Bayimba 2011: A celebration of music, dance, art and culture
This years Bayimba Festival of the Arts outshone previous editions in the marketing done prior to the event and the subsequently sheer magnitude of people who came to enjoy the three day extravaganza. The parking lot at the National Theatre was transformed into a bazaar in the early afternoon, which was later accompanied by artists who performed on two stages set up for different categories of music.
Written by Lindsey Kukunda
Performers in the fields of music, dance and theatre were brought in from such locations as Europe, America and all over Africa. Artists and photographers exhibited their wares and a nighttime Silent Disco provided sufficient entertainment for dancehall music lovers. All in all, the Bayimba Festival tried to ensure that as many aspects of the arts were covered as possible.
Dancing to a crazy white man
It was the last day of the Bayimba festival, and this reviewer was watching the finale performance. The artist’s stage name was Mzungu Kicha, the Swahili translation for ‘crazy white man’. He was dressed in a bright green shirt, khaki pants and a brown cap. He strummed his guitar, and his legs jiggled as he belted his african tunes into the microphone.
Although nondescript in appearance, something about the way he sang made his background musicians melt into the background. He sang like he was alone in a room, singing for the pure joy of singing.
Out of nowhere, to my right, a teenage Ugandan jumped away from the crowd and begun dancing vigorously. He twirled, he twisted and he gyrated his body. He even performed a hatstand. He looked crazy. Mzungu Wa Kicha switched to another song, and the boy left. Suddenly, another man jumped out, acting just as crazy as the teenager. I was convinced they had been paid to rile the crowd up.
On the third song, I found myself dancing with just as much enthusiasm as my predecessors, drawing curious stares from the crowd. It was like a bug had hit me.
I realized then that that was what the Bayimba festival was all about. Different songs appealed to different people, just like some visual arts appealed to others. It was sounds and pictures and beauty mixed together to ensure that something in everything would appeal to everyone.
Images from a slum
The Festival also included a photo exhibition – Mu Katanga – in which photographers captured the lives of poor Ugandans in three photographs only. While the pictures in themselves were beautiful, the magnified 120×80 cm enhanced aspects of the lives of the subjects like words can never capture.
A man who fetched jerricans of water for a living carried his heavy load on his bicycle with his child following placidly. A mentally disabled man who collected rubbish for a living sat upon a heap of it, smiling contentedly. Everywhere one walked, there was a pair of soulful eyes searching for an answer or someone in despair worrying about their family’s future. In the case of the rubbish collector, it was the ability to be content with one’s lot in life.
Stage plays for the ones sitting down
The auditorium provided sufficient entertainment for lovers of the stage. It was evident at some point that it did not matter what was on. Some Ugandans just love sitting in auditoriums. The fact that there were performances on all day only made the ‘treat’ all the more pleasurable.
One advice to the organisers; information like screening times and show descriptions should be better presented, for example at the walls outside the auditorium. We witnessed spectators searching for posters saying ‘what’s on’ and ‘when’.
Street theatre and street models
For those who wanted to see theatre in a more contemporary fashion, the street theatre performers did a good job of it, drawing an enthralled audience as they took their theatre to the streets. There was also the popular Theatre Factory who literally had the auditorium so full that after 8.00pm, you could not find a seat.
A new kind of theatre was provided in the form of the fashion show put on by the Modelling school of Uganda. While the catwalk and fashion on show was interesting, what really struck spectators was the opening of the show with a barely dressed woman in chiffon and cowrie shells, serving as a model (excuse the pun) to Ugandans to practise safe sex.
She was accompanied by two men clad in straw skirts and body paint. The audience loved them particularly because these were models who could actually talk back! The men weaved in and out of the audience answering any questions that were asked of them, and even taking pictures with whoever asked them to.
A plentitude of choice for music lovers
When it came to the outside performances, music lovers were literally spoiled for choice. The main stage housed afro-fusion bands, while the hip-hop stage – well, that was for hip-hop. It was also less contemporary, with the emcees speaking in the local languages, ensuring that those less conservant with the english language were permanently rooted there.
