By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published October 26, 2017
The roots reggae star worked his fans into a frenzy, taking them down memory lane with his well loved songs. Young and old, the fans danced and sang along to songs like Tukolagane, Omukwano Gwafe, Oluyimba, Eddembe, Nakatudde and Take It Easy.
No sooner had he signed out with the crowd’s favourite–Namagembe–than the big crowd that had turned up at the opening of the 10th Bayimba International Festival of Music and Art at the National Theatre in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, thinned out immediately as proof that roots reggae star David Ssemanda Ssematimba who is also known as Madoxx is a crowd-puller.
Ssematimba, who sings in English and Luganda has two albums under his belt–Tukolagane (2001) and Abato (2006)–was one of the artists in a glittering line-up who offered a mixed menu of music rhythms and sounds that marked the 10th anniversary of Bayimba that ran September 22-24, 2017.
The poor sound system set-up nearly derailed the gig of the popular Afro-soul award winning artist and crooner, Maurice Kirya, on the second day, September 23. But Kirya somehow managed to keep the spirits of his fans high with hits like Misubbaawa, Mulembe Gwa Kirya, Wooye, Never Been Loved, and Busaabala.
His albums include Misubbaawa (2009), The Book of Kirya (2013) and Mwooyo (2015).
Also playing at the festival was Ugandan singer, songwriter and afro-fusionist, Lillian Nazziwa Birungi who is also known as Lily Kadima.
But the biggest revelation was the Uganda-Danish Afro-soul singer, Feridah Rose, whose fusion of African, funk, jazz, rhythm and blues, reggae and gospel sounds mesmerised festival-goers.
Rose, who was born in Uganda but grew up in Denmark, has released two albums so far: Game of Love (2012) and Njabala (2017). She sings in English, Kiswahili and Luganda.
Other performers at the three-day festival included Makadem from Kenya, Berita from South Africa, Betty G from Ethiopia, Umoja Boys and Mwanase from The Netherlands/Kenya, Components from Rwanda, The Project Inye (one) from Germany/Columbia/South Africa, Jagwa Music group from Tanzania.
The music director of the Bayimba Academy, Kaz Kasozi observes that the festival has had a formidable impact on music in Uganda and in general on the arts scenes in the country too.
“The biggest impact has been in setting benchmarks and also showing that things are possible right here at home. The arts and cultural festivals sprouting every year today are an indicator of this progress. Years back people balked at the idea of a festival but now one can say but Bayimba has done it for this long why not us,” Kasozi told ArtMatters.Info. “For music in particular, there has been a great impact by encouraging and exalting professional live performance over amateurish delivery. Many artists have raised their game because to appear on such a platform one has not only to play live but to have a formidable repertoire to appease the audience. Several acts who used not to do live music now upgraded their game.”
Describing Bayimba as a networking hotbed for artists including those not on stage, Kasozi said people get to see other performers from around the world and to experience music, dance, fashion and other arts in a creative employ of space.
Bayimba, a multidisciplinary organisation, focuses on uplifting arts and culture in Uganda through cultural exchange and creativity. It also offers training and workshops for aspiring artists and facilitates creative development.
“In 2008, Bayimba International Festival of Music and Art as it was then known joined the Ugandan and East African events scene. As a new entrant, it was obvious to those that attended the first edition of the festival that the organizers did not have much knowledge about the festival business but were driven by the passion and the love for art. We were ignorant, with no contacts and no financial support base to deliver a successful event,” recalls Faisal Kiwewa, the director of Bayimba. “Ten years down the road, we can comfortably state that we have worked hard to maneuver the tides and rose up to the sunrise amidst all challenges; with countless support along the way of individuals, foundations, cultural partners and the private sector. We can now say that Bayimba has stood the test of time and survived.”
As to the impact of Bayimba on budding talent, Kasozi says, “In the last eight years Bayimba has engaged in many educational arts programmes. Youth in hip-hop is one where we have seen new talents come up such as Big Ben. In others like the Practical Musician which focuses more on live music and other musicianship skills, artists such as Cindy took part and that was their genesis into the live music arena. Her epic performance at the tenth edition was a pure testament and fruition of that journey.”
Suzan Kerunen, director of Pearl Rhythm Festival in Kampala, tells ArtMatters.Info, “The biggest milestone for the organisers of Bayimba is that they kept the festival running for all these years despite all the challenges we all know. Bayimba has promoted the alternative art forms of live music, visual art, dance and fashion.”
According to Kiwewa, during the past decade, the festival has established and maintained a progressive artistic and innovative programming approach. “We have paid tribute and provided a platform to some of the amazing artists that our country has ever known. We have developed the careers of some wonderful new artists and also played a part in inspiring a variety of festivals that are now celebrated across the country. We are proud of these achievements.”