My experience at Bayimba festival

Kenneth Mugabi had a memorable performance (Courtesy photo)


Getting to Lunkulu Island in Mukono District is not as easy as one might hope. One has to go through forests, cross over bridges and in some routes even use a ferry across Lake Victoria before arriving. Yet over 2,000 people made the trip.
The line-up was enticing from the get-go. Izaya, Kenneth Mugabi, Apio Moro, Sandra Nankoma and Sandra Suubi were just a few of the entertainers scheduled to provide the soundtrack to the festival. (Izaya and Sandra Nankoma are both UCU alumni). None of them disappointed.
Kenneth Mugabi is a huge star with a loyal following, and he is often, rightly, likened to some great British vocalists. It was a beautiful sight to behold as the maximum capacity crowd sang his songs in unison, word for word. When he asked what song he should sing next, the island shook as people chanted “Naki! Naki!, Naki!…”
Tushi Polo, the 24-year-old rapper, was a revelation as she spat her lyrics with “style and grace.” She heeded when the fans asked for an encore and was humble enough to send shout-outs to her mentors, Sylvester and Lady Slyke, who were both in the audience.
Sandra Nankoma, Sandra Suubi and Apio Moro, who performed back to back, showed why they are three of the best vocalists in East Africa, with powerful performances. DJ Shiru was scheduled to perform at midnight on Sunday and there was a lot of anticipation, but this writer had to leave before his set.
The numbers were slightly (just slightly) less than last year’s festival but then again, Bayimba has never been about numbers. The festival was definitely better organised this time round and one could see a lot of improvements on the infrastructure, including the graded roads.
Bayimba is an important festival because it is purely about art forms, and preserving them in an environment that has hundreds of trees. This is at a time when both are being threatened. It is preceded by a thorough boot camp where participants (mostly artistes) are trained for free on a wide range of topics relevant to them, including branding, performances, financial management, writing applications for festivals, among other skills.
On my last day, I was a bit disappointed that I had failed to catch a glimpse of the visionary behind the entire project, Faisal. I had seen an Ozark-esque temporary double-storied structure made entirely out of iron sheets, with a wooden ladder serving as the staircase from a store-like basement to a bedroom. Apparently, that was where he resided when he was on the island. About 100 metres ahead, his tiny mini Cooper car was parked. It was a scene from a movie.
I was fortunate finally to see him, and I realised why I hadn’t yet noticed him. He looks more like a member of staff than the festival director. When I was introduced to him, he was arranging firewood, probably to whip himself a light meal. He is soft spoken, and with his small size and modest demeanour, many will never suspect that he has built an empire.
As we left the island, I couldn’t help but dream of owning my own 100-acre island one day. Where I can sit on the shore, and stare into the distance where the sun and the water meet. Then once a year, I’d invite friends and like-minded people, for a celebration.

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