In a vibrant display of resilience and cultural celebration, the Nyege Nyege Festival in Jinja transcended warnings from foreign embassies, delivering an unforgettable experience filled with fun, pomp, and ceremony.
Held at Wonderland by the source of the Nile from November 9 to 12, the festival unfolded across seven stages, presenting a dynamic showcase of traditional and contemporary African music.
According to theeastafrican.co.ke, in spite of the warnings of insecurity, the partygoers did not seem fazed. Everyone had a blast and a majority promised to return next year for more.
Kenyan songstress Olith Ratego told The EastAfrican she considers her second home, and nothing could stop her from attending the festival 80 kilometres out of Kampala.
“I can’t be afraid to come to Uganda, which is a good place. We have not heard a bad thing happen at this festival,” she said.
Andreas Sampson 31-year-old from London said he bought tickets for all the four days of the festival.
“This is my first time at the Nyege Nyege. The festival is really fun, wild, and the DJs are doing some weird stuff. I would love to come back and have a good time because everyone seemed super friendly and welcoming,” he said.
“I assume the security travel alerts issued by the US and British governments might have affected the turn-out of this festival. I had already bought my air ticket to Uganda, and festival tickets. I knew my trip would be fine and the security would be good,” Sampson said.
Arnold Njeru, a Ugandan student at Kyambogo University in Kampala, said it was his first time and the fulfilment of a longtime dream.
“Students at my university talk a lot about this event. I come from a strong Christian family and mentioning Nyege Nyege has that connotation of an evil place, which I haven’t observed here so far,” he said.
“All I see are happy people out to have fun and enjoy themselves. People have to celebrate life and forget the hassles they have encountered throughout the year. I love being around happy and energetic people, so I will come back in the future.”
Reagan Ntare Kayebe, a Ugandan sales executive in Dar es Salaam, said the travel alerts did not affect the turnout.
“I think the travel alerts did not have any impact on the turnout because I have come across Americans and British people.”
The festival brought together established and emerging musicians from across Africa and the world. The Ugandan artistes included Jemimah Sanyu, A Pass, Edrisah Kenzo Musuuza aka Eddy Kenzo, Karole Kasita, Janzi Band, Ava Peace, Mudra, Nakibembe, Nile Beat Artists, and Banyaruguru Drummers.
Artistes from outside Uganda included Maya Christinah Xichavo Wegerif aka Sho Madjozi (South Africa), the Odd Okkodo Band of Olith Ratego (Kenya), Sven Kasirek (Germany) and Intare Performers Group (Burundi).
The Comorian Team band made up of students from Comoros Island studying at tertiary institutions in Uganda played cover songs of famous Comorian musicians, including Ma guazelle, Africaman, Allaouia, and Mgodro Revolution.
“This is our first time to perform at this festival,” the poet and band leader of the Comorian Band, Said Ahamed Djamal aka Topito, said. “We feel happy and excited because of meeting different people from different countries. We love this festival because of its vibe.”
“We have learnt new cultures, especially by sharing our melodies and hearing others from the rest of Africa,” said Ali Omar, a Comorian Band member.
The Odd Okkodo Band played Achieng, Mama yo, Aara, Ngoma ni mzito, Ok itwoye, Ochweya, and Milliy.
Aara is a love song about a young man, who lives on one side of the river, and has a girlfriend on opposite side of the river. Sometimes the man wants to meet his sweetheart but can’t cross the river.
Ratego says that she dedicated Mama yo to her mother, who abandoned her when she was too young and got married elsewhere.
“I am asking her where are you? You should have cooked for me.”
The DJ lineup included DJ Tobzy, DJ Vanna, DJ Kalvin, DJ Alza, DJ Vansa, DJ Hady, and DJ Julie.
