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Why Nyege Nyege Festival will continue being a game changer

One of the things that stood out at this year’s Nyege Nyege festival was the free WiFi at MTN’s Wild Bae stage and the live studio sessions offered by Swangz Avenue at the Bell Jamz stage.

WEEKEND MEMOIRS: For many Nyege Nyege OBs and OGs, something was terribly wrong; what is Nyege Nyege without the rain? they asked. For these people, every dark cloud mattered until it did not anymore because the urge to let loos did eventually leave no room to worry. The fourth edition of Nyege Nyege was the most attended, but was it the most successful? ANDREW KAGGWA writes.

Since its debut in 2015, there is one thing that has defined the Nyege Nyege International Festival — the rain! For all the past three editions, it rained. So you will not blame our friend Jackie, who after holding onto her excitement from last year’s edition, went out to buy an interesting pair of gumboots! Girl was all set and ready to slay in the mud.
Dark clouds gathered, the drizzles teased and when bits of rain fell on Sunday morning, there was a visible beam on Jackie’s face. It did not last!

For a festival whose memories, mischief and fun have best come out whenever it rains, it was surprising when the skies refused to open.
“Was it the curse of the slay queen invasion?” someone teased. Something was wrong. And yet, it cannot be denied that the fourth edition of the Nyege Nyege International Festival, which climaxed on Sunday, was by far the most attended. According to Talent Africa’s Aly Alibhai, one of the organisers, the festival attracted 10,000 revellers, 4,000 more compared to last year.

The Nyege Nyege festival had found itself in hard situations before it kicked off. A rumor that it was a gay parade caught the attention of the Ethics and Integrity minister Simon Lokodo, who had vowed to protect the values of the country by doing everything in his power to block the show.

However, in the quickest backtracking, the government later gave the festival a greenlight to the glee of many who had paid for their tickets as early as May, and of course this attracted more people to pick interest. The FOMO effect could be seen throughout the social media feeds.

Here is what we saw, what you may have heard and why Nyege Nyege may continue being a game changer on Uganda’s festival circuit.

The audience
When the festival debuted in 2015, the unconventional yet conscience way the audience had fun, put them in the spotlight. Without a sponsor, revellers indulged in all sorts of world beers and yet, instead of littering the place, they chose to make a mountain art installation out of all the bottles that had been used. Later, the crazy fun that was never programmed started defining Nyege Nyege; people came to have fun and so did the artistes; there were a number of occasions when artistes performed beyond their time because they liked the audience’s energy.

This remained the same, a group of revellers who showed up came to have their fun without limitations. This year attracted a diverse audience, some people had done road trips from as far as Malawi while others flew in from Mexico, Russia and Spain, among other countries.

The biggest number of foreign revellers had been to Nyege Nyege before while others were in the country for other things but took advantage of the opportunity. Most first timers were Ugandans and thus the different face of a Ugandan audience, call them socialites, slay queens, fashionistas – in fact as one loyal fun of the festival put it, ‘Nyege Nyege was this year invaded by blanketers and goat racers.’

The rumours
There are many things that people who have never been to Nyege Nyege have said about the festival. One of the commonest things said is the allegation of it being a sex fest and this year, Lokodo threw in the gay line.

He noted that more than 4,000 gay people were being shipped into the country to recruit Ugandans into homosexuality.
Now, if what the minister meant was a group of queer people, some dressed in masks, bedazzled clothes or short shorts, there was quite a sizeable number of those.

But opposed to what Lokodo had predicted, there was nothing to prove all these had been shipped in, as most used local languages to communicate.
“But of late gay people have been flocking all social events,” argued one Helen Namutebi, a Nyege Nyege first timer.
The excessive consumption of intoxicants, however, stayed with the festival even when there was a big number of police and army thrown into the audience. Although some arrests were made and people’s weed confiscated, at some point on Thursday, people in police uniforms on one of the stages were busy getting high with the audience.

