Bayimba – Fort Portal
By Raymond Omerio Ojakol
From 10 June 2014, the Bayimba Monument will be one of the most visited attractions in Fort Portal town. The landmark was unveiled during the Bayimba Festival’s first visit to the district on its annual stop in Uganda’s western region. It marks a pledge between Bayimba International Festival of the arts and the Fort Portal municipal council, Tooro cultural institution (Enkooba za Tooro) and the artists of Fort Portal to cooperate in uplifting culture and the arts. During the unveiling of the monument, Knaack Kyeyune remarked that Fort Portal had, “provided a fertile ground for the festival – the opportunity to contribute something unique.”
Nestled behind tea-matted hills with a reputation for cleanliness, Fort Portal is culturally self-contained, even resistant. For the success of the festival, Bayimba partnered intricately with the community to develop workshops, a brass band procession, a boda boda art exhibition.
A tradition of Bayimba’s tour, the Maisha Film Lab held a workshop. NTV screen writer Lucky Laura led participants in the first of many educational experiences. The discussions centred around an inquest into the formation of characters. To set the tone, the Lab screened a marathon of Ugandan short films: Zabu, Never Lose Hope, Leila, She Is Not My Mother. The films used are riddled with themes of unrequited teenage love, child labour, peer pressure and poverty; ideas that most of the youthful audience were conversant with. Lucky Laura told the attentive audience, “If you are creating a character, you have to know the smallest detail; you have to know what your character eats for supper.” This experience nurtured the aspiring filmmakers in Fort Portal.
The workshop revealed a strong appreciation of culture that, when applied specifically to film as a recent and growing art form, might prove a hinderance. This was shown when the participants asked to be spoken to in Rutooro. Lucky Laura eventually settled into a painstaking rhythm of Runyankore (a sister language) and English. This cultural pride puts Fort Portal filmmakers in a dilemma of adopting an art form whose traditions have melted into an anglophone culture they are keen to resist. To speak of film with complete disregard for its birth would be akin to teaching the cooking of Luwombo without knowledge of Baganda. This challenge requires more vigilance and exposure for successful creations to emerge from their region.
Boda Boda Art
The KLA ART 014 workshop was a revelation of arts promotion with an unconventional mobile boda boda exhibition dubbed Unmapped. A convoy of ten boda boda drivers and visual artists, their bodies strapped with paintings and crafts, streamed through Fort Portal town in a rare experience of colour. Tindi Ronnie, UVADA (Uganda Visual Arts and Designers) committee member and facilitator on behalf of KLA ART said Unmapped was designed to promote, “the unrecognised that are looked at as nothing but, because they exist, are important.” Part of the idea was to promote domestic livelihoods with the belief that art is first functional before being aesthetic. However, for the artist with an aesthetic bend, according to another KLA ART expert Edward Wadimbwa, the retinue of colour trailing through Fort Portal town brought art closer to the public. One of the obsessions of today’s visual artist has become that of locating a space and the audience has stereotyped the galleries as a reserve for the wealthy. Tindi Ronnie, also a practicing artist of Tindi Art Colours said, “The audience thinks that art is for expatriates but with creative exhibitions like Unmapped they will learn to add value.”
From the festival grounds the Unmapped exhibition merged with a brass band amidst a throng of festival goers. Knaack Kyeyune, the logistics coordinator at Bayimba, hailed it as a mark of Bayimba’s partnership with the people of Fort Portal, “I want to thank the people of Fort Portal because we never came with anything; we got the artists from here, we got the materials from here, the labour from here — everything.” The monument incorporates the symbol of Bayimba Foundation alongside the representations of Tooro monarch, the empaako and the livelihood of Tooro people. Commenting on the form, artist Sadat Kiwanuka said, “We had to make a composition that was attached with the people. [For example] the woman mingling kalo; before a person is given a pet name, they have to eat kalo.” Alongside the general fanfare — the blare of the brass band, the simmering activity around the monument, and the colourful convoy of boda bodas — the monument commemorates this pact of collaboration.
By 18:00 the festival grounds at the Gardens Restaurant were set for a varied menu of performance arts. The Engabu za Tooro and subsequently the Ruta cultural troupes engaged the audience with the traditional performances of the region. Dancers clad in colourful costumes, stomping rhythms with smiles frozen in perpetual pleasure, lined up in formations that then gave way to the instinct of the dominant engalabi, the seeking endigidi and the persistent knocks of the xylophone. A group of Basongora women followed by enacting a traditional form of poetry that incorporated call and response with prolonged hissing for crowd involvement.
Those involved in the Fort Portal live performance workshop joined a two-week tutorship under Bayimba Musical Director Kaz Kasozi and Ian Kagimbo. Joash Byuki, who travelled seventy five kilometres from Kasese for the workshop, captivated the audience with a flavour of Congolese rhythms. He said It was the first time he had worked with a musical director and the workshops specifically taught him how to use his body to improve vocal projection on stage.
The Youth and Hip Hop Project, another performance and writing workshop showcased a set of live performances. Commenting on the challenges of the workshop Q-reous MC said, “When we saw the writing, it had many vulgar words, most of them were not expressing anything.” It appears the workshops were technical as well as ideological: their act was vigorous but it was their delivery in the native Tooro tongue that endeared them to the audience.
Easyman Adams a Fort Portal act found the audience ready for a thrilling performance but couldn’t sustain their enthusiasm. The audience was indifferent to his casual approach over a popular Kampala Kidandali style and he left amid sighs of relief and a shout from the audience, “Go! We have survived you.”
Revival came through Kaz Kasozi. Taking a break from the accompanying act he had played on the drums for most of the evening, Kaz Kasozi was introduced on stage; a silhouette doused in background light. Kaz Kasozi travelled the Blues with a touch of Soul a pinch of Funk and brought home a world sound with a rich infusion of languages from varied Ugandan regions. The people of Fort Portal will remember Ija tu lore but even a visitor from the far east of the country would have found Eyalama Noi a dignifying presentation. His performance might have been a demonstration for his students for Kaz Kasozi proving that blended lyrics can defy cultural boundaries.
Amidst the cluster of events, Bayimba’s regional festival in Fort Portal will be remembered for its workshops in live performance, film and visual arts which for many aspiring artists offered opportunities to develop skills. For the community it was the first chance to experience varied genres of the arts, both contemporary and traditional on one platform. But for all, the Bayimba monument will continue to stand as the most tangible reminder.
Leaving Fort Portal town, the vehicle laden with the Bayimba festival crew drove by the monument to get a departing glance. The vehicle stopped, silent faces stared out the windows. The occupants pondered quietly, perhaps in hopes that their work was finished, perhaps with gratitude for artistic inspiration, or with notions that they would be back for more next year.