The Bayimba International Festival of the Arts, one of Uganda’s oldest performing arts extravaganzas, has returned with a bang after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic curbs.
The festival organisers, Bayimba Foundation, put up a successful 14th edition from August 24 to 28 at the Bayimba Centre for Visual and the Performing Arts on Lunkulu Island, located off the shores of Lake Victoria in Mukono and Buikwe districts.
At the five-day festival, revellers celebrated music, dance, and visual arts from renowned and upcoming artists, food, games and camping in nature.
The lineup of local musicians included the legendary Afrigo Band, Cindy Sanyu, Daddy Andre accompanied by UB5 Band, Spice Diana, Pallaso, Chance Nalubega, Raga Dee, Yese Oman Rafiki, Zulanda, and King Saha, among others.
DJ performances were provided by DJ Ssuuna Ben, DJ Wanzah, East African Records DJs, DJ Nesta and the Mighty River Nile Sound, DJ Shiru, and Almost Famous DJs, among others.
Cindy opened the festival on the first day with her energetic performance, accompanied by her band on the main stage. She performed among others Boom Party, Copicat, Tempo, Boss, and Ayokyayokya. Her young fans sang along to most of her hits.
Cindy was followed by DJ Ssuuna Ben, who worked up the revellers with his playlist on the turntables for the evening. He mixed a number of local and international hits much to the delight of the festival goers.
On the evening of Day Two, the legendary Afrigo Band took its fans down memory lane on the main stage in a thrilling performance. The band performed hits such as Maria, Vooto, Obangina, Tony, Jim, Nantongo, Oswadde Nyo, Mp’eddembe, Eyauni Emali, and Twali Twagalana, among others.
Afrigo’s vocalist Rachel Magoola worked the audience that sang along her hits Vooto and Obangina. Songstress Joanita Kawalya did not disappoint with Jim and Mp’Eddembe. The band ended their gig with the crowd’s favourite, Oswadde Nyo.
Andre took over the stage after Afrigo and excited his young fans with songs such as Omuwala, Nangana, Andeleya, and Mama Africa, among others.
Most of the revellers slept in tents under the cool shade provided by the trees on the island. There was plenty of local food and rolex (rolled fried chapatti with scrambled eggs and vegetables), a popular street food.
Those who were interested in moving around the island parted with Shs10,000 for a boat ride. Board games and pool tables were available for those who wanted to kill the boredom during the mornings and afternoons.
Starting all over
The festival’s artistic director, Faisal Kiwewa, told Sunday Monitor that the festival goers enjoyed nature, birds, monkeys, forest walks, the music and the arts. The organisers also added the Lunkulu Football Tournament this year, and it attracted many teams from the community. The competition was won by Sisters Sports Club after defeating Nice Football Club 2-1.
“We are excited that we are doing what we love and seeing our audiences back to our space,” Kiwewa said, adding, “At the same time, having a start-over feeling.
“So much has changed; the culture, the attitudes and expectations. We have to double our efforts in delivering a much more interesting and beyond the expected experience.”
Sylvester Kabombo, the coordinator of the Bayimba Ethno Uganda programme, said: “It has been a long journey for this festival right from its inception. It has stood still in spite of the challenges, including the Covid-19 lockdowns. It is good we are back to the island with the same festival.”
Kabombo added: “Bayimba’s impact on the local scene is undeniable. Being a live event, it has inspired and enabled very many bands and solo artists to crop up. Some solo artists have testified that their first time on stage was at the Bayimba Festival.
“As musicians, they know that to play here you need to perform live and with a band,” says Kabombo, who is also a rapper, creative facilitator and entrepreneur. Being a multidisciplinary event, it has also enabled other forms of art to flourish. We have also held workshops for different professions to improve their skills.”
Baron Ochola, a rapper and public speaker, hailed the festival for providing him “networking opportunit[ies] with other renowned and upcoming creatives” since 2019 when he “was selected to represent Soroti District in the Youth Hip-hop Camp at Lunkulu Island. ”
Kiwewa told Sunday Monitor that the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) in Uganda still have a fight in them despite receiving a severe beating from Covid-19 pandemic curbs.
