The British have Glastonbury. The Jamaicans have Summerjam. Uganda has Nyege Nyege Festival, the music festival that brought the world to Uganda and took Africa to the world…
Rolex is a popular food item in Uganda, combining an egg omelette and vegetables wrapped in a chapati. This single-portion dish is quick to be prepare, and can be eaten at any time of the day, from breakfast to a lunch or supper meal or snack. The name “rolex” comes from its method of preparation, with the chapati and the omelette rolled together.
We are standing at the middle of Bell Stage on Sunday morning, where you can find the huge maze-like hotel, Nile Resort on the edge of river Nile, home to Nyege Nyege Festival (which roughly means “the irresistible urge to dance” in the local language, and something far ruder in the Kenyan tongue). For the past two days, the hotel, completely covered in plant life of all kinds that it possible for you to lose your sense of direction and finding it again, has become home for the festival attendees and those camping on site.
To some it is just this abandoned hotel, but to us it has become a place we regain our festival sanity. Being out in the lonely bliss, it has a way of letting one’s imagination loose on all kinds of possibilities.
We are on the last day of the festival. Ugandans in the small touristic town of Jinja speak highly of this festival and its magic. “Nyege Nyege?” The hotel receptionist at Nile Hotel Jinja tells me eyebrows raised, “there you will see real festival spirit!”
Already declared among the top 300 best festivals of 2017, Nyege Nyege takes its inspiration from the legendary World Festival of the Black Arts’ that took place in Dakar Senegal in 1966. An extended invitation from Uganda to the world, it showcases the connections between Africa and the rest of the world through music, food, art, fashion and culture.
Three days of non-stop musical celebration, over 7k attendees and four stages this year with a star-studded lineup featuring some of African best Underground artists as well as a who’s who of European producers at the forefront of electronic music and exploring sounds from Africa in new ways, the festival lived up to its billing.
When it rained, we sun bathed at the banks of the Nile when it got hot, slept on the hammock and chattered like birds, but when the music came on, our legs would supernaturally find the strength to carry us on and we danced like tomorrow will never come.
We shared why we sing, why we create, why we love this music and even why we write these stories. Why we wanted to share about this festival with those who could not make it. Not even the bloody time all through this weekend mattered. It ceased to mean anything. We wanted to enjoy every second but not be governed. Too much sauce!
More than 200 acts on four stages perform over three nights, stacked up over short sets. The food tents, trucks, art tents and other product tents encircle the crowd as you make your way down the main stage. It is a first for some. A punk rock band from Kenya becomes the first to play here while a local reggae and ddub sound system from the same country owns a stage on their debut at the festival. A tatoo artists reconnects with a former client who had travelled all the way from Rwanda to have him finish his tatoo piece.
The spirit of Nyege encompasses more than just music. What holds this festival together for me has always been the spirit of collaboration and volunteering. Heck, Samedia Shebeen, an Afrobeat and Latin music crew from Edinburgh had been enlisted to design, build and appear on what turned out to be our favourite of the festival’s four stages, the Nile-adjacent Electro Stage. British Council was instrumental in supporting travel for acts.
The locals own the festival. They worked on designing and building the stages, volunteered as security and even in the area of hospitality.
We are eager to hear about the festival. The founders of the festival, Arlen Disizilan and Derek Debru, speak about how they wanted to estabalish a festival that could showcase the exciting transformations in contemporary African music. We challenge Debru and his better half for a sound bite on camera, “last year you guys caught us unaware,” she says laughing loudly, “Not this year!” A few takes and they get it: ” Hey, we are from the #256 ( Uganda mobile phone code) and we are at Nyege Nyege Festival 2017!”
Besides exposure of genres that are ‘underground’; Nyege Nyege also seeks to increase the cross-fertilization of African music with European underground dance sensibilities; a development that the organizers feel is being neglected in the African festival circuit, notes Music in Africa platform.
Scaling this year, the festival has garnered international recognition since its inception in 2015. As a completely independent festival that for the time being does not rely on any corporate or donor funding, Nyege Nyege relies purely on ticket sales, and this year an estimated 7,000 people attended the festival.
As we drive back to Nairobi on Monday morning from Jinja, I can’t shake the feeling of the past magical weekend. And as one writer, Bazuli Bemhlaba wrote, “Time stretched and snapped back together. Moments bled into each other, slumber was optional, music was continuous, food was sustenance, dancing was inevitable, humans were vibrating higher. Which is why it feels like the next NyegeNyege is light years away and the one that just passed is close enough to take two steps back into. Nyegestalgia. (lol)”