that he could face juvenile prison for disobeying labor laws.
However, the spat only led to Fresh Kid’s story and music reaching a wider national, if not international, audience.
The song “Bambi” was born from this interaction and became popular on radio stations and in bars throughout the country, evening winning Best International Video from U.S.-based Carolina Music Video Awards.
Fresh Kid responded to accusations that he doesn’t attend school in the song “Banteka.”
“They underrate me because of my age, I hear what you are gossiping about: asking ‘will he study?’
Losers are weeping, calling out to their mothers, If you are afraid of me, get me cash.
I’m the judge, I do not discriminate.
Even if you are from the stone age, I will floor you.”
Fresh Kid and his family now live in Kampala in an apartment Patrick bought. His father, a manicurist, opened a beauty salon in the capital city.
“Children should work hard. If you have a talent, use it,” Fresh Kid told Reuters.