The music
The biggest let down this year for the original Nyege Nyege crowd, must have been the music. Since getting a sponsor earlier this year, the organisers embarked on reshaping the festival to what suits a commercial market. This somewhat turned this year’s edition into a battle of two concepts; the new Nyege Nyege, which introduced Ugandan pop. The once-strictly reggae stage must have been traded for this, but this does not mean there was no reggae at the festival, it was there but only at the mercy of the DJ.

The other part of the festival was the traditional Nyege Nyege; Tropical and Main stage, which continued to embrace traditional instrumentalists, electronic music and live performances. This is where the festival’s loyal audience stayed.
In the corridor, loyal Nyegeians felt like with time, the power of pop fans will slowly kick them out, especially with the programming that brought DJ acts and live pop performers that Nyege Nyege had never imagined.

“This year the vibe was wrong. We came in big numbers but something remained wrong,” Ian Kabanga, a Jinja resident who has attended all the past editions, said.
And of course, now that many first timers enjoyed the festival, the fear is that as the years go by, not a single fest pioneer will be able to recognise the festival lineup.

The Art
Over the years, artisans have criticised Nyege Nyege for celebrating binge partying more than art. At some point, they indeed had a point, yet even when they had some art, the audience intentionally or without intention missed it.
This year, the festival worked with renowned visual art curator Robinah Nansubuga as an art director and as a result, a number of art installations, murals and hanging sculptures were fixed.

Artists came from Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and of course Uganda. Pamela Acaye wowed many with an interactive installation – The Womb. Made of backcloth with fitting mirrors, she served those that came to her work with coffee and would later start heartfelt conversations on different topics.

Other notable installations included a murals by graffiti artists, including Alex Kwizera and Hatimax Sebintu, a Kampala abbreviation (KLA), which was reflecting in the waters and an umbrella canopy that lit nights up.

If there was one thing that worked for the festival, it was the pop up live studio that was run by Swangz Avenue at the Bell Jamz stage. It is an installation that has been done at Bayimba International Festival and Nyege Nyege before, although throwing Swangz into the mix and opening it up to the public made the festival more engaging.

What is not known though is the fate of the recorded songs; will they be saved for the next festival or was it all for show?
The festival did well with the whole new self-contained camping area, of course people had issues with the state of sanitation but it is a cost all festivals from Glastonbury in the UK to Bushfire in Swaziland, have to pay.

But as far as the party is concerned, Uganda naturally knows how to throw a party, and with the strategic location of Jinja, a tourist hub, a better curation on all stages, Nyege Nyege may rightfully become the number one African party that Sho Madjozi, a South African performer on this edition deems it to be. And who are we to doubt her word, she was one of the performers at Bushfire earlier this year so we cannot compromise her comparison.

We wonder what she was dancing to.

The opportunities
Since their second edition in 2016, the Nyege Nyege festival has turned Jinja into a business hub. And yet, it is surprising that the town is yet to reap from the opportunities the festival presents.

This year there was an effort by business minds in Jinja to pick off Nyege Nyege’s cookie but mostly boosted it in form of accommodation, food, parking and camping spaces.

Small businesses inspired by the festival were on a roll. Since most hotels had been fully-booked and the grounds were just as booked, house owners turned their compounds into camping areas and programmed activities that would engage their guests in case they had left the festival grounds early.

The Lake View camping site for instance, was born on Tuesday and by Thursday night, the plush house had their compound littered with tents and cars.
“I choose to camp here because it feels safer and I will not have to share a bathroom with all sorts of people without etiquette,” noted a patron.

Others noted that they camped in people’s compounds because they wanted to maintain a home atmosphere.
One of the boda boda riders who had turned the Nile Discovery gate into a stage said he had made about Shs250,000 and had used part of that to buy new tyres.

One person had taken it a notch higher by organising a silent disco just outside the venue and of course, his hustle indeed paid off as some people branched off to his fun as an alternative.

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