EXCLUSIVE: The 2019 Bayimba Festival of Arts Experience.

By Byaruhanga Felix (@TheNinjaFelix)

“Toleeta Lunkulu E Lunkulu”, I think it’s only right I kick off this blog-post with that quote. It loosely translates to don’t bring your attitude to Lunkulu Island, the home of Bayimba festival. It’s more than just a quote or saying one says to you at the island; it’s a way of life that brings the diverse audience of the festival of arts at Lunkulu together. At The Tribe UG, the Bayimba festival of arts kicks off the moment the call for the Bayimba Hip-Hop Boot Camp goes out. This is an intensive two week residential workshop through which 15 selected rappers from across the country undergo training that focuses on different facets of the music such as Songwriting Creative Process, Music Management, Body Percussion, Live Performance & Studio Preps, Financial Literacy, Profile Writing, Impact of Internet & Social Media on Performance Art, Album Recording Sessions, Embrace & Create Performance Platforms, Rap Ciphers, Personal Development, a lecture on the Hip Hop Elements and UG Hip Hop Awards.

Started in 2013, this bootcamp has enjoyed longevity as one of the hip-hop training programme and has seen development of careers of different rappers from all over the country such as Recho Rey, Byg Ben, Leumas Owabajaja among others. For the past three years The Tribe UG has been a part of this great residential workshop which has seen us share our knowledge and experience with the young rappers trying to find their feet in the industry. This year as we made our way to Lunkulu Island a week earlier before the festival which gave us an insight of what was to going to happen at the Island.

As July came to an end on Wednesday I made my way back to Lunkulu Island this time not as a facilitator but as festival reveler and as blogger who was attending the Bayimba Blogger’s retreat 2019. As we headed for the boat to take us from the Mazina trading center shores to the island, I couldn’t help but think what this festival means for the locals. Besides them having fun, rendering their services festival party people for a buck, what did the festival mean for the young kid who has never made his way to Kampala but is seeing all these people from all over the world come to his home area to perform, to enjoy the party, to tour the island amongst other things. I went ahead to think about the inspirational stories they’ll tell in future on global stages or even back at Bayimba stages just because this festival inspired them to go chase their dreams when it started happening close to a place they call home.After a 10-15minute ride we docked on the shores of Lake Nalubaale and the set-up of Bukunja stage welcomed us. If you hadn’t fully got into the festival mood, seeing this stage did the trick. Once settled in and officially in the festival mood, the next thing one had to do is set up the itinerary with his/her group of people for the next four days. Which stages shouldn’t one miss, what time should one explore the island, locating the key points at the island such as the medical Center, where to buy beverages or food and of course the must watch performances. Being a hip-hop head at such a festival the top priorities were Izaya the composer who has been a long term collaborator with Ugandan hip-hop acts, Gravity Omutujju and the hip-hop boot camp alumni made up of Leumas Owabajaja, Lil-Rich, Benjamin Prince and Tushi Polo.

The first day of the performances saw Gravity Omutujju shut it down on behalf of UG Hip-Hop. His performance caught a lot of people off guard especially those who would never give his music a chance on their playlists or even attend his shows. He went beyond having a live band (which is a bayimba festival requirement for performers) to having different sets of dancers who performed both choreographed and freestyled some of their moves too. He had a good command of his band coupled with engaging with the audience which in a way speaks to the festival organizers who come up with the artist line up that will fit the festival bill. In between the takes, Gravity gave the microphone to fans in the audience who would rap word for word while at the same time keeping up with his band. As he went from song to song, his lyrics became clearer and captivated the audience more because they were relatable and funnier. As we moved from day we wound up day two with Izaya The Composer who created a fusion of EDM and our own local kidaandali in his set. Something, you could see that was appreciated by the Lunkulu locals that have never heard EDM play. As Izaya rocked his mask while playing the beats, he closed off day two at Bukunja stage as he warmed us up for day three that was dominated by rappers.

These were rappers that had gone through bayimba boot camp incubation. We had been part of the facilitators who talked to them last year, now it was time to see how far they’ve come. As performances kicked off I stood next to Sylvester (of Sylvester and Abramz), the legendary rapper who has been in-charge of this program at Bayimba Academy in addition to being a mentor to these rappers who go through the boot camp and next to him was Titan a producer who has blessed the boot camp albums with his production skill set. Lil-Rich kicked it off with his “Namuwoongo” single, which to me was the perfect track to open his set with. On the track he was telling people who he is and where he is from. As moved onto his next tracks like This is Uganda, one could see his growth as an artist, he is no longer the kid who grabbed people’s attention by winning the #MTNCypher competition, he is now a live performing artist, commanding a whole band at the longest  running festival in Uganda. While we’re at it kudos to Groove Tone Band, they did the thing, they made each rapper up there sound magic. Lil-Rich passed it to the Emorimori of rap in Uganda, Benjamin Prince; he preached about the streets (Still ‘Bout them Streets) he came from with so much energy, he walked us through those streets and why he still represents them till today, he told us about his Trap Affair EP (go stream/download it). As all these performances were going on, I kept talking to Sylvester and Titan in between song transitions, you could see the happiness they had in seeing these yougins tear a festival stage apart, you could see the results of the Bayimba Academy boot camp on stage and why this boot camp is so essential in building the next generation of Ugandan rappers. Next was the only femcee on the lineup, Tushi Polo. She kicked off the set with her verse on UG’s Most Wanted but this time on live instrumentation with a band. It immediately captured everyone’s attention; none had heard to anyone rap that hard on a live instrumentation with a band like that. With that verse, Tushi had knocked down the barrier and the wall that anyone in the audience might had put up. People moved closer to the stage as she drew them in with different songs such as Ke’kaseera, kajjanja. Tushi’s set was a combination of melody and hardcore bars, a balance of what a casual listener would consume and what a hip-hop purist wants to watch. Tushi was in her element as she engaged with the band better than the performers before and vibed with crowd. She went ahead to perform a couple of songs off her forthcoming album such as “Kamesse tambula” which instantly became the crowd’s favorite and asked for an encore as she closed her set. On closing her set, the UG Hip-Hop award winner Leumas Owabajaja took over. In my earlier interactions with him, he had come with his own band from Mbale and he had been battling with his vocal codes. As he stepped on stage all his worries about his voice disappeared, he owned the stage, he put up an authentic performance true to his roots, he introduced each song with a back story to help us understand the Leumas the artist and his art more, which in a way made us appreciate Leumas’ artistry more than before and also gained him more fans.

As Leumas closed the hip-hop chapter of the festival, I appreciated each performer and the story they were telling through their art. Bayimba academy had given them an opportunity to write their stories while the festival was the fireplace we gathered at to hear/watch them tell/perform their stories. That’s what the bayimba festival of arts is about to me, it’s a place to tell your story or express it. Be it through music, fashion, film or crafts, bayimba has it all. It’s a place that has something for everyone even if you don’t enjoy music, there’s camping, fashion shows, bird watching, nature walks, poetry, African films (which were shown by veteran arts journalist Moses Serugo this year). It’s a four day experience you can’t get anywhere else apart from Lunkulu Island. See you next year (17th -20th August 2020) for the 13th Edition.

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