Even in the absence of the brain behind the festival, it was surprising the turn up and eventual success of the Pearl Rhythm Festival that happened on Saturday.
Uganda has over the years been blessed with a wide range of festivals; Rolex, Blankets and Wine, Roast and Rhyme and traditional ones such as Bayimba and Nyege Nyege. Yet none of them seems to have a dedication for the Ugandan instrumentation. And it is this void artiste Suzan Kerunen and hubby and producer Jude Mugerwa seem to fill with their annual Pearl Rhythm Festival.
This year’s edition took place at the National Theatre gardens on Saturday but even in Kerunen’s absence, it was a show that may have made her proud.
Most of the artistes who performed, including her closing act and his entire band have had such an attachment with the festival and the Stage Coach programme — a mentorship programme where artistes get training on performance, recording and above all, having a Ugandan spin to their music.
On Saturday at the National Theatre, with a few exceptions of acts such as Xenson and Anne Kansiime, much of the cast had artistes the programme has nurtured.
It was an edition that pulled all possible strings to remain true to a pearl rhythm, much as all music performed was not necessarily drawing its origins from Uganda. There was a deliberate move to have local instruments on all sounds, whether it was Xenson rapping and reciting poetry, Pelindah doing reggae or Kansiime shouting.
And it was never digital, ethno as they all come, an adungu, akogo, ndigidi and kongas.
For a festival without commercial sponsors, Pearl Rhythm was mostly marketed online and yet, it was surprising they managed a good turn up compared to the past years.
Some argued that the line up was good enough and full of surprises, for instance, many had never seen Xenson perform and you could see curiosity drive them to the stage.
Starting out with a number of poetry recitals, with his face hidden in the mask, he talked about being African, appreciating yourself as a Black human and political messages about corruption.
Then there were storytellers Kenneth Mugabi and Andereya Baguma; Baguma is relatively new and his is a fusion of kadongo kamu with modern influences. Both artistes enjoyed their performances, though Baguma was not so in sync with his band.
The biggest surprise of the night was indeed Brian Busulwa whose talent and delivery has flashes of the late Elly Wamala written over it. Little known yet he got the audience to eat out of his palms.
Another surprise was probably Kansiime, who was programmed as an artiste but seemed confused while on stage. A fine comedian, Kansiime came to stage to probably deliver a statement and if we could guess, it was a fact that not everyone should go out trying to sing.
An abrasive vocal delivery, she flatted, was pitchy and most of the time talked her lyrics, but that was a fine band she had. Their technique and fine sound hardly left a soul on a seat, thus, people danced, rocked and locked when they played a reggae tune or a sound from Kabale.