“Covid-19 was a shock to every individual, industry and even more testing for the essential workers, who stood on the frontline of the pandemic to serve and offer the unweaving support to everyone in need,” he confessed, adding, “Uganda’s culture and creative industry is mostly physical in engagement and earning. It took a severe hit and for too long, but the significance is within its current state that shows a strong comeback with commitment and potential to resist any further turbulence.”
Kiwewa hailed the creatives for not “letting their guard down” during the difficult period. He attributed this to the “passion to keep the arts alive” and the continued investment “in skills development as well as human capital.”
On how the operations of Bayimba Festival were affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns, Kiwewa said: “Our biggest challenge was keeping our staff employed and managing other running costs for the lockdown period. We persevered, but at the end of the day, we could not renew everyone’s contract and hoped to rebuild the team once the storm is over. It has been a painful and testing process, a kind we wish not to experience again.”
Kiwewa says sourcing for finance is the major challenge facing festival organisers in Africa.
“The festival economy is an experiencing economy. It is not easy for everyone to understand it. It is misleading at most times. Some potential financial partners attend festivals and see how much they spend and think it all goes to the organisers,” he noted, adding, “So, they think there are a lot of returns made. It is not the case. Most festivals actually spend all what could be their earnings on the artistes and the service providers.”
He said organisers ought “to be very brave”, not least because “financing festivals is challenging.” He added that “creating [an] exceptional experience is very expensive”, thanks to artiste performance costs (fees, transport, visas, accommodation, per-diems), and service providers’ costs (sound, stage, backline, generators, among others).
“I think it is imperative for all events to diversify their financial base and sustainability,” he opined, adding, “But it is also very risky to rely on local financing because it is not reliable, which makes foreign aid a good benchmark in planning and programming.”
Kiwewa also revealed that Bayimba Festival has finished its masterplan and is currently working on its business model to insulate it against any future turbulence. He invited governments in Africa to support the arts.
“If Bayimba waited for government support, definitely, it wouldn’t be where it is now and it would not have invested and supported so many artistes as it has done over the years,” he said, adding, “We have to show value and potential for our efforts and hope that governments lend a hand sometimes but not always.”
Asked if they have received support from the government, and what form this support should take, Kiwewa replied that it ought not to be “financial” per se.
He added: “There are so many incentives we benefit from understanding how our government works. They might not have a clear budget, but they [can] help in so many other ways, allowing us to operate even in difficult and testing times. Government considers Bayimba as a cultural operator and grants us permits, recommendations and moral support. I have worked very closely with our colleagues at the Gender office [Ministry of Gender] and they are very supportive within their limited financial means.”
So what is the best sustainability plan for festivals such as Bayimba?
“There is no blueprint to sustainability of festivals,” Kiwewa said, adding, “It evolves and fluctuates.”
Bayimba Foundation was established in June 2006 (followed by formal registration in November 2007) following a comprehensive exploration of the state of arts and culture in Uganda and East Africa.
Bayimba Foundation is one of the leading arts and cultural operators in Uganda. It organised its first festival in 2008 and currently, it is running different festivals across the country—the Bayimba International Festival, the Amakula International Film Festival, and DOADOA, the East African Performing Arts Market that was established in 2012 as a regional platform for networking and learning among (performing arts) sector stakeholders.
In 2018, Bayimba Foundation built the home for the festival on Lunkulu Island on the shores of Lake Victoria off the Mukono-Katosi Road, 42 kilometres from Kampala City and 60 kilometres from Jinja City. The island can be easily reached by road or accessed by boat.
“We are … thinking more of our audiences—how best to give them a space experience, as well as get them to understand and respect the environment and the ecology of the space,” Kiwewa said of acquiring a home, adding, “We are gradually working towards a whole inclusive space that is supportive of the arts, the culture the people, communities and the ecology.”
On the future plans for the Bayimba Festival, Kiwewa says, “We want the festival to grow in its meaning, capacity and enriching programme. We are sure we will get there and are working hard to make this experience come sooner for our artists and the audiences.”