Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rabadaba, Something Went Wrong

Luga-Ragga King Rabadaba (center) preps for stage
Ugandan musician Rabadaba’s Kati Kati Musanvu Kitundu album launch was huge, HUGE! In terms of numbers. Conservatively, there were at least 1000 people in attendance. Maybe even 1500 people. For Kati Kati, for Kampala, after the July 11 terrorist bombings that murdered over 80 innocent souls, that was phenomenal! Not even self declared ghetto President Bobi Wine, who had his Mr. Money album launch there 1st October 2010, came close to these numbers. This 29th October Musanvu Kitundu Kati Kati album launch was box office record breaking. 

Yet...yet...if you ask me, ‘Was it fun?’ I can’t unequivocally yell, “Hell, yes!” Though there were so many small nice touches that I’m certain meant a lot to the people who were touched by them. Like having an artists’ tent back stage, where they could sit and chill and mentally prepare themselves before jumping onto the stage. The first of its kind artists’ dressing room for musicians in Uganda. That was nice. 

I’m not a musician but even I felt, okay, this is kind of paying some sort of respect to the guys who bring you the music-who maintain so many people in business. I have chilled and been chilled with them many nights on late night concerts in the open air and I know how nerve wracking that can be. 

However, my expectations for Musanvu Kitundu were so high and I blame Rabadaba and his management Ug Records. You don’t promise a, “Michael Jackson in Africa” show and deliver that. There was nothing Michael Jackson live concert standard about the Musanvu Kitundu I saw! If they had not breathed a word about aspiring for Michael Jackson standards, I would not be having this fit. The only choreographed thing that showed any sign of rehearsal and serious thought was the live band accompaniment-Big Five band and Big Tym knew/know their stuff. You could tell there had at least been a week of rehearsals put in when Cindy (Cinderella Sanyu of Ayokyayokya) had to stay on stage perhaps longer than they had planned-Rabadaba had gone for costume change) and she raced through her most popular songs with the band on point. 

Other than that, I would have asked for my money back if I was a paying reveller. Actually Ug Records should demand some sort of refund from Events Warehouse because that poor quality sound should be reserved for kakuyege political campaign rallies by hoarse voiced embittered politicians with an audience of 10 idlers. Not for a good artist like Rabadaba moreover launching for the first time an album that has popularised a style of music that has been on the rise since the late 1990s-dancehall ragga. 

Note to all musicians-Ugandan and otherwise-please choose carefully who is going to curtain rise for you before you come on stage. Don’t let it come down to who turns up at the last minute and begin performing artist list alteration because a supposedly ‘big’ musician has turned up demanding to perform. But also do not go so desperate that you will let just about anyone who turns up on your stage perform to pass the time and warm the stage for you. The musicians who curtain rise for you should actually be building up to you, the main artist’s arrival on stage. Their styles, their songs, their performances should in some way be reflecting greater glory on you-not leaving it up to you to again warm up the crowd after endless poor stage performances have left many in the audience pocketing in boredom or texting furiously to ask their friends whether where they are, there is more action. No one wants a dull Friday night when they have bothered to go out! 

Anyway, we were talking about Rabadaba’s Musanvu Kitundu. It could have been so much better because I have actually seen him do much better-with only ten minutes on stage, performing on another musician’s stage. 

You are going to have to re-impress me again, guys.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sometimes you meet something, and you just want to share immediately..because it's so true!

'Herb Wisdom from the greater one!


Rabadaba, the artist as a poseur

For Teti & Lev Lazinskiy, speedwriting high on Novida Pineapple & Safe Trip Home by Dido

Princess Teti-“See the man troop wearily onto the train. The weight of his day in the droop of his eyes. Watch him reach for the beer can in his brown paper bag. Watch him take a long drink and savor. Feel the spasm of...pleasure.”

When they called him to attend a ceremony honouring his father as one of the pioneer Ugandan Pan-African heroes, it was the first time his kabiriti had karrunged to life in many months. It had startled him so badly, waking him from his mid morning doze, that first he had jumped up, heading for the door in terror. Sure it was another python rustling behind the aluminium saucepans, looking for rats. 

He had stood at the door, squinting into the corner of the saucepans, his eyes adjusting, until watching the saucepans rattle with a blinking light behind them, until he remembered snakes do not blink. 

It had been a woman calling. A young girl, really, he had surmised from her voice-from Kampala. She had said she was calling from something she described as the Media Centre. Was he the son of...his heart had leapt!...until she told him...”We are having a ceremony to unveil a stature for your father’s work in the 1950s.” 

