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.
My solemn prayer for 2016 is for the emergence of a band that can craft a Ugandan sound for export. That is a big ask of a nation that boasts being the most diverse globally in terms of ethnic representation. The UN did name Uganda thus owing to our 65+ ethnic groupings, each with its own signature cuisine and songs amongst other attributes.
But my New Year prayer request may turn out to be a tall order, what with most of the notable Kampala live music opting to settle for being extensions of the US music industry. The bulk of their repertoire comprises passable renditions of the American Top 40 playlist, a dictate of the venues at which the bands play. Apparently, the mostly weary corporates who are the principal audiences these city and suburbia hangouts need the alien songs as a salve to unwind from the office grind.
Rather than dwell on the semantics of which among the Qwela Junction III line-up is a true diva or just a chanteuse, Qwanza Music’s Joe Kahirimbanyi prefers to dwell on the added value his event brings to the Kampala city cultural landscape. “Qwela Junction” is a quarterly showcase of collaborative concerts featuring handpicked artistes of a particular discipline. They all come together in a one-night only high quality live music showcase. The third edition brings together some of the finest voices and instrumentalists for a Sunday November 29th, 2015 concert at the plush Kampala Serena. They are the legendary Rachel Magoola, the soulful multi-instrumentalist MoRoots, the sultry Naava Grey, reality show star Sandra Suubi, stage gladiator Jemimah Sanyu, the steadfastly rising Solome and acoustic fret board Rita Sabiiti.
If you fancy teasing your artsy palate with fine stage drama, then the 2015 Kampala International Theatre Festival is your sort of indulgence. The second edition has lined up works from Iraq (ISIS hasn’t decimated the arts there just yet), Belgium (the arts aren’t o lockdown here either) and Kosovo (the arts definitely survived the ‘90s Balkan mayhem. Closer to home is new Ugandan work and fine stage offerings from the very prolific Kenyan dramatic arts scene.
Jazz appreciation in Uganda straddles two audience divides; the purists and pretenders. The former are the kind that can tell Miles Davis from Earl Klugh while the latter are the kind that will tag along to a jazz event for the snob value that brings. The purists are most likely the lot that grew up with playing LPs as a family ritual complete with removing a giant black disc from its sleeve, delicately placing it on a circular revolving platform and placing a needle onto it to elicit the crackle of Davis’ trumpet. The pretenders are mostly the come-latelys for whom any saxophonist is by default a jazz artiste even when that musician is simply a fine instrumentalist. Their regular jazz fix is the measly hour-long weekly radio show installment where the purist would binge on at least a jazz CD a day.
Kampala Fashion Week (KFW) returns for its second edition looking more like a couture charade than a fashion exhibition showpiece. The most visible of its diminishing marginal returns is the shift from the grand Kololo Airstrip, venue for last year’s inaugural event to the more miniscule Acacia Mall rooftop this year. The monthly showcases in the run-up to its Thursday November 12th showcase also exposed KFW founder, designer Gloria Wavamunno as one not running a tight ship after she arrived fashionably late for the October activation and blaming city traffic for her delay.
September (18th to 20th) sees the return of Kampala’s premier arts events, the annual Bayimba International Festival of the Arts for its eighth edition. And while the purists gripe about the appearance of the ear grating video-vixen-turned-singer, Sheebah Karungi on the hallowed Bayimba stage, there are a couple of options to ensure you are not part that crass lot that swears to the luscious singer’s “Ice Cream” anthem.
- Maddox Sematimba (Friday. 7pm. Main Stage)
Uganda’s reggae icon closed the festival last year and returns to open the 2015 edition and enchant his syrupy hits that have become the soundtrack to most people’s lives. The dreadlocked star’s Namagembe could easily pass for a Shakespearean sonnet.
- Kenneth Mugabi (Friday. 5pm. Upper Stage)
If ever there was a neo-Kadongo Kamu star in the mould of Christopher Sebaduka (RIP), then Kenneth Mugabi is that artiste. A one-man act most of the time, he fuses deep lyrics with a signature voice and superb fondling of the fretboard enough to earn him a Mr. Romantic Guitar title. He should have been on the main stage instead of Levixone Lala.