Alliance Francaise, the cultural and language promotion arm of the French Embassy, marginally pulled of its signature calendar event, World Music Day at the National Theatre last Saturday. There was little else beyond a stage, passable audio output and the delight that there would be no playback artistes on stage even with the sighting of an Apple laptop-carrying DJ during rapper Ruyonga’s set. The visible differentiator at the annual event that is experiencing year-on-year diminishing marginal returns was an itinerant symphony orchestra. That in itself was a challenge considering the afternoon downpour that made all that classical music sound grey on the ear.
Still it was noble of KCCA to let the posse of marching violinists and brass music instrumentalists play at the French Embassy on Lumumba Avenue before heading off to Constitutional Square and then on to the corner of Colville Street and then on to the IPS Building pavement if anything to show Hurricane Jenny, her in fragrante delicto Mayor and her minions that Kampala spaces are better used for arts causes than for scruffy law enforcement officers to idle away. From 6pm onwards, the evening served up five choice acts at the National Theatre. Brass For Africa was proof that we could have our own Kinshasa Symphony documentary spinoff, what with their triumph over adversity story. These residents of the Nsambya “ghetto” have risen above “gangster” stereotyping to make music as shiny as their brass instruments.
Lawrence Okello also proved he was as much a bankable cultural export with his multi-instrument-playing skills. He plucked adungu strings much like with the Biblical pre-King David on the harp, he then hit the entire stretch of close to 20 xylophone keys to thunderous applause and showed off great finesse beating drums too. With his repertoire, this ethno-pop prodigy can sure light up any global stage be it Woodstock or Glastonbury. Rapper Ruyonga was beside himself with motor mouth glee savouring yet another appearance in what should be his best showcase year so far. In the recent past, Ruyonga has grace The Poetry Shrine stage, the DOADOA East African Performing Arts Market, LaBa Street Art Festival and now Fete de la Musique.
Closing (and thawing) things off on the chilly night was Kojack and the Band, every bit the DRC musician he was billed to be. He sure brought with him all that stage swag from having played with compatriots Papa Wemba (RIP) and Kofi Olomide. He held his own displaying Jimi Hendrix dexterity on the [electric guitar] fretboard enough to enchant with an Afro-jazz rendition of Show Me The Way. His minimalist approach of just a keyboardist, drummer and bassist for a band is something our entourage-carrying artistes can pick a leaf from coupled his imaginative interpretation of jazz to create a futuristic Afro-infused hybrid.
Yet even with the marginal entertainment value for “Sato” proggie-seeking folks out to thaw off Kampala’s bone-chilling outdoor cold, you would have expected Alliance Francaise and its “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” parent to offer more than mere concert tokenism for the usually June 21st event that has been commemorated for 34 years straight. This could say take the form of artiste profiles and music rotation on RFI Musique, the acclaimed French-run online World Music radio station (www.rfimusique.com). A Ugandan equivalent to TV5 Monde’s Acoustic, Sebastian Folien’s weekly spotlight on French and World Music artistes would also be a bonus every other alternative/ indie artiste seeking biopic screen time that mainstream television can’t offer. But then again, it could be that last Saturday’s artistes don’t know better than to negotiate beyond a brown envelope handshake. Or it could also be that that’s just the way Alliance Francaise operates in so-called Anglophone territories; cultural tokenism (and the teaching of a language with diminishing global importance).
Text: MOSES SERUGO (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pix: Gilbert Frank Daniels’ Facebook page