The urge to dance: Nyege Nyege Music Festival was supposed to take place this weekend, but with gatherings still prohibited, what’s Nile Discovery without the festival it’s known for around this season? Andrew Kaggwa visited the site at the weekend and now writes.
It was 12:30pm on Monday September 9, when the music finally went silent at the Nile Discovery Resort in Buikwe.
It is the location many people have come to know as the official Nyege Nyege grounds, a festival that started as a three-day event in 2015.
But nothing is constant and the festival has since morphed into a four-day event. I guess it is not surprising that its location morphs too, depending on whom you ask.
For instance, those from Jinja claim to own the venue, while others will proudly say Buikwe or Njeru.
On that Monday, the four-day festival was still happening a day after it was supposed to have closed. The final performance, for instance, had ended at 10am and partiers that were never in a hurry had started jamming to their own percussion sounds.
But at 12:30pm, the last of the drummers stopped playing, he was not even one of the official performers, but in a drunken voice, he thanked us for coming for his show.
“See you next year, remember, it’s always Nyege Nyege Festival, parte after parte,” he said.
Given this guy’s level of energy, it was surprising that less than 20 minutes later, it took the help of his three friends to lift him to the tourist bus that was waiting. He had passed out.
But such scenes were not just peculiar to this edition of Nyege Nyege; the four-day festival brings out the party mode among visitors in the best way possible.
Yet, even when most of those that attended last year left with the Parte after Parte anthem and a promise of raising the ante, in 2020, they seem to have met their Waterloo.
Since the world was hit by the novel coronavirus at the beginning of the year, many art events were postponed and later cancelled.
In Uganda, it started with the Eddy Kenzo Festival, Blankets and Wine, Doadoa Arts Market and the Amakula International Film Festival.
For many who appreciate the rave made famous by Nyege Nyege since inception, the belief was that coronavirus would be no more by the first week of September.
For instance, many continued buying early bird tickets even when the lockdown was effected in the first week of March.
But the coronavirus stayed!
Today, Nile Discovery Resort, if it was not for coronavirus, would have been a beehive of activity. The first batch of partiers often arrive a week to the festival.
While some early bird Ugandans would also be arriving a few days to the D-day, the activity always starts from the boda boda stage where the code word is Nyege Nyege.
The festival was supposed to start yesterday and life in Njeru has indeed taken a dip. The boda boda guys, for example, will compete to carry you, unlike the usual September where many of them are fully occupied.
And of course, unlike the usual Shs5,000 they charge from the road to the festival grounds, they have downgraded to Shs1,500. “Those rates are for the festival, people that come for the festival are rich and willing to pay,” a rider said.
The road that leads to the resort is clearer than a festival goer may be used to, the stares as you ride are fewer… in fact no one even notices or pays attention.
A lonely Nile Discovery
Compared to the number of people that show up for Nyege Nyege every September, Nile Discovery looks deserted from the entrance where one man sells both tickets and snacks to Njeru party animals.
The ticket to the resort costs Shs5,000 and entitles the owner to a complimentary drink.
The biggest part of the grounds, for example where the main stage is usually installed, the Bell Lager and Uganda Waragi pop up beach, are abandoned most of the time.
The grass and shrubs in some of these places m
ake them unrecognisable – it is hard to connect them with the binge and funfare many have nicknamed the African Coachella.
Other places are still grappling with the aftermath of the festival, the graffiti on a bare brick wall, makeshift urinals that would at the moment strike you as some piece of art installation or the kitenge cloth cuttings that are still attached to one of the roofs.
If it was not for the trash can, it is easy to imagine the place has no life without the crazy people from the famous festival. But with empty bottles of kaziire and mukama nayamba, it is proof a different energy takes over the grounds after Nyege Nyege.
The unpopular prophet
Some of the locals are immune to the Nyege Nyege charms and they got nothing on the festival.
“I have heard about the festival but I have never been there,” says Job Mukasa. He is here to wind down the weekend.
For a man that accesses Nile Discovery Resort for a meagre Shs5,000, Mukasa says the Nyege Nyege rates are close to impossible for locals like them, plus, he notes that people have told him the music is for White people.
Surprisingly, Mukasa is not the only person that has never attended the festival despite staying near the venue. Rachel Namuli, also spending her Sunday at the resort, says as a Christian, she does not believe Nyege Nyege as a festival would be good for her.
“Why would I come for such a festival? I have been told that the things that happen during the festival are ungodly,” she says.
Namuli is a volleyball enthusiast, she comes to the resort because she says it’s relaxing, but she also plays volleyball with anyone willing to indulge.
But Mukasa and Namuli are not isolated cases, a number of people at the resort have heard about the festival but never attended even for a day.
But that does not mean that some of them will not miss it though.
Last year, as people were looking for places to sleep, eat, park their cars or even alternative fun, they ended up in the neighbourhood.
Their version of events
The people from the neighbourhood, young and old, have different tales about the festival.
From a young man that started a dreadlock journey to land a White lady like the dreadlocked fellas at the festival to those that made business strides, everyone has something to say about the way the festival impacted them.
Jamir Katali, a boda boda rider, for instance, says he bought new tyres for his bike after the festival.
“I had been collecting money for the new tyres for at least three months, then the festival happened.”
Raymond is not even from Njeru, but he says he will miss the festival even when he has never attended.
Together with his friends, last year, they had established a makeshift bar that sold beers, especially brands not available on the festival grounds.
His friends have a home nearby which they had turned into a camp and charged festival goers Shs100,000 to pitch a tent, use their bathroom facilities and breakfast. Those without tents paid Shs150,000.
“Most people here don’t understand the festival but it’s good for us to have it,” Raymond says.
But with or without the coronavirus, the 2020 edition of Nyege Nyege was not going to happen without a hustle.
For instance, at the beginning of the year, different water bodies faced an unprecedented rise in water levels and Nile Discovery Resort was not spared.
In April, for instance, it is said a big part of the river banks had been submerged and the damage is visible in some parts of the grounds.
With a spill from the dam visible on this particular day, the force of the water waves is an issue to think about if the grounds were to host thousands of party-hungry revellers.
But Thomas, one of the gentlemen serving patrons, says the water retreating is not a new thing: “The water always retreats, at times the entire Boiler Room stage is submerged.”
Nyege Nyege 2020
Even after coronavirus disorganised the world, enthusiasts were dedicated to having the festival in whatever form it was presented.
The posters and lineup had been released, and as early as April, a number of early bird tickets had been sold.
With the situation almost remaining the same, the organisers moved to announce a hybrid scientific Nyege Nyege. This meant that they could host a festival in more than one city, yet people in those places could experience it in the same way.
According to Derek Debru, one of the founders of the festival, they had a few technological issues that slowed them down but was sure by now, all the people that had paid for tickets were refunded.
Initially, the organisers had promised to make a communication about the event in August, hoping that the situation was going to change.
Today, it is not a secret that the festival won’t be happening this weekend.
Loyal revellers have aired their views on social media, regarding not having the festival this year.
“Can you imagine, right now we would be getting ready,” posted Benjamin Tweny, a photographer who has been a regular at the festival.
One user who refers to herself as Tilly, noted, “My heart breaks, right now I would be heading to Nile Discovery Resort for Nyege Nyege, but Covid-19 happened.”
However, Debru says the festival is still on, but the dates have been moved to December 3-6: “It’s been a very tough ride yet also has grown into something really promising and ambitious.”
For now, he says they will have an East African music conference coupled with showcases and panel discussions, all free of charge.
Many partiers have already welcomed the new dates, promising to go where Nyege Nyege goes but above it all, not taking small things such as passing out for granted.