The woman had said, no, she was sorry; she did not have anything to do with helping him retrieve her father’s soldier’s savings. No, she could not do anything about that. That was not what the Media Centre did. No, she did not know anyone who could help him. But if he came for the honouring ceremony, he might meet someone who could help, for her, she was no one. 

He had not intended to go. Then many things started to happen very quickly, that in two days time, would find him sitting in the front row under a tent, listening to two Ministers and a Speaker of Parliament pouring praise on what his father had done. How his father had struggled, resisted, given his life so this country could enjoy the liberties it did-that Ugandans could rule themselves. Seated in the front row among dignitaries whose scents and perfumes made him struggle not to sneeze, because had only one sweat stained, dirty brown handkerchief in his trouser pocket-he could not pull that out, in agony holding himself stiff to keep it in. Trying to move as little as possible, because he did not want to forget and sit carelessly, they might see the hole on the inside of his trouser leg, which no one could see, if he sat properly. 

That evening, coming back from his pigs, he had found the LC1 chairman seated in his chair under the mango tree, drinking milk from his bumba cup. His wife and their four children had been seated on a mat, looking up at him, listening to him talk, his free hand slapping his belly whenever he said something that made him laugh and they laughed along with him. 

Very early the next morning they had struggled out of the house to hooting-the RDC had come to see them himself, he could give them a lift to the ceremony, if the invitation allowed him to bring along a friend.
His wife had said, emphasised it, say nice things. Say nice things or say nothing

So he had not told anyone, at the ceremony, that the more he had looked at the stature they said was of what his father had looked like as a young man-he could not get it out his head, that it seemed like they had made his father stand on a municipal council dustbin shaped base. The more he had looked at it, the more it had looked to him like they had made his father stand in a dustbin. But it was not too bad. The dustbin was facing Kafumbe Mukasa road, which was very bad itself.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Used To Hate President Museveni

Museveni campaigning under UPM 1980
Once, I hated President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. I loathed the man. Blamed him for everything that is wrong in Uganda.  I believed it was because of him that I will probably never live to my full potential in our Uganda. Have already been stunted. That I will never be able to accomplish all the things I can accomplish and the little that I will be able to achieve, it will be through overcoming overwhelming hurdles. 

I believed all the spewing rants I used to listen to on all the bimeza on the FM radio stations that detailed in depressing detail the latest corruption scandal by yet the same cabinet minister. Or President’s in-law. Or the wife of one of his 1980-1986 bush war comrades. Or the son/daughter of a long dead comrade who done him a favour in the 1970s when he was a new graduate from Dar-es-Salaam university and was learning to navigate the byzantine civil service bureaucracy. 

I even reached a point of such depths where I began to believe that Museveni could not be a real Ugandan. Yes, those hurling insults of he came from Rwanda, he must have Rwandese blood, must be true. How could a Ugandan, a person who claimed to love Uganda let things get so bad? How could a Ugandan at heart let our referral hospitals go so much, claiming there was no money, so that I could no longer even get a free piriton or headex tablet in a hospital? How could a Ugandan at heart claim there was no money, no money so much so that not only were there no more working street lights but no road in the dictionary definition of it anymore? How could a President of Uganda proudly claim that title, ask to be called his Excellency when I could see with my own eyes, lived through the harrowing experience, of where a family could hold hands before going to bed on an empty stomach because they could no longer afford the food on the stalls in the market-it was for export? 

I hated him. I hated him because with all the hate I thought it was possible to hate until I knew what it means to have a heart full of black hate, going down Joseph Conrad’s dark river. 

Then one day, I just didn’t hate him anymore. Without taking a bribe, without getting a juicy-where-can-I-eat from job, without being shut up in any safe house-I just woke up one day, and I did not hate President Museveni. I did not want to puke in disgust when one of his Ministers or spokespeople came on the radio, came on the TV, with justifications of the latest absurdity in Uganda so heartless you had to wonder how that Minister or spokesperson reconciled it with themselves. I just was...not indifferent...not caring...not resigned...I just did not hate him anymore. Or his government. 

It was a plateau of understanding you reach when, dumped, you accept. 

