Kampala is not yet a cultural capital. Despite having much to offer in terms of sights, colours, diversity and talent, we have not yet reached a level of sophistication that allows us to be famous for it. Perhaps this is the reason that I enjoy our nascent arts festivals so much, seeing them as a sign of growing recognition for what our city has to offer.
The 8th La Ba Street Art Festival showed signs of growth as well last weekend. It is now a two day affair, and has moved from its location on MacKinnon road (outside the home of its parent – Goethe Zentrum) to Kisementi on day one and Nsambya on day two. Growth is generally a good thing, but it remains to be seen whether or not the organisers will consider this new iteration a success.
Personally I preferred the Mackinnon road location. It was roomy enough to encompass all the stalls, performers and food tents, leaving plenty of room for attendees to put a lesu down on the grass and have an impromptu picnic, or decide to join a dance troupe or drum circle. I went to the first day of the festival, so I can only speak to the Kisementi location, which is significantly smaller. This meant that you could see almost everything the festival had to offer by standing at one end of the parking lot. No longer are you forced to browse each stall, taking the time to peruse each one’s offerings, lingering awkwardly so as not to offend the artist, and perhaps finding a unique trinket or painting as a result.
The smaller location means that there were fewer dancers and acrobats at the Kisementi location this year. While they are not my favourite part of La Ba, they added life and in some cases audience participation to the festival.
Kisementi did enjoy a main stage this year, with performers like Bosco the Young Nomad and Baximba Waves. The Fashion Walk also returned, with long legged ladies in vibrant, eclectic costumes strutting their stuff.
The other thing about Kisementi is that it is home to a number of bars and restaurants including Just Kicking, Fat Boyz, Bistro, Gusto and Iguana. This turned this year’s La Ba into a bit of a beer garden, with patrons like myself hopping from one tent to another to find the cheapest and coldest beers. Again, this can be seen as a good or a bad thing, depending on your proclivities towards malt and hops. I would have like to see Kisementi’s many restaurants make more of an effort to participate in the festival, rather than simply offering their premises as “gallery space” and taking advantage of the free publicity. Only Bistro seems to have fully gotten into the spirit of things, with a tent offering snacks and drinks. Iguana and Gusto participated in the festival by hosting the Hatari High Voltage rave, which blends Djing and live percussion to create what is reported to be a great night out.
The past two years I have taken my toddler sister to La Ba, and while she is satisfied to get her face painted and be the cutest little girl at the festival, I expect a bit more from my experience. I am glad to see that La Ba is developing and branching out. La Ba tells us loudly that “art is for everyone”, and the giant headphone installation made from recycled materials by Sandra Suubi, and the MabARTi challenge which invites artists to leave their mark on mabati fences all over town, are the essence of this. It appears that the Nsambya location at Kabega road got closer to the aim of bringing art closer to the people, attracting a larger, less middle-class crowd. Let us just hope that the continued growth of La Ba does not result in the dilution of this wonderful annual festival.
Photos from the event
All photo credits: LaBa!