Bayimba Regional Festival of Arts kicks off in Jinja
Small children’s feet tap the ground, adults jump up and down to the rhythm of the xylophone while the crew boys—a hip-hop group—are rapping Africa, Africa accompanied by electric drums. Exactly the scene envisioned by the Bayimba Festival organizers.
This year’s Bayimba Regional Festival of Arts kicked off on May 4th at the metropolis of Jinja. With this event at Ggabula road Bayimba has established a platform for musicians who are able to carry a tune without the aid of CD playbacks.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Namakula
The music plays to a slowly fading twilight, bringing in people from all walks of life and color. Market vendors, corporate men and women, street children, music lovers and those drawn out of their homes out of curiosity gather together with the loud music.
Ggabula road has been partitioned into two, one part sealed off by a makeshift gate to host the event. Next to the gate stands a tent displaying arts & crafts and expertly done photo prints. Adjacent to the road there is a concrete wall; half of it intricately painted by Xenson to depict street life, the other half exhibiting photographs of life in the Katanga slums.
A tent for drinks has been set up as well, consisting of beers—mostly Club pilsner—and soft drinks. Food vendors roasting raw sausages and chicken skewers patiently stand by waiting for hungry customers.
Day One: Munaku Kaama, Tshila and Kaz Kasozi
As the boys are rapping “Nywela, nywela” in Lusoga and “Be strong” in English, the crowd of spectators goes wild. When they finish, the emcee announces that the kids have participated in a hip-hop workshop and this energized performance is the outcome of what they learnt.
The group that was playing the xylophone and other instruments assembles and is introduced to us as Munaku Kaama, meaning “the poor is but a whisper”. They then proceed to name the instruments one by one as Wante, Wambuzi and Ndingidi.
All these first performances are just a taste of what is yet to come, so even as the people groove away to the music, it is with the expectation of better things coming up.
Better things come in the form of Tshila and the Cassava Republic. They give the crowd exactly what they came to see. Tshilla does her thing in different languages, much to the crowd’s delight. She ends up losing her beautiful voice due to the endless demands for encores!
After that, Kaz Kasozi mellows the atmosphere with slow jazz. As if on cue the crowd starts to drift away, indicating their appetite for upbeat music. Day one eventually ends and the promise of tomorrow hangs in the air as the crowd eventually fades away.
Day Two: Afrikwetu, Mzungu Kichaa and Joel Sebunjo
Day two brings with it cultural groups doing different traditional dances which the audience watches with minimal interest. One wonders why the crowd is less enthusiastic? Maybe it is because we are far from Kampala and the people of Jinja are used to such sights. Or it may be again; the promise of better things ahead?
The dances eventually come to end and Afrikwetu band from Tanzania takes the stage. A few minutes into play they are joined by their dancers, dressed in maroon tops and black shorts, who wriggle away as though their lives depend on it.
The decent crowd which has turned up has no choice but to sit on the tarmac and let themselves be carried away by the butt-shaking, hip-turning and feet-tapping by the two voluptuous African women on stage, who spice up what would have been a monotonous sound.
Soon the audience grooves away to the wonder of Bongo flava, the true trademark of Tanzanian sound.
Lilian—of Blu*3—and the Sundowners fail to show up, but it’s hard to say whether they are missed as the presence of Mzungu Kichaa from Tanzania and Joel Sebunjo—playing a fusion of folk and Afro-beat—take the crowd to ecstasy and beyond.
Crazy white man
The moment Mzungu Kichaa and his band Bongo Beat step onto the stage, curiosity eats up the crowd. What is this white man going to sing? Forgive their curiosity, but Mzungu Kichaa in Swahili means “crazy white man”. When he opens his mouth, all curiosity flies out of the window as the crowd gregariously grooves to Safari, Oya Oya, Ndugu Na Jirani and others.
Despite his Danish background, Mzungu Kichaa (his real name is Espen Sørensen) is rightly praised, accepted and recognized as one of the pioneers of the powerful youth music of East Africa; Bongo Flava. He topped the East African charts in 2001 with the release of Mambo ya Pwani, his debut single.
This song was one of the first songs to take traditional Tanzanian music and fuse it with hip-hop. To his credit, he has won the Best Upcoming Artist at the African Achievement Awards in Copenhagen, organized by Africans Diaspora living in Scandinavia.
Here in Jinja, he sings in fluent Kiswahili, dances enthusiastically and plays his guitar with abandon. He sings about political injustice, poverty and the beauty of music, themes the crowd clearly identifies with.
After several minutes of instrument tuning, Joel Sebunjo and his supporting band Sundiata give the cue that they are ready to perform. Popularly referred to as Uganda’s answer to Youssou N’dour, Joel’s winning style mixing the folk music of Ganda–Mandingue with Afrobeat leaves the crowd yearning for more.
As he does his thing on stage, it is easy to see why he has crossed international borders and performed alongside his heroes Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, and the late Miriam Makeba among others. His music comes from within him and he performs with passion, once or twice turning to his Sundiata players to make sure they are all in harmony.
The marvel of him is that though Ugandan he easily blends in with Senegalese music, and in a strange mix of sounds, he pulls off a distinct sound that any African would easily identify with. Together with other new musicians, he represents a generation with a pan-African attitude towards music.
Will Mukabya closes the festival and by this time the crowd looks set to go home. The entrance fee to the event was between 1,000 and 10,000 Ugandan shillings—depending on what one could afford.
Better music, better festivals
Boosting the development of the creative industry in East Africa, as well as forming a joint lobby and advocacy for regional support, was two of the major goals of the festival. And it would be right to say that the organizers achieved these.
Joseph Tungaraja, the proprietor of the Afrikwetu Band from Dar es Salaam, said:
“Prior to this, I headed the band, financed and marketed it, I was directly involved in the creation of its music and everything else in between. Thanks to this festival and how people have responded to our music, I have realized I am stretching myself thin and need to adjust to produce better music.”
Elizabeth Kemigisha, the Bayimba media coordinator, was only happy to add:
‘The turn up and the outcome have been great. The major goal was to take the music to the people and we have done just done that, thanks to all our sponsors.”
The Bayimba Regional Festival is part of the annual Bayimba International Festival of Arts, which aims to take the arts to the people and make the annual festival a national event.
Next time you hear of a Bayimba festival, don’t be left behind, it would be an anecdote to boredom and cultural ignorance.
Elizabeth Namakula is a freelance writer living in Kampala, Uganda. Her short story “A World of Our Own” was recently published in the Femrite-collection “World of Our Own”.
All photographs by Bwette Daniels Gilbert.