Bayimba Jinja: Crowd-pullers wanted
Unlike the earlier editions of the festival in Jinja, this year’s festival was close to a total disappointment. The ground was bigger and Kakindu stadium acted as the venue offering plenty of grass for people to sit on. Maybe it was the lack of easy access that jinxed it, tuck away behind the Jinja main library lies the stadium, and one had to make one’s way around to enter.
Written by Elizabeth Namakula
The entry fee remained at a steady Shs 1,000, still it didn’t guarantee a decent crowd although more people kept coming as it got darker. Though scheduled to start at midday, the festival kicked off well past 4pm, maybe putting off some would-be goers.
The majority of the festival’s lineup was local acts from the Busoga region, perhaps as expected, although throwing in acclaimed folk and world acts like Joel Sebunjo wouldn’t have hurt to liven up the performances.
Cultural troupes and hip-hop
The first act was the Agali Awamu Troupe, who in their uniform of purple and white shirts and black pants performed a string of Busoga instrumentation involving drums, endingidi and xylophones, littered with dances here and there.
Next up was the Budondo Troupe whose performance was almost the same as their predecessor and could pass for a soundcheck. (This is because when I asked a reveller if the performances had started, he merely glanced and said they were still doing soundcheck.)
He wasn’t impressed even when a folk song was performed in which the singer bemoaned the woes of having a stony woman and the excited dances of pre-teen girls who left the stage and stomped the audience with vigor and rhythm.
It was brotherhood and the street dance force that redeemed the pace of the festival with entitled dance moves such as baby freeze, air chair, six step and head spin. They garnered the first handclaps of the evening from the audience. Their dance tracks included everything from Michael Jackson, back to the 70s music, and an intro to the Watoto children’s choir famed song Wipolo. They captivated the audience in their white sleeves and army green pants.
The next unforgettable performance came from Sabar Percussion who managed to do hip hop on xylophones and drums. The Hip-Hop Set comprising Jungle de Maneater, Reco MC, Ram MC and Chimey, rapped vigorously Omusaayi Gwa Busoga, Bamukikicha-Kikicha, accompanied by drums being played ecstatically, endingidi and pronounced all the more “Long live the Kyabazinga!” (the king of Busoga).
‘We are in Jinja man! Big up to Rasta Bombclat’ announced Ram Emcee as he unleashed, Hear these drums!
Siraje and his traditional orchestra followed. The entire troupe was clad in Kanzus and Kikoye. There was at first a pause, an almost prolonged silence as though the sound technician had some more work to do.
They seemed to get past it however and plunged directly into Busoga folk tore. Siraje and his orchestra have been a constant act for most Bayimba festivals and Siraje’s winning trademark in most of his folk performances is his grip of the audience with his art of storytelling. It is also true that he has sung for most Ugandan presidents.
His Kadongo kamu style accompanied by drums and the xylophone was quite enchanting as he advised and instructed in most of his songs. He is an artist to always watch out for because he is always aiming for a fresh sound.
More male folk performances followed only to broken up by a rare woman vocalist in a blue gomesi accompanied by a male who added drama to the music and left the audience in unbroken spells of ululations! Later they were identified as coming from Malagala, another culture troupe.
Raw ya Simba and Professor Sensuwa provided more authentic Uganda sounds till midnight.
That Festival feeling
The food vendors were at their post as usual but there was an awful lack of Chama choma, sausages and roasted chicken. Nevertheless other foods were available.
As it got darker, they lit candles, creating a softer atmosphere with their scattered light across the stadium. The beer section took long to get busy and you could say that was the story for most of the evening. There were also exhibiting stalls. Femrite was there with books on sale, there were art and crafts, Graffiti sprayed attires among others.
Doa Doa, Bayimba’s arts market place for East Africa, had been ongoing for a week and explained its concept to some of the people present at the festival.
Sybil Mani Akello came all the way from Lira, and despite a great time spent at Doa Doa, she was dismayed at the festival, “It was my first time, I came at around midday to the grounds but found nothing happening. So I have not been as excited as I thought I should be!”
But there were other people who liked it. Klaus from Germany said that even though the turnout was low, he was happy he had come, “It was a good place to spend time with friends and network.”
Elvis Mani from Agali Awamu Cultural Troupe remarked after the group’s performance, “I am glad we came, hopefully there will be a next time.”
Another group of excited revellers couldn’t help but voice this opinion, “I wish this festival had been ongoing for a week, it would have been much better that way!”
But Philip Masembe, the Bayimba media coordinator, could only respond, “Regional festivals are a one day event. That is how it has always been.”
There was that general feeling that the Bayimba Festival in Jinja had not been advertised enough, hence the slow attendance of people. Festivals are supposed to give you that sense of excitement and belonging. It’s hard to get that with a scanty number of people.
That aside, the sound of music of its own is bound to bring you numbers since the event was in a public space and considering that shs 1000 is not a lot to pay. On this occasion, there was something missing in the music acts that performed. This festival needed at least one or two big names that are certain crowd-pullers to uplift the mood of the festival. And also, to involve the local primary and secondary school performances would not have hurt.
However, judging this festival without comparison to its predecessors, one can say it was a right step in the right direction. Bayimba Cultural Foundation with its mission to uplift arts and culture organizes these annual festivals for the visual and performing arts across towns in Uganda. The objective is to provide a platform where artistic talents from different regions of Uganda can express itself on a national level, all leading to the development of the local art scene.
With more regional festivals still scheduled for this year in Gulu, Mbarara and Mbale, hopefully Jinja will provide some insightful lessons!
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 photos by Bwette Daniel Gilbert.