Marjorie Maussiom (France) and Samuel Bomeme aka Meme (DR Congo) staged a theatrical performance titled Arrested Development without any dialogue except for the music provided by their instrumentalists. Marjorie, who seems to be mourning the death of her baby, is dressed in white robes smeared with blood carrying a doll. Samuel, who seems to be celebrating the death of the babies, is pushing a wheelbarrow full of dolls. Samuel represents death, the devil and sprit world.
Scattered stages and vendors
The festival has not had a permanent home since its inception eight years ago. The festival that started in 2015 at the Nile Discovery Beach in Njeru, Jinja district, aims to provide an immersive African party experience, diving deep into the cauldron of contemporary African music and its diaspora.
At the four-day festival revellers celebrate more than just music; they got to taste Afro-fusion cuisine, local and international beverages and fashion.
Last year, the festival was held at the forested and scenic Itanda Falls on the banks of River Nile, 30 kilometres from Jinja City.
This year’s edition took place on three conjoined sites along the Nile River: The Jinja Golf Course, Source of the Nile and the Jinja Showground. The new venue was an inconvenience for the festivalgoers, who had to access the live music stages after walking close to 800 metres from the main entrance.
Raymond Kigozi, a fruits vendor at the Jinja Showground, lamented that they were shortchanged by the organisers. “This year’s edition has scattered the vendors. We were segregated and divided into two classes, with each paying different rates. We at the Jinja Showground paid between Ush800,000 ($211) and Ush1 million ($264) for a stall. Those at the prime location next to the live music stages paid between Ush2 million ($527) and Ush3 million ($791) for a stall.”
Kigozi, who was a vendor at the 2021 edition, said previously, vendors would be in one location, but they were separated this time, which affected their business.
Rosemary Asenata, a handicraft vendor, said they did not make as much money as they had anticipated.
“Our government has not come out to back up this festival by promoting it as one of the major tourist events,” she said.
Asenata runs a handicraft shop on Main Street in Jinja City, and during the previous edition’s tourists would come out for shopping.
“So, I thought if I came here, it would even be better. Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”
Morris Mukasa, a beer vendor said this year’s turnout was comparatively poor.
“I would attribute that to the security alerts by the American and British governments. I believe it scared away many Nyege Nyege goers. I also believe that people generally poor don’t have money to spend on such events,” Mukasa said, adding that the beers were overpriced.
“Last year, a bottle of beer was Ush3,500 ($0.9), but it has been put at between Ush5,000 ($1.3) and Ush6,000 ($1.5) this year.”
The festival, which started eight years back has remained controversial and has not got government backing. Even President Yoweri Museveni a week before referred to it as controversial event when he was giving assurances that security would be guaranteed.
In 2022, Uganda’s Parliament voted to ban the festival for “promoting immorality” — liberal sex, homosexuality, and drugs — although the decision was later vetoed by government.
Presenting a matter of national importance, the district Woman MP for Tororo Sarah Opendi had said the event which goes on day and night for four days breeds immorality.
“What is the government’s position on this growing immorality in this country, and it is going to attract all kinds of people all over the world, bringing all kinds of activities that are non-African, non-Ugandan into our communities?” Opendi questioned.
Rose Lilly Akello, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, said some of the conditions the government had set included not allowing children below 18 to attend the event, no nudity and “any immoral activities.”
Some MPs said the event had economic benefits, including bringing in thousands of tourists.
And the moralists were accused of misinterpreting the wording of the event. The word Nyege Nyege comes from the Luganda word “ekinyegenyege” meaning “irresistible urge to dance.”
But some Ugandans took the Kiswahili slang meaning of the word Nyege Nyege (which means horny).
Nyege Nyege revelers believe they are of sound mind and should not be limited by legislation. In fact, many believe there would be a lot of benefits if the government took it on and promoted it, just like other cities in the world have annual festivals that attract thousands of people.
The festival benefits hotel owners, taxi drivers, restaurants, soft drink/alcohol sellers, crafts sellers, artistes, tour operators, food vendors, who make money out of the thousands of people that attend. A local food vendor said she made up to Ush2m ($527) in a day, while a local bank set up a tent last year.