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.
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.
Something about Zanzibar keeps bringing me back even after ridiculous policies like an immigration demand for yellow fever cards from East Africa citizens. That and a mandatory $50 departure tax have had me swear not to return in the past. (I see vaccination cards as nothing but veiled xenophobia and that obnoxious airport tax would still not make sense even if the Zanzibar airport were touched up to make it look less like a dignified bus park). And the allure that makes me return has little to do with the swimming-pool-green ocean water, the seafood (everyone here sings about its aphrodisiac qualities) or my elusive quest for a mermaid (mbu they only pop out of the ocean on full moon nights). It has more to do with the cultural trappings on offer on this Indian ocean island Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse sang so passionately about in that immortal hit Zanzibar, oh Zanzibar.
It may sound a little farfetched drawing comparisons between our own Lilian Mbabazi and the quintessential British diva Sade. But if these two share anything in common, it is by way of possessing powerful distinctive voices and working with taut bands. Sade has been with her backing outfit for the past 30 years since hitting the global music scene with her sultry jazz soul offerings. Meanwhile, Lilian continues to anchor herself as a bankable chanteuse, running her band The Sundowners like a tight ship. One can’t really say like Sade, Lilian is also reclusive. Her music may not enjoy heavy rotation on radio for reasons best known to playlist gatekeepers, but her legion of loyal fans is okay with the apparent morsel that is her weekly gigs at Big Mikes on Acacia Avenue. The aptly themed “After Work Like it Should Be” sessions are the perfect salve for the Kampala Corporate that is itching to unwind ahead of the weekend.
Kaz Kasozi relocates his “The 7 Project” to Jazzville Bugolobi this Tuesday May 13 after an excruciating experience at the music concept’s April 8 National Theatre debut. It was an excruciating night that one! The band was visibly going through an agonizing time. They could hardly hear themselves hence the constant requests for more audio on the stage floor monitors in-between songs. Not even Kasozi’s spirited vocal delivery and impromptu stage dance antics could mash fingers-on-a-chalkboard audio output.
The 2014 Bayimba International Festival of the Arts schedule of activity kicks off this month with the regional festival in the northern Ugandan metropolis of Gulu this weekend. The mini festivals are build-up events organized across Uganda to support artistic growth and innovation and to also expose wider audiences to a variety of artist expression. Each festival is a unique experience and calls in artists from the local art scene and beyond. The Gulu edition will be held on Friday April 4th and Saturday April 5th, 2014 at Taks Centre, and has Maisha Film Lab and KLA ART 014 as partners. A vibrant arts scene has emerged in Gulu following the end of the near two-decade long LRA insurgency. One of the event highlights will be the inaugural Gulu Artist Symposium that aims to reinvigorate the local arts scene in Gulu. The festival staple as always will be an evening treat of performing arts featuring established and emerging artistes. Subsequent Bayimba Regional Festivals will be held in Jinja (May 10), Fort Portal (June 7) and Mbale (July 5th). These events are a build up to the main festival taking place in September 21st-23rd at the National Theatre in Kampala. The artiste call for the 2014 festival ends April 30th. More info is available at www.bayimba.org. There will also be training sessions in Creative Entrepreneurship, The Practical Musician, Arts Journalism, Live Event Coverage and Creative Writing.
Another event of note is the East African Music Campus to be held in Jinja April 26-May 5, 2014. Aspiring practical music teachers from East Africa will undergo an intensive training with a view to deliver professional music training in their respective countries. The East African Music Campus is part of the wider efforts of Berlin-based Global Music Academy and its partners in Eastern and Southern Africa to train music teachers and to develop a music curriculum based on Africa music traditions. More info is available at www.doadoa.org. Meanwhile, the programme for DOADOA 2014 is shaping up. The 3rd edition kicks off in Kampala with an opening event on Tuesday May 5 at the National Theatre. Delegates will then move on to Jinja for an exciting three-day programme packed with conferences, panel discussions, workshops and musical showcases. The gist of the East African Performing Arts Market is to enhance artiste skills, help them network and advance their careers. Advance registration is required for one to be a delegate.
Text: MOSES SERUGO (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Culture vultures heading out to the idyllic Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar for the 2014 Sauti za Busara Festival this February should have finalised their travel and accommodation plans by now. East Africa’s premier world music showcase is a pilgrimage of sorts that books out the ferry service between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. This coupled with an absence of [hotel] rooms for those that do not plan very early. The wise thing is to reserve one’s place of abode up to six months in advance. Unless you want to take a chance on sleeping out in the sweltering sea level heat, an adventure on its own. Joel Sebunjo is the lone Ugandan on the festival bill this year in what is yet another indictment of the World Music scene in Uganda. One would have expected fine outfits of note like Janzi Band, Myko Ouma, Suzan Kerunen or even Lilian Mbabazi to have made the grade. Let’s hope the folks at Bayimba, a partner festival to Busara, have not been napping on the job in not aggressively pitching our export-quality World Music talent.