An Island of Nonchalant Monkeys, Concoctions and Artistry

By on August 13, 2018

A long time ago, before I went bald and before I left my parents’ house, my mum worked tirelessly hard teaching me to read and write. She spent countless hours shoving impossibly difficult writings my way just so I could some day maybe become good with words – both spoken and written. She particularly encouraged me to have a new favourite word every day. And so I had to read several story books, magazines, newspapers and whatever other writing she could force me to read, just to find a new favourite word every day. I might have eventually turned into a disappointment in that department because I don’t suppose I am a better writer or reader than the average person but I didn’t completely abandon the practice of having a favourite word.

Over the years, the favourite word practice somewhat died out, what with more pressing matters like bills, responsibilities, running battles with the government, women, alcohol and basically ‘adulting’ – it was impossible to keep the favourite word routine going. Every now and again however, I make time to find a new favourite word. Occasionally it is a complex word laced with heavy pronounciation, strange spelling and bizarre meaning but most times, it is a common word that just makes me smile.

As I write this, my new favourite word is ‘Festival’. If you are Ugandan, you know why and how this word will put a wide smile on anyone’s face. Every weekend that passes in Kampala, there is a festival going on in full colour. You will always bump into the Cake Festival, Twins Festival, Rolex Festival, Pork Festival, Beer Festival, Music Festival, Meat Festival, Car Festival and one of my favourites, the wine festival. It’s a bit of a shame we haven’t yet had a Festival of Festivals – one where different festival proprietors tell us about what will be at their festivals.

Anyway last week I returned from one such festival – the Bayimba Festival and even though I am still nursing fatigue and I am still recovering from the hangover, there is no harm in attempting to remember and share what happened at this festival. Quite naturally, I can’t remember everything – heck I can’t even remember half of what happened but I will attempt to share bits and pieces of what I remember – the excellent, the nasty and the downright illegal.

‘Bayimba Festival of the Arts’ as it is popularly known, is what I would define as a gathering of lovers of art exchanging experiences, skills, talents and living life with little or no regard for anything other than the art they see, feel, hear, touch and smell. The festival usually brings together performers from all over the world showcasing their art and getting new friends and fans along the way.Whether it be design artists, poets, drama actors, singers, story tellers, instrumentalists, film makers, DJs, fashion experts or dancers, Bayimba Festival seeks to shine a spotlight on as many elements of art as possible.

The 11th edition of the Bayimba Festival which was held from August 2nd to 5th was unlike all the ones before it. For starters, all previous editions were held in the City Center at the National Theatre –  right in the middle of the noise, madness and confusion of 9-5 slavery. This year’s episode was held somewhere on Lake Nalubaale on Lunkulu Island – far away from the hustle and bustle of city traffic, pollution and Governemnt failures. The not-so-little Island was characterized by regular rain, soft grounds, lush green, friendly natives and safari ants. The four day program for the Festival had several performances spread across four stages – the Center Stage (Bayimba Stage), Stage Two (Bakuntumye Stage), Stage Three (Theatre Stage) and Stage Four (Bukunja Stage or The DJ stage).

See this fella grinning? This is me just after arriving on the Island and pitching my tent. That ‘Passport’ in my left hand had all important information about the festival including profiles of the performers, programmes for the various stages, full map of the Island with illustration for not-so-smart folks like myself and some messages from organisers, funders and sponsors likeRadiant, Kiss Condoms, OOM insurance, Riham and Club. 

Seeing as this was the first edition of the Festival on Lunkulu Island, I made sure I arrived on Thursday before most people did. The plan was to move around the Island and see as much of it as I possibly could – taking in the sights, sounds and tastes. I also hoped to perhaps have a few words with some of the Artists and Creators and, time allowing, maybe engage one or two females in a conversation about my personal dreams and ambitions as an upright citizen seeking female companionship. I managed to do most of what I wanted to do but failed to lay my manifesto for any female. No one seemed interested in well thought out plans and ideas spewed by an over enthusiastic Blogger. Everyone was out to have a good time and therefore not quite bothered with my opinions on being a stay home dad or my misgivings with the Governemnt.

Getting to the Island hadn’t been much of a problem. The festival organisers partnered with Round Bob who offered some pretty decent packages for travel and accommodation.

Day one had more activity than I had anticipated. After my little Island reconnaissance, I settled down to watch performers like the timeless singer Chance Nalubega, the talented Kabuye Semboga, Ziggy D and the Groovetones (That’s right, he now performs with a band), Red Banton, Lord Fred Sebatta & Matendo Band, Kaz Kasozi and the energetic Ragga Dee. All these brought back memories of good old music before the internet became a demon that stole away our attention. I even had time to check out performances by two brilliant comedians Tumusiime and Collins Emeka on the Theatre Stage. On the Bukunja Stage, DJs like Since 88, Hola Jefe, Suraj and DJ Rachael made sure no one went to sleep before 3am. And that was just the first day!

Ragga Dee is the human representation of the word ENERGY! (Photo by James Wasswa)

Day two was a bit of a blur for me mostly because Day One had hit a home run. Some German party animals shared a wild alcoholic concotion with me – it sent yours truly to see his ancestors. Apart from that, it had rained at night and for some strange reason my tent had been pitched in some form of little ‘Valley’ So quite naturally, for the few hours I was in the tent, I did more floating than sleeping. A quick swim in the morning followed by a decent heavy rolex were enough to get me back on track. I must add that by ‘quick swim’ I don’t mean that I actually went into the water to swim – far from it. My friends did the swimming. I just sat on the shore and took it all in – from a safe distance. I am not the biggest fan of swimming so I stay out of its way as it does out of mine.

