Nyege Nyege, Itanda Falls Edition – The Return to Life!

By on September 26, 2022

When I first heard the rumour that the Nyege Nyege Festival was back on, after a two-year hiatus, I was elated. You see, I’m lucky to have attended each and every edition of this festival since 2015. It’s almost as if my year is incomplete until the Nyege Nyege festival happens. So for the past two years, September has been a  month of mourning, pain, sadness and reflection not only because the COVID-19 Pandemic was ravaging the human race with reckless abandon, but also because there was no Nyege Nyege.

One might have thought that the announcement of the festival happening from 15th to 18th as opposed to 1st to 4th and at Itanda Falls instead of the traditional Nile Discovery Resort at Jinja might have dampened the moods. And perhaps it did, at first. But as the day drew closer and the realness of the festival kicked in, the dates and location ceased to matter. For all I care, the festival could have happened somewhere in Gulu, Masindi, Soroti, Ibanda or in some hidden caves in Kisoro and I would still be happy to attend. 

That is how starved of Nyege Nyege I had been.

When the Speaker of Parliament Anita Annet Among decreed that the festival had been banned on the grounds that it was a breeding ground for moral decadence, I wasn’t moved. This isn’t the first time a Government official has attempted to ban the festival on similar grounds and it wouldn’t be the first time the festival would happen despite major pushback from the morality police. 

The announcement by the Honourable Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, that the festival would indeed take place albeit under strict guidelines was enough to send the FOMO train into high gear. 

Those who had never been to the festival were keen to go see the nakedness, hedonism, drug abuse, sexual immorality and general moral decadence that was talked about so much in WhatsApp groups, local church cells and Facebook Gossip pages. And those who had been to the festival before knew the great time that lay ahead of them. So everyone scampered for a ticket, each with a different reason.

And the festival sold out.

Across the four days, it is estimated that well over 20,000 revellers from all around the world flocked the Nyege Nyege Festival on its maiden appearance at Itanda Falls. I was one of those who braved the seemingly scary weather to head to Itanda falls and be part of music, art and the coming together of people from the four corners of the earth. With nearly 300 performers across the numerous stages, the festival was indeed a sight to behold.

Cindy Performing on one of the stages. (Photo by William)

This year’s Nyege Nyege was different from the previous editions on so many levels. For starters, the Itanda Falls location, unlike the previous location, is one heck of a large place. And since the stages were spread further apart than ever before, it took massive guts, untold resilience, immeasurable will and thousands of calories to trek from one stage to another. Obviously, if you were ingesting alcohol or other such stimulants, you might have seen the trek as child’s play and you might have gladly perambulated back and forth from one stage to another, but the body can never be lied to. So the morning after, you’d probably be paying for your sins in form of a beaten and worn-out body, filthy shoes, the ragged look of a bushman, and the world’s greatest hunger pang. 

Yours truly enjoying Kigere, a local delicacy known to cure hangovers

All these meant nothing because you knew that you had to do this all over again the next day. The routine carried on from Friday all the way to Sunday and by the time Sunday evening checked in, everyone looked beaten and worn out, but content and satisfied. And even as people unwillingly wandered to their cars for the journey back, it was apparent that the festival had done its part – it had delivered on the promise to bring human beings from all over the world into one location for the party of a lifetime. 

With the right company, Nyege Nyege can be fun. (Photo by Maren

This year’s Nyege Nyege was also different from previous editions in terms of musicality. The festival previously thrived on attributes of world music, foreign music and lots of never-heard-before subgenres of music. While the main stage was consistent with this, the other stages seemed to meander around similar music. Save for the Dark Star Stage, the main stage and the Hakuna Kulala Stage which was consistent with different subgenres of EDM, most of the other stages were dominated by local DJs who were keen to keep the party going. 

Such a sight to behold! (Photo by Maren

The need to accommodate the desires of mainstream Ugandan partygoers somewhat herded the festival into a direction that one might have gotten on a good night of bar hopping on Bandali Rise or Acacia avenue in Kampala. It seemed like the Kampala nightlife had been shifted to Itanda. And for the most part, everyone seemed to enjoy it save for a few complainants here and there. The absence of an exclusive Reggae stage also possibly tainted the musicality a little especially since previous editions were synonymous with a stage that played Reggae all weekend long. But that did not stop revellers from gallivanting from one stage to another in search of what they would be comfortable with.

Revellers enjoy onstage performances. (Photo by Isaano Francis)

It was an absolute party on Saturday all the way into the night. In the midst of all this, everyone forgot that the rain could fall at any time. And so they partied the day and night away, oblivious of the threat of rain. Whether there was a slight drizzle here and there or a heavier fall of rain, the revellers had made up their minds that they would have a good time – and have a good time they did. 

The crowd at the Main Stage on Saturday Night (Photo by Isaano Francis)

This year’s festival scored highly in regard to food and drinks. For starters, there were several food vendors offering all kinds of food at prices much lower than previous editions. It is likely that since the stages were spread so far apart, the vendors spread themselves as well and this meant that pricing came down tremendously. Similarly, drinks were at giveaway prices and this meant that at any one time, almost everyone had a drink in their hands all weekend long. The festival grounds were littered with people doing face painting and tattoos, folks selling art pieces and other kinds of creative memorabilia, stewards constantly moving around to clear trash, couples huddled up and enjoying the sight of the River Nile, folks sauntering around in search of their lost friends, TikTokers and YouTubers gathering content for their channels and all forms of activity. It really was a busy sight. The presence of the police, as demanded by the government, meant that occasional scuffles and the odd criminal activity were all checked, with no compromise. 

Performers from Burundi do what they do best on the drums. (Photo by William)

Everything at the festival was going according to plan until the issue of accommodation came up. My friends and I (Team Kuzunga), having been to several editions of the festival, knew that accommodation is one area that could make or break how one rates the festival. So we secured our private accommodation a few minutes away from the festival grounds, a little further upriver on the Nile – and this is where we camped. Most of the folks who booked accommodation at the festival grounds were left in tears as the accommodation turned out to either be non-existent or extremely shambolic. The cottages that had been advertised on the Nyege Nyege website turned out to be nothing but mere suggestions of what should have been. They were incomplete, substandard and uninhabitable – a far cry from the glossy attractive cottages that had been advertised. The festival organisers put out a statement heaping blame on a specific service provider who failed to deliver but it was clear that some revellers were going to carry with them a negative review of the festival based on the accommodation. 

Team Kuzunga HQ throughout the festival. We camped a little further upriver from where the festival was.

We even had the time to relax on River Nile, Catch some fish and basically live the good life. 

It is likely that as the first edition of the festival to happen at Itanda Falls and right after the lockdown, there is still a lot that the Festival organisers are trying to figure out. And as much as there were elements of the festival that I thought could be better, I have tremendous confidence that the festival will only grow bigger. As a regular, it is what I hope for. And now that the Government knows the potential of the festival, maybe they will be able to offer support in form of improving the road to the festival grounds, creating incentives for investors interested in Nyege Nyege and opening up more opportunities both for the locals and the foreigners who are interested in making the most of the festival. 

It was such a wonderful time. Nyege Nyege 2023 couldn’t come any sooner! (Photo by Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

“The human world is replete with festivals – festivals that if celebrated with a sense of humaneness, instead of a sense of cultural exclusivity, could make all discriminations powerless.” ― Abhijit Naskar

Bernard
a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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