Bayimba Cultural and Arts Festival weekend is the weekend I look forward to the most in Kampala. Yet when I asked various friends if they would be attending the 6th edition, a common answer was, “Bayimba? What’s that?”
I do not know why Bayimba is not better known outside of East Africa’s artistic circles because it has something for everyone. Crafts and sandals and kitenge dresses for tourists and Afro-Bohemians; documentaries, poetry recitals, art exhibitions for the serious appreciators; international fusion bands and popular local artistes for music lovers of all flavours; and beer, rolex and muchomo for all.
Every year that I go I increase my tenure at Bayimba, this year I was there all three days. The first year I went I only attended a couple of events. That was the year Silent Disco debuted in Kampala, it was free to enter and there was no queue. This year we paid 2000/= to enter and the queue, while long at some points in the evening, was not as long as it was in 2012. Silent Disco is an experience, a battle of DJs and a musical election all at once. People sing along to their favourite tunes freely, and taking your own headphones off may cause you to wonder momentarily if you are in an insane asylum. If you go early enough it is also a great place to take your young children for their first experience of clubbing; the volume on the headphones is adjustable, and you generally do not have to worry about the type of inappropriate behaviour that characterises nightclubs.
Dancing babies were a fixture and a delight at Bayimba 2013. Azonto babies in the silent disco, Ndombolo babies at the front of stage. Hot rastamen and skinny boys in hipster glasses carrying DSLR cameras abounded. Everywhere I looked there was a girl with great hair, or enviable clothes, laughing, dancing or having what appeared to be a great time. People of all races and nationalities ate, watched bands play, enjoyed poetry and shopped.
My favourite addition to Bayimba this year was the mattress lounge in the Upper Gardens of the theatre grounds. From there you could recline with your friends or your boo amidst candlelight, while the goings-on of the main stage were projected onto a big screen before you.
The main stage, of course, is where the best of Bayimba happens. Beginning in the afternoon and going on until midnight on all three nights, local, regional and international artists filled the air with sound. From Tanzania Leo Mkanyiwa impressed with his polyrythmic African instruments, from Zimbabwe, Nehoreka electrified the atmosphere with her energetic stage presence. Anto Neo Soul from Kenya charmed the ladies in the audience with his velvet vocals. He engaged the crowd, pulling babies (those adorable dancing Bayimba babies!) and a diversity of women onto the stage. If you have not heard of him or his most popular song Chips Funga (Kenyan slang for a one night stand), I urge you to seek him out. Anto Neo Soul is a performer of a professional calibre that we do not get to see every day.
The duo Kouyate and Neerman played psychedelic fusion music that put the audience in a peaceful trance. Kouyate is a balafon (African piano) prodigy from Mali who was playing for the National Orchestra by age 10 and was mentored by Salif Keita. With the French David Neerman on vibraphone the two created a cultural interchange that was organic and enriching for all who were privileged to be present.
While last year we enjoyed the performances of Joel Sebunjo and Afrigo band, this year popular artists like Janzi band, Coco Finger and Bobi Wine represented Uganda. I had been looking forward to Coco Finger since I heard he would be closing on Saturday night, hoping that he and his dancers would put on a good show. Indeed they did not disappoint, performing the infamous “Vibration Dance” to his hits such as My Miss and Emikono wa Gulu. Bobi “The Ghetto President” Wine was calm and at home on stage in front of his screaming fans who knew every word to every song and almost lynched the festival presenters when they took a little too long giving out prizes before the bad man from Kamwokya’s performance
All of this was available at a rate of just 1000/= per day. When next Bayimba rolls around, ignorance will be no excuse for what is consistently an excellent time
Cover photo: Bwette Daniel Gilbert | UG HipHop Archivist