There was however one flaw with the festival, and that was the sound quality when it came to stage performances. This was most evident when the Kampala Symphony Orchestra hit the stage in collaboration with Navio, Benon and Rachel Magoola. The orchestra was beautiful but the microphones seemed to have a life of their own. They decided when the audience could hear them and when they couldn’t. The audience enjoyed themselves regardless.
Uneven, Tshila and Ngoni shaking the crowd
All in all, the stage performances garnered the highest praise and attendance. Most notable was the Uneven Band. Although they played only covers, these were rock songs which Ugandans love, and the crowd was very appreciative. Lead singer Irene Ntale performed passionately and her band disproved the notion that Ugandans cannot do rock proud.
Tshila and the Band was another favourite, as they already have a strong fan base who were only too pleased to hear them on that big stage. Tshilas boundless enthusiasm seemed to jump off the stage and onto the crowd, driving them into a frenzy as they matched her tempo for tempo, from song to song.
But the Ngoni duo were undoubtedly the highlight of the night. They crowd was literally one with them as they sang songs of patriotism, driving Ugandans to chant repeatedly “Black, Yellow, Red!” In that moment, the Bayimba festival was about the celebration of being Ugandan and being proud of it.
The major dissapointment with the outside stage performances was the lacklustre appreciation from the audience. Ugandans are a reserved lot, but at some point, something usually gives. Not so at the festival unfortunately. Only a few people expressed vocal and physical appreciation to the musicians on stage and these occasionally received a few glares from other spectators for their trouble.
Bazaar elements to get the Festival feeling
The festival also incorporated elements of a bazaar of sorts. The parking lot of the National Theatre had been transformed into an expression of art. Tents contained such an assortment of jewellery, clothing and artifacts as could be squeezed into that arena. Throngs of people milled about window shopping, trying on and selecting the items they were interested in purchasing.
The most interesting service though was definitely the ‘tatooing’ tent, where one could select a tatoo of their choice and receive it on the spot. Given the conservatism of Ugandans, the easily availability of this service was probably regretted by a number of people after the festival was over.
A close observer would have noticed that the bazaar which opened at noon was not enough to keep revellers entertained until 4pm when the stage shows started. People could be seen sitting or moving about listlessly, waiting for something more entertaining to happen. It would be nice if next year, the festival would cater for these idle hours to keep the public busy.
Another area for improvement would be the Silent Disco. The queue to get in was enough to discourage many enthusiasts, and participants complained of the short time frame in which they were able to enjoy it. If the disco were to start earlier and end later, it would go a long way to making the festival an overall pleasurable experience.
Workshops and membership club to grow the industry
The festival this year was about more than staging the arts scene in Uganda. A workshop was also held for journalists of the arts where a select few were given the opportunity to harness their skills to properly capture the industry in Uganda. These journalists were responsible for producing newsletters for the duration of the festival. These newsletters were obviously a result of trial and error, but got better as the skills of the workshop members improved with the festival!
Editor remarks: Writer Lindsey Kukunda and editor Thomas Bjørnskau took both parts in this workshop as respectively participant and facilitator.
Another new feature to the festival was the launch of the Bayimba membership club. Finally Ugandans are now being given the opportunity to individually promote the arts in Uganda with personal donations. The higher the donation, the more exclusive the priveleges. Knowing how Ugandans love the magic word ‘networking’ the club will offer that in the form of events only open to club members.
And so once again, sadly, the Bayimba festival is over. If the huge numbers of people who came for it are to be believed, it has achieved its purpose-to give Ugandans a deeper understanding and appreciation of the arts. We bid them adieu and hungrily wait for next year.
Lindsey Kukunda is a freelance arts journalist and a culture and lifestyle editor for the Kampala Dispatch news magazine.
Photos by Thomas Bjørnskau, startjournal.org except where stated otherwise.