Stimulating Creativity and Empowering Artistic Expressions

Stimulating Creativity And Artstic Expressions 2

By Faisal KIWEWA

From Culture we get Strength …


Bayimba Cultural Foundation spent a total amount of 13,836,536,642 (Thirteen billion, eight hundred thirty-six million, five hundred thirty-six thousand, six hundred forty-two) billion Uganda shillings [$3.7m]; by December 2023 on supporting the arts, the artists and spaces. The first edition of the Bayimba International Festival was launched in 2008 – since then, the organization never looked back at working towards its vision of creating a culture that is vibrant, creative and contributing to the soci0-economic development of Uganda and East Africa.

This publication gives a snapshot of the investments, the challenges and successes registered to facilitate what we now celebrate as the Bayimba legacy. I at the same time prepare a book version of my experience with full insights to the current and future culture and creative entrepreneurs on how to develop an impactful cultural institution with a household brand name in an environment faced with multiple challenges as well as understanding and realizing the potential and the power of the arts that is often underestimated.

Bayimba would not have managed to make such significant investments and worked through its mission without the support of its family of funders, sympathizers, audiences and staff. From its inception, cultivating partnerships and exchanges, collaborations and stewardship have been the pillars to its institutional sustainability. I therefore would like to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone that has unwaveringly vested their time for our cause and sharing the Bayimba vision. 

Celebrating the tapestry of traditions and vibrant arts in Uganda is defined by the ability of its people to foster collaboration and sustainable resilience


It is without doubt, Uganda’s music industry is vibrant, transcending and consistent at all levels. Despite the covid 19 pandemic that shook and put our creative industry in almost a two year lockdown. The magnitude of its impact required rethinking of new strategic approaches. Luckily, just like Churchill said “Never waste a good crisis’ Our industry registered dramatic changes in direction and standards. The music business bounced back in February 2022 with more content and hybrid strategies. diversifying and boosting artistic revenues. The performing arts service sector also returned with a bang – prepared with advanced concepts and systems that leveled their company services to world stage productions one can find at O2 arenas in Europe and the Americas.

But the determination and resilience that brought about this vibrancy can be traced back with inspiration from the early 60s with the pioneering godfathers of kadongo kamu [one “man” guitar] folklore musicians and composers like; Fred Masagazi who took center stage around [1961] with Atanawa Musolo in support of the prospecting independent Ugandan,urging citizens to pay their taxes. Followed by Ossanide Okola [1962] Olupapula Simupira, Omuntu Asanra Awaka and Obulamu Bwatendo as part of his debut album. But his real breakthrough hit single Alululu [1964] branded him sensational and educative to win him many fans.

With the era of Fred Masagazi [born 1937], Uganda witnessed a number of significant professional musicians featuring on Radio Uganda as the only public broadcaster at the time with the likes of Christopher Ssebaduuka [born 1926], Dan Mugula [born 1946], Peterson Tusubira Mutebi [born 1950], Philly Bongole Lutaya [born 1951]. Later on, Jimmy Katumba [born 1955] joined the legends circle with his hasty lovers’ low level vocal register. Along the way, Matia Luyima [born 1956], Hanny Ssensuwa [born 1957], Herman Basudde [born 1958], Bernard Kabanda Ssalongo [born 1959] who was one of the first Ugandan musicians to represent Uganda at WOMAD Readings in the UK in 1999 and died at age 40, four months after his performance. These are some of the most celebrated champions of musical entertainment in Uganda.

The early 1990s ushered in a new trend of stereo sound recording studios that relieved many of the Kadongo kamu artists from Radio Uganda’s daunting tall order processes that only produced scratchy mono sounds, the kind one can still experience from using Long Play [LP] vinyls. This new era offered a chance to new budding musicians that mainly camped at Dungeon studios set up by Mr. Peter Ssematimba [born 1958] on his return to Uganda from Los Angeles, US in 1992. The youths at the time included Steve Jean, Shanks Vivie D, Roger Mugisha, Simon Base Kalema, among others. Successfully managing to produce their first hit single Kakokolo, that went on to receive excessive airplay on Radio Sanyu [now currently known as Sanyu FM] and Capital FM as they were the only two private urban stations that excited Ugandans at the time.

The energy and effort of these young men together with those that followed them was conscientiously directed to celebrity branding so that they could counter the foreign influencing sounds of samba, soukous, lingala that had captured the airwaves from the 70s to late the 90s. These genres dominated Uganda’s entertainment scene including night clubs and paid-for concerts that without doubt ruled over the capital Kampala for almost two decades with most of the foreign artists coming from Zaire [currently the Democratic Republic of Congo]. The struggle of Ugandan artists to take back their industry and scene went on till the early 2000s, when they stepped up their game with the welcoming of more talented youths, software systems and professionals who had developed their skills and built better experience and creativity in music production and sound engineering.

