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Locked up but letting the work out

A scene from Swangz Avenue’s short film, Rolex, which was the first successful online release in this lockdown.

MINDS AT WORK: Since gathering was suspended, artistes have found different ways of staying in touch with their audiences. In Kenya, for example, Nyashinski had a full live band performance in his house while in Uganda, some DJs turned their living rooms into a nightclubs. Different people in the entertainment business have explored ways of how to keep relevant under lock down, as Andrew Kaggwa writes.

Coronavirus changed every fibre of lifestyle as we knew it; from social distancing, suspension of normal life activities such as attending prayers, going for a party or even taking a communal van as people are encouraged to stay home as a way to protect each other.

Art or entertainment is one of the sectors that has been affected by lockdowns imposed in different countries. With artistes not being able to perform, world over, they have thought of ways of connecting to the audience.

Of course we have all heard about the Italian rugby player, Maxime Mbanda, who chose to join the frontline as an ambulance driver or the England women cricket team captain, Heather Knight, who joined the country’s health service as a volunteer.

In Uganda, things are still slow. Besides a slew of coronavirus songs that have been released for the past month, creatives are mostly minding their social media pages.

Not many have utilised the quarantine to continue doing what they were doing – at least we have not heard. At the beginning of it all, some people such as Fun Factory had continued with staging shows in an empty National Theatre auditorium but it was deemed too much gathering of a cast.

But even when many of the renowned artistes are yet to join the global trend of keeping their audiences entertained remotely, some have tried to do something.

DJ Aludah is busy with his Front Room Chat, where he mixes and hosts celebs live on Instagram.

DJs connecting with a mix

The first group of entertainers to take on the lockdown must have been DJs. From March 18, when the President made the first of the would-be famous appearances, suspending gatherings, DJs, even when many were out of work, saw an opportunity.

One by one, those famous and obscure started taking onto their social media pages to do what they do best, looping songs in signature ways known to their audiences.

For example Senior B, one of Dembe FM’s house DJs, played for more than two hours, teasing between the famous songs today and those that people enjoyed in the early 2000s.

He even had his WhatsApp contacts displayed in case someone wanted to make a request for a particular songs.

Others such as DJ KrysKross were deliberate with their experimentations. He curated a full hour of ragga and reggae mix.

DJ Aludah has been too busy with his Front Room Chat on Instagram, where besides playing the music, he engages some of the big names behind the music and of course other entertainment figures.

He has since hosted Bryan McKenzie, Ykee Benda, DJ Ciza and Winnie Nwagi, among others.

The biggest DJ connections, however, was a party DJ Rachel hosted alongside other DJs that played house and electronic music. The party, which she hosted on her Instagram page, brought together Femme Famous DJs, a collective of female DJs in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, among others.

Short film galore

Before the lockdown, talk about a Ugandan film was rare on social media streets. If a film got buzz, it had to feature a Malaika Nnyanzi, Cinderella Sanyu or Maurice Kirya. And even that buzz rarely translated into numbers and some of these film trailers even struggled to raise 1,000 views online.

Then the lockdown happened, filmmakers started sharing their older works and as you could imagine, Ugandans paid attention. But the biggest was yet to come, Swangz Avenue’s debut film production, Rolex.

The film premiered on YouTube on Easter. Because Swangz Avenue is a renowned music label that has its market penetration, they easily got Ugandans excited about their film.

Directed by Benon Mugumbya, Rolex follows four thieves that betray each other after their successful crime. The film was appreciated by the online community because after an hour, it had more than 1,000 views.

Other films that have been released online in the past weeks include Revealed and I Miss You Mum, both directed by Jakira Suudi, Black and White starring Prynce Joel Atiku, Dilman Dila’s Kifaro and Yala by Hakim K.

However, not all released films have achieved success; with every hit such as Rolex, there is a film like Yala struggling to make even 1,000 views in a week.

Most filmmakers believe that even when there is no money made for sharing their works online, with most people at home, this is the perfect time to build an audience.

Fun Factory are among the comedians sharing skits on social media in this lockdown.

Skits

If there is one thing that has kept Ugandans busy, it is comedy skits. These are by both renown and yet-to-be discovered comedians.

At one point you will be laughing at a skit by Madrat and Chiko only to be outdone by Maulana and Reign, then Ivan Ssenjovu.

It is as though coronavirus is an equaliser that has given people a chance to shine at the same stage with those they looked up to.

But the people that still stand ahead of the pack with skits are Fun Factory. From monologues to dialogues, their content is timely and always hitting the bull’s eye. Some of these even include some of the latest Kinyankore vocabulary from the President.

According to Hannington Bugingo, the group, even without performances, has not stopped creating content so that in case the lockdown is lifted, they will be good to go.

Live concerts

On Saturday, different superstars such as Lady Gaga, John Legend, Shawn Mendez, Green Day, Lady Antebellum and Africans Black Coffee, Sho Madjozi, Cassper Nyovest and Burna Boy came together from their houses for the One World: Together at Home charity concert.

It was said to be the biggest charity gathering since Bob Geldolf’s Live Aid Concert in the 1980s.

In Uganda, we have not had as many house concerts as other countries though, thanks to BBS TV and their Chamuka show every weekend, which has been turning their studios into a stage for live performances.

The station has since the lockdown hosted performances from Roden Y, John Blaq, Pastor Wilson Bugembe, Felista and Kenneth Mugabi, among others.

The live performances have become a hit with the audience, not simply because it is a different way of presenting music but it is also interactive. For instance, people can send videos of themselves watching the show.

Besides BBS though, Kenneth Mugabi will be hosting a solo show on Zoom tomorrow at 7pm. Unlike most shows like these though, this will have a price attached to it.

Like Mugabi, Navio too will be hosting an exclusive online concert to celebrate the release of his new album Strength in Numbers. The album features Khaligraph Jones, Joh Makini, Seyi Shay, Daddy Andre and Burna Boy, among other artistes.

The talkshows

If there is one thing the lockdown has taught us, it is the fact that Ugandans have varied hidden talents, but the most outstanding one could be presenting different shows.

Over the weeks, people have taken to their phones to do cooking shows, inspire those at home or host a workout.

Much as many of these things have not been consistent, there are those like Think With Fezah where they usually hold conversations about the music industry.

The challenges

Initially, these were not started by artistes. Of course, everyone loves a good challenge and during the lockdown, artistes have joined fans to do some ridiculous and hilarious ones.

From people posting their shoes to others such as Don’t Rush and all those Tik Toks, people have been adapting – challenges have been one way people such as Spice Diana, Sheila Gashumba or Lydia Jazmine have stayed in touch with an audience.

Though even when many have become a hit, the most hilarious one may be the Kwata Essimu challenge by Swangz Avenue in relation to Winnie Nwagi’s song of the same title.

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