Herbert Ssegujja does a perfect M7 imitation
It was not until I had reached this level that I began to see President Y.K. Museveni in a new light. To see him, I believe, for the man he is. For the supreme artist he is. To understand something Museveni imitator and comedian Herbert Ssegujja had tried to explain to me, when I was interviewing him, that Museveni is, “Knows what he is doing and why he is doing it,” that is why he admired him so much and had dedicated all his spare time to learning his every mannerism, his every tick, his every body and speech movements. 
I was one of the least surprised when during the Tulinawe Music Concert, President Museveni delved into that now famous, “Do you want another rap” performance. Because that is what it was-a performance. Because that is what it was, a performance. Being a leader is a performance and Museveni knows his Ugandans. That is why he has led us so long, 24 years and still counting.  He understands the kind of show Ugandans need. Like a good performer, he knows before his audience knows what they need. 

Look back, think, tell me if each year for the last 24, has not had its own choreographed diverting drama and you did not relish each. Even as you bemoaned, cursed, wept-were you not entertained? 

I have been.

Monday, October 25, 2010

For These Quiet Times

I'm preparing for some upheavals on this blog, in my professional life, Ugandan life-as I dive into the murk-this does me good-the calm of it, the peacefulness. It might, you too, friend...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kingambe-Eddy Kenzo Was How?

Eddy Kenzo was alright. (But I hope Rabadaba later this week will really bring the heat at his Musanvu Kitundu launch. I have seen him do it before, as recently as in June at Dr. Hilderman’s Amelia album launch-now that was a performance!) 

Kenzo arrives, Jangu Nkulage!
I could be an apologist for Kenzo. I could explain that he is still a novice, a learner, when it comes to stagecraft. That he is yet to understand there is a real difference between excess stage energy and a performance-but he’s getting there. Did you see how he toyed with the crowd before he gave them that Stamina performance they had come for-doing mini instrumental improvisation versions with that excellent back up band—he’s getting there. He’s not quite yet in control, but he’s a learner. 

Like that Bobi Wine performance Bobi put on this night. Revving the crowd up, hitting the brakes, getting them singing along, doing that delighted kid stage swagger with goofy-naughty all teeth out glee. Bobi Wine’s performances have not always been like this. He’s evolving. He’s been learning. Kenzo is a learner like that. I think at least! 

Here’s the thing about the Stamina Kati Kati album launch of Friday, 22nd October 2010: Silk Events got me mesmerized. I like that. Being impressed, inspite of myself. I could have drowned, bathed, swum, floated, drunk and watched the light play they put on during Kenzo’s show and never minded who was on stage. Or what music was playing. As long as the beat was thumping, intoxicating, mind altering- I can’t wait, hope, Rabadaba and Bebe Cool will be using Silk Events because if they are at the top of their form-wow, they are going to be wilding out killer shows. Trance shows of where you forget yourself, forget where you are, ascend Nirvana steps-its when the girl you are with screams vocabularies you never knew her demure self possessed-I’m waiting for those shows with greater anticipation than I used to look forward to December Christmas holidays-and if Silk Events does even a quarter of what it did for Kenzo for the whole duration of those shows-I just might be tempted to blog real time because that will be the only way I will be able to handle all the aesthetic pleasures being flung at me!

Silk Lights inspired intimacy, I tell you!
Yeah, converted, finally-Silk Events rules the roast in Uganda-Events Warehouse please show face!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why I Will Be Attending Eddy Kenzo's Stamina Album Launch

I will be attending Eddy ‘Stamina’ Kenzo’s concert because...
Eddy Kenzo-that Stamina guy

  •  I knew Kenzo when he was still living a version of our ghetto slum life in Makindye, humbler than he will probably ever have to be again, and they had to mini fundraise in a panic to be able to buy a blank CD to ‘burn’ on his studio photos so I could take a copy. After buying the blank CD, then the task of coming up with money to ‘burn’ a version of the original CD at the video library shack near where he lived (poverty’s disguised humour!).

  •  I I had no understanding of what Kanye West meant when he rhymed/sang something to a girl that don’t leave that man, look in his eyes, he’s got that ambition, baby, until I meant Kenzo. Before he wrote and recorded Stamina. Right after his fall out with his Yanimba partner Mikie Wine, when everyone was telling him he had made a terrible mistake to break up such a promising partnership to go on his own. There may have been no food in the fridge, what??-there was no fridge to put any food in, but he talked of his Big Talent company like he was already living in the dream.

  •  Stamina-yeah, I have watched like three or four live performances of Kenzo performing that song and no performance ever seemed like he was just going through the motions. Many musicians will claim they love being on the stage, but I have learned, from endless live concert going, it does not necessarily mean they enjoy being on stage. Kenzo claimed he was happiest on stage-after the life he’s had, who wouldn’t?- and the performances I have seen, he really means it. Yes, I know what you think the song Stamina is about...mbu jangu nkulage...