Like I said, a safe distance from the water – just where I ought to be. (Photo by Danny T)

The day’s performances were quite electric. The Center stage had Percussion Discussion, Lily Kadima, The SOIL, Seby Ntege & Band as well as Iryn Namubiru. The Theatre stage had an interesting presentation by ‘Dikula’ and the Batalo Dance Showcase. There was also a fashion show at the Fashion stage and all this was wrapped up later in the night by the ususal mayhem caused by DJs who included Faizal Damba Mostrixx, Fya LeBoof, Skaface and Ras Clan Entertainement. Meanwhile Bakuntumye Stage had Tom Strauch from Germany, Jokolera Matali Group, Isaac Abenejo from Tanzania, Irene Namatovu and was wrapped up by Pseudopolis and Lewis Lowe from the UK.

My highlight for Friday Night (Day Two) was the performance by South Africa’s The SOIL. I got goosebumps listening to them, and the weather wasn’t even that cold. (Photo by Yoti Gilbert)

When Day three (which for most people was the biggest day) arrived, I was almost spent. The body and wallet were spent, but the mind, soul, spirit, friends and ancestors were still willing me on. And I wasn’t going to disappoint them. 3 cups of coffee, two shots of some Russian Vodka, a heavy meal and a boat ride were enough to zap me back into the festivity proceedings. Saturday went by with me operating on auto-pilot. I was drifting from one stage to another trying to figure out who was where and in the process I ended up drinking in quite a lot of the performances. The Bayimba Stage had Holly Rey, Swahili Ally, Shamsi Music and Maurice Kirya who wowed everyone a little more than we had all expected. The fella still has his mojo, he really does. Bakuntumye Stage started off at 2pm with DJ Racheal, the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble (Which I was very lucky to spend several hours with jamming), MC Ivy, PCY, Recho Rey, Crazie Wispa & Sandra, Bolivar & the Warriors from Congo and it was sealed off by Zik Zak. The Theatre stage took a good chunk of my time as I was stuck there with the Bakayimbira Dramma Actors. And as was the case on each of the days, all the action culminated in a real DJ party at the Bukunja Stagae with the Almost Famous DJs, Moses Rallo and the UK trio of Sophia Lindsay Burns, Lewis Lowe and Pseudopolis.

Every group of friends you bumped into was either recovering from one party and getting ready for another or just chilling and drinking in the Island’s offering. (Photo by Yoti Gilbert)

Sunday wasn’t any different from Saturday because while I moved from one stage to another enjoying performances and trying to enjoy as much as possible, the big names stole the show. Izaya the Composer, Vincent Segawa, Holy Keane, Shifah Musisi, Jose Chameleon and Jemimah Sanyu were the perfect ending to what was a day of non-stop activity.

The entire time we were on the Island, my friends and I had to keep going back to the tents in the Camping area every after a few hours to get a refill of rest or what we were calling ‘power naps’. The Camping  area itself was neat and well set up with with sockets for phone charging. I didn’t really make much use of the charging psots as I preferred to have my phone off. The bathrooms were a minute’s walk from the Camping area and were manned by folks who kept cleaning them every so often. I also noticed that the camping area was sprayed every morning for any strange unwelcome visitors from the earth and while we enjoyed the campfire down below, the monkeys above us seemed unbothered by our presence.

There was particular group of happy and noisy Irish revellers who pitched camp where my friends and I were. These young men and women decided to stay up all night by the bonfire, singing songs and telling Irish tales as they drunk and made merry. While activity was going on at the four different stages, these fellas chose to remind the Isalnd that the Irish make and follow their own rules.

The subject of food and drink on the Island was one that I found a little tricky. Several natives were on cue to sell foods and drinks and while there were all kinds of exotic drinks like cocktails, shots, whiskeys, brandys and beers, there was also an assortment of more ‘down to earth’ drinks like Ajon and Tonto. Of course one had to know where to look to be able to find these award winning drinks. The only challenge in this department was it was an each-man-for-himself kind of plan. And this therefore meant that unless you really moved around looking for something decent to eat, you’d think everyone else is starving – like you. I also found it a bit odd that for an Island there was not much fish. One of the security guys tried to explain something about a no-fishing zone but at the time my mind was juggling between his explanation and a performance by Izaya the Composer. No prizes for guessing who took most of my attention.

In typical Bayimba Style, everything was presented in a colourful and artistic manner. And this, I decided would be my featured image for this Blog Post. (Photo by James Wasswa)

Save for the occasional phone thief who was uprehended  almost right away, and the occasional announcement over the speakers for a Red handbag containing make up, condoms and a wallet, there were not many instances of stolen items. Either that or folks simply lost their minds and did not bother finding out where their phones and wallets were until much later when the Festival ended. I didn’t lose anything and neither did any of my friends. I did notice several armed police men pretending to mind their business but really just making sure no criminal activity was going on. They looked like they wanted to keep whoever wasn’t on the island off it and whoever was on the Island on it.

On Monday when I was preparing to leave, it dawned on me that as much as I had been to several ‘festivals’ in the past, I had not entirely emersed myself in the true and complete essence of art. And I can confidently say that when next year’s edition of Bayimba comes around, the organisers should brace themselves for a bigger and more robust population. And I am sure they too will be thinking long and hard about how to keep thousands of revelers on an Island for three days without starting a civil war.

We were one with the Island from 2nd August to 5th August. (Photo by James Wasswa)

“… everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world.” ― Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Beewol - The Talkative Rocker