As this new trend took shape – the incumbent sound studios like Bavah Records, Dungeon Studios and Kasiwukira refurbished themselves and started hiring and collaborating with producers to influence a pop culture with fusion from Kadongo Kamu, Ghana’s highlife, Nigeria’s Afro beat, South Africa’s Kwaito which is currently derived to Amapiano as a subgenre to house music and Kenyan Benga sounds which had evolved between the late 1940 as a stylistic Kamba soukous luo music.

Even though there is nothing yet dubbed as a Ugandan sound – from the on-going debates and discussions about what it means to have a sound coming from a country that can be identified globally; I do believe the old Kadongo Kamu artists initiated and mastered an innovative unique sound of the post-colonial period that was labeled Tribal African Music by the Church Missionary Society. Through their creative processes, they established a foundation for experimentation and fusions that inspired the second generation and now the third generation of musicians. Navigating genres in dancehall, hip hop, gospel, rhythm and blues [R&B]. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, other specific genres like baxi-ragga, reggae and jazz had found their footing in the market and entertainers became household names. Driving a growing music economy to stardom and status. 

This current vibrancy in music and comedy can now be seen as the most visible and driver of a much deeper understanding of inspiration with no contestation among other disciplines in the arts. However, traditional folklore dance is growing in fusion with urban, breakdancing and contemporary form – attracting more youngsters embracing the spirit of concentration and perfection. The discipline is not fully yet helping its actors in earning a sustainable livelihood despite some opportunities to travel to showcase and experience other cultures beyond our national borders. Like fashion capturing moments on international runway shows presenting some of Uganda’s unique designs and fabrics of our indigenous knowledge in making. Helping to support efforts in reduction of second hand import of clothes and offering jobs to some rights holder groups such as women and people with disabilities. It has also not fully yet captured the enthusiasm of the local market to generate sustainable income.

As the founder and director at Bayimba, my observation and perspective, of the past, the present and future of the arts strongly narrowed down to further need for creative responses built on the principle of a bottom-up development approach to facilitate an independent industry that is effortlessly invested in by individuals and strengthened by some local institutions besides Bayimba. Supporting Uganda’s culture and the creative economy is directly impacting national socio-economic transformation at all levels. And I believe this current vibrancy demonstrates our commitment and resilience as entrepreneurs and stakeholders that we have endured over the years at all cost.

Art is not just an indulgence; it is a wise investment in the betterment of society, as it has the power to inspire, provoke thought, and bring people together

Early commissioned contemporary Dance piece of Keiga Dance Company at Bayimba Festival
Early commissioned contemporary Dance piece of Keiga Dance Company at Bayimba Festival

The Beginning:

The founding of Bayimba Cultural Foundation [BCF] was based on an extensive personal observation and analysis of Uganda’s performing arts landscape between 2002 and 2004. And later on, throughout East Africa 2005. Having lost interest in continuing to pursue my formal education after high school due to again some personal reason but that is a story for another publication. I resorted to studying music – Kadongo Kamu in particular – at the Demonstration School of music which was an ad-hoc formation of a school by the musical giants of the time. 

The school directors and faculty included musicians and composers such as Chief Abdul Kabugo [born 1965], Paul Job Kafeero [born 1970] who led Kulabako Guiter Singers, Sara Birungi leading the Iro Stars Band, Lord Fred Ssebata [born 1960] from Matendo Band could all chip in once a week for masterclasses. For two years, 2001 and 2002, I learnt to write folk lyrics and compositions in Kadongo Kamu format. I learnt to sing with a band, and performed at our school graduation concerts which were held at Happy Land Hall in Kibuye, Makindye Division which is currently known as Imbecup. After that very successful graduation performance – Chief Kabugo invited me to the official Demonstration School All-star band and we toured the country.

Despite the love for the band and music, I was facing several challenges – which came to my mind later that I was not the only one with financial struggles to facilitate any production and presentation of my work on stage the best way possible. The idea that there were not so many professionals to shop from, available and flexible at any given time. I attended others performances and I felt, they failed too because there was simply no system or structure to help or give them any kind of support. I decided to retire from the arts. 

As months come by, I could watch the Grammys and I would hate myself that I was not patient enough. With all the acceptance speeches demonstrating how hard making it in the business is and how one or all had to be resilient to achieve that award after working and being nominated several times. A lifetime achievement was in their hands. I could not stop myself from tearing down my cheeks most of the time. But again – my conviction was not to do music or acting again but find something else to fulfill my desire for being part of this hopeful creative landscape.

Then I got to know about the introduction of the Black Entertainment Television Network Awards [BET] in 2001 that celebrated black entertainers and other minorities in music, film, sports and philanthropy. This offered me a new perspective to building my ideas. I realized the importance of communities – BET Awards focused on Black excellence. In this case – initiated to look out for the other side of America the Grammys seemed to not prioritize. From watching several years of almost all white Grammys to the new almost all Black Entertainment Awards. I could see myself behind the scene making this happen somewhere around Kampala.

