Uganda’s Bayimba Festival celebrates ninth edition in style

For close to ten years, the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts has brought music lovers unique artists from around the world. The ninth edition that ran from 16 - 18 September at the National Cultural Centre in Kampala showcased the best from various disciplines of the arts.

Akua Naru on Stage at Bayimba Festival. Photo by Twenty  Moments.
Akua Naru on Stage at Bayimba Festival. Photo by Twenty Moments.

Even with rains threatening to spoil the party for music fans there was never a dull moment at the three-day multi-disciplinary festival.  

Germany-based American rapper Akua Naru ensured that music fans had something to talk about beyond the festival. Her eclectic performance presented hip hop in a light many have not witnessed in Uganda. Currently on an African tour, she performed with authority. Backed by a wealth of experience, she struck a strong relationship with the crowd.  

She rapped her lines, blending a contemporary diction with poetry. The thematic variety of her music was wide-ranging. From romance to political activism, Naru's music wowed the crowd even as her song 'Africa Unite' was probably received with mixed feelings. Her unapologetic, brutally honest messages about colonialism, slave trade, racism and black power might have rubbed a few the wrong way but the music did not stop.

The crowd showered her with love. At one point one reveler beat security and got that dream handshake on stage with the singer. Having already performed in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kigali and now Uganda Akua Naru is expected to wind her tour of Africa with a performance in Kenya on 22 September.  

Uganda’s MoRoots, Iryn Namubiru and the Acappella gospel band Canaan Gents presented some of the best music within Uganda while South Africa’s Tribute Mboweni provided a taste of southern Africa. Closer home Kenya’s Winyo shared his taste of benga-blues while the reggae band Gravitti inspired many with their music.

Performing alongside a jazz band, saxophonist Mo Roots put up an eclectic performance. Her energy which was further magnified by the cheering crowd. She commanded the microphone like a goddess. Her performance of “Be Happy”, may have reminded the crowd about the healing power of music.  

Popular female artist Irene Namubiru, gospel singer Exodus got the crowd on their feet as they sang and danced along throughout their performances. Kadongo Kamu singer Mathias Walukaga, and Ronald Mayinja, known for their songs with provocative political overtones, also had their sing along moments with the crowd.

Electrifying live music performances characterized the event.  With performances going on simultaneously on two stages and the auditorium one was spoilt for choice. Bayimba also provided a platform for emerging musical acts.

The emotional family affirming performance from rapper MC Benny aka Acholi Muding was a major highlight. The youthful rapper from the northern region travelled with his mother and father who also joined him on stage. It was the first time in his ten year career that his mother and father had watched him perform.

“I could not take my mom and dad to the club," he said. "Bayimba was that platform where I was convinced they would enjoy watching in comfort." MC Benny said that initially his parents did not support his choice to pursue music. He then thanked the organisers: “Thank you Bayimba for creating this platform that edifies arts.”

MC Benny embodies the struggles of many young rappers.  His tale is a familiar story of society’s hypocritical love-hate relationship with the arts. While established stars are readily celebrated, for those still developing their craft, support is hard to come by.

Away from hip hop. A unique collaboration was taking place at the festival. Amadinda Sound System, a Ugandan-Austrian music outfit served audiences with a perfect fusion of Ugandan sounds and electronic music. Helmed by Ugandan percussionist Lawrence Okello, the Amadinda Sound System proved that there is no limit to what artists can do. The band's vocalist Namisango Catherine charmed the crowd with her sonorous voice. The folksong “Ayomba” laced with sexual lyrics highlighted the cases of marital rape and domestic violence knitted in hilarious lines.

Reggae rhythms reigned supreme. Jamaican Anthony Jermaine, Uganda’s Blood Brothers and Mighty Son are some of the reggae artists who played at the festival. DJ mixes drove the crowd crazy. DJ Wurzelholz from Germany put on an electrifying performance that the crowd could not get enough of. And the all-female group “Femme Electronic” ensued that cold was kept at bay.

With its programming of film, music, theatre, visual arts and dance, Bayimba Festival proved why it has become an important event on the Ugandan social calendar. Aside from the music, the festival also featured dances, fashion shows and a photography exhibition.

In 2017 Bayimba will celebrate its tenth edition and if the 2016 edition is anything to go by, music lovers should get their dancing boots ready.

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