  • Of course I also want to be there on a night, no matter how it turns out, changes things in the person’s life. This life being Kenzo’s. It is one of the ‘perks’, if you can call them that, of what I do-to be up-close, to be right in front of some people, when their worlds change, and I map, chart and follow the course of their emotions on their faces, in their body twitches, as they realise a dream is coming true or dying or deferred, or they go into drugged rejection of what they are seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears. The entourage falls away, and if you have been there from the beginning, there is a look of understanding that passes between you and them that seals you, like a kiss almost. You don’t get it everyday.

So I will be there. For that Eddy Kenzo ‘Stamina’ album launch at Kati Kati on 22nd October 2010.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who Says Ugandan Men Can't Cook?

At least they sort the rice!
Rice sorting not for the easily bored

A poetry Workshop in Kampala..maybe MUK Uni is good for something!

As long promised, a follow up on that poetry workshop I attended on 1at October, that had me wondering, really, really, really

Workshops tend to be dreary affairs, poetry workshops more so than others. A workshop that begins off by daring to ask if Okot P’Bitek is really Uganda’s most important writer is therefore bound to be interesting. I mean, when was the last time you heard anyone dare wonder if the poet who crafted The Song of Lawino is Uganda’s most important writer? It seems so obvious that he is. After all, Song of Lawino is recognised world over as one of the poems that broke new ground in 20th century African literature. 

Main speaker Ife Piankhi with Bev in background

Apparently there are some people in Uganda who not only doubt Okot P’Bitek’s credentials for that post, some even believe he is overrated. Such a workshop would be far from boring, as the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award workshop organised to follow up the poetry awards that have become an annual event. This was poetry making a difference. 

Held on 1st October at Makerere University, the BNP workshop attracted a surprisingly big number of participants. On top of the two previous winners of the BNP awards, the workshop saw over 30 poets and writers gather to discuss the finer details of writing poetry in Uganda. Hosted by BNP award founder Beverley Nambozo, she described the workshop as an attempt to, “Bring poetry into mainstream discussion.” 

Nambozo explained that she was inspired to begin hosting poetry workshops on top of the award because though the award was beginning to draw out more writers, few could actually tell the difference between poetry and prose. There had also been requests for more activities apart from the award which happens once a year though it is in its second year. Supported by the Bayimba Cultural Foundation, BNP awards felt able to hold this first workshop the organisers promised would be the first of many to follow. 

Chief Guest at the BNP award workshop was Ife Piankhi, a spoken word performance artist of Caribbean ancestry currently based in Uganda. Participants who included Sophie Alal, 2010 BNP award winner, actress and writer Cleopatra Koheirwe and Suzan Kerunen representing Bayimba Cultural Foundation asked Ife to explain how a poet can go about earning a living from the craft. 

To the surprise of many participants, Ife candidly admitted that she does not make her living from poetry alone. She encouraged the poets to ensure they have, “Multiple streams of income coming in. Move around. Don’t stay in one place. Don’t expect anything to just come to you.” 

Other spirited discussions ranged around questions like is poetry only about feeling, poetry with rhymes is better than poetry without, poetry must be performed to make sense and of course, is Okot P’Bitek the finest poet Uganda has ever had? 

Then there was the choosing of poems, and some of the poets preferring to read their own poems... I don’t have the permission so I will only quote a verse or two of Qrea-us I.B’s poem Maybe Tomorrow that had all of us in that room in raptures...poetry and performance in perfect fusion...

.....Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow,
Education will be a blessing.
Maybe we shall graduate from the dungeons of frustration
To dine with success, at the high table of employment.
Maybe jobs will be created
And maybe evenly they will be distributed.
Maybe merit will be rewarded, talent appreciated
Maybe mediocrity will not be tolerated!
Maybe three-years-experience will not be expected,
Of fresh graduates before recruitment.

Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow,
Accountability will not be an exception.
Maybe we shall have the power to question
Every policy and decision without fear or oppression.
Maybe the police will not be barking dogs, which actually bite
So that peacefully we can take to the streets and the city square
To exercise our right to crowd.
Maybe then we ask questions like;
Why our roads prefer pot holes to tarmac,
Why it is very expensive to access free medication,
Why everything else increases, except the police and teacher’s salaries!