Bayimba: A rewarding experience

August 07, 2019

Cooling at the beach in Lunkulu (Internet photo)

By Benezeri Wanjala

Getting to Lunkulu island 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 2000 people made the trip.

The lineup was enticing from the get go. Iyaza the Composer, Kenneth Mugabi, Apio Moro, Gravity Omutujju, Dj Shiru, Sandra Suubi and Aziz Azion were just a few of the entertainers scheduled to provide the soundtrack to the festival. None of them disappointed.

Izaya the Composer in particular left a lasting impression on the concert goers. Last year when he performed, there were five stages on the scenic 100 acre island. This time there were just two. The main stage would host entertainers from midday, and Bukunja stage, at one of the shores, would host entertainers, mainly uptempo DJs and electronic artists, from midnight when the main stage closed.  

On Friday at 11:45 pm, Izaya took the stage. There was literally no audience. People were probably taking walks on the island, preparing to sleep or chatting as groups at one of the many stalls. My company and I were at a bar counter to the east of the stage. Then Izaya began.

Those of us in the surrounding areas all, as if on cue, converged at the front, near the stage, and bobbed our heads to the captivating sounds. We collectively thought to ourselves about how much the others were missing. I told the person next to me that by the end of Izaya’s set, the audience area would be filled.

My prophecy came true and suddenly there were hundreds of people dancing along as Izaya fused Lingala with Trap and other unexpected, but seamless, fusions. His house remixes of Ugandan hits were a crowd favourite. But the biggest highlight occurred when two agile female dancers came on, dressed in traditional kikoyi, and danced passionately to both traditional and contemporary music.

There were other highs. Kenneth Mugabi is a huge star with a loyal following, and he is often, rightly, likened to Ed Sheeran. 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 Suubi and Apio Moro, who performed back to back, showed why they are two of the best vocalists in East Africa, with powerful performances. Afrima winner Sandra Nankoma also had a memorable performance. 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 bootcamp where participants (mostly artistes) are trained for free on a wide range of topics relevant to them, including branding, performances, writing applications to festivals, financial management amongst 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 to finally 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 at the shores, 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. Gatsby has nothing on Faisal.

Faisal’s Lunkulu home (Internet photo)

Faisal’s Lunkulu car (Internet photo)