Working at Amakula really shaped my ideas in developing a concept that has become a brand from scratch. With my work ethics and discipline. As I volunteered, I could work longer hours, be there early to see how their days started and ended. I could experience both their European and American work cultures – sometimes with lots of frustrations, disagreements on topics, joy, losses and wins along the way. As I continued research and knowing there were foundations out there ready to support development initiatives. I constantly thought about establishing an initiative that is culturally grounded and impactfully contributing to a place or community. I often read that cities around the world celebrated their cultures and the arts with international programming that went beyond the concept of just concerts. I got more intrigued by this idea of cultural concepts – and further researched into what it means to set up an initiative in an environment that underestimates the power of culture. 

This search for understanding took me to study cultural economics. A study that confirmed my belief – that any concept in that line had to relate to economic outcomes. The idea had to add value based on shared beliefs and preferences of respective community cultures. It was a period on enlightenment for me. And a notion I find missing in current initiatives young entrepreneurs establish these days. Understanding the relationship between Economics, Culture and the Arts adds value to any institutional programmatic objectives which would include how much culture matters. If one is truly convinced and determined to operate in the industry as an institution committed to bringing about change – then cultural economics helps you gain the awareness of your vision, with values and what you need to know. Exploring the new or different domains of knowledge with clarity of the crucial connections of the practice, the profession and the necessary policies and reforms one needs to look out or lobby for.

Bayimba, the voice comes from that journey of searching for meaning and connections to possible solutions that I kept envisioning beyond the horizon.

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 The first Bayimba Office at the National Theatre Created by the Late Mr. Joseph Walugembe in support for our work

The Bayimba Festival and Events:

I have never been embarrassed and felt so stupid like I felt during the preparation and implementation of the first edition of the Bayimba festival in 2008. I think it was all because I was young – 25 by then, with no experience, no clear strategy or formula on how festivals and events of such a magnitude are organized. I had actually never physically attended one. I was just working so hard simply with passion, the imagination I had in mind how the festival would look like and trust. Trust in those that I had around me, supporting through the process, and those that I thought would come through with financial support especially the private sector and other international local cultural operators.

While I was moving around, I shared over 1,000 sponsorship proposals of over 30 pages printed in color with every company I came across and listed in my journal. I thought five or ten of them would help finance the festival – my colleagues assured me that the launch of Warid telecom was actually a blessing and major opportunity for the festival. The assurance was – as it had been noticed before with the launch of Celtel then and MTN networks, new telecom companies like to launch their services with a big bang. A spectacle of an event that would make headlines for the masses to take notice of their almost free first come first serve services. They could not resist attaching their new brand to a new festival that had not yet associated itself with their competitors. I bought the idea, and envisioned the Bayimba Festival taking Centre stage in the introduction of Warid Telecom to Ugandans.

That did not work, despite all efforts – a month and a few days before the festival. All the potential financial commitments and contracts were shuttered. So, there I was – stuck with a festival that did not have a single lead sponsor with a confirmed programme of both local and international artists. It was a very interesting programme. With bands scheduled to arrive from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland, France and Belgium. In addition to the local artists in hip hop, fashion, world music, pop, film programming with the help of Amakula and the One Minute Film festival, contemporary dancers and visual artists were to set up an exhibition market.

Going through my list of private sector partners that I needed so bad to fall back on to help cover some parts of the budget as I would mitigate other means. I learnt that they all knew about my failed sponsorship deals across the market – because brands and marketing managers in Uganda talk to each other about significant sponsorship that involve big packages – they consult each other, compare notes and seek advice on whether there could be something in for them if that contract is approved for the event. I did not know and still don’t know this ugly reality of the game. One might think I’m slow to learn but there are some behaviors I simply can’t acquire. I always find myself surprised by some of the continuous greed in the business. And once these consultations are made among the gatekeepers, no matter how good the concept is, no one else will look at it – they all ignore it. And yes, you will be doomed to fail.

With a lot of challenges and determination, the kick off of the Bayimba International Festival of Arts and Music as it was branded took place on the 19th – 21st June 2008. With a total budget of 164,000,000 Uganda shillings [roughly $42,000] spent. All on loan from my family and a few in-kind contributions. It was my first major debt that opened up a series of debts that came along with trying to build a new narrative for the arts. And it took my family some good 6 years to pay back that loan with interest.

I was depressed after the festival. And a lot had to be thought through again. A strategy to pay back the loan was not on the agenda. I kept that far back in my mind. I was consumed with how to continue with the festival the following year. The reviews were encouraging, all the artists and collaborators that attended the festival truly saw the event as a new dawn for the arts. The productions and performances were presented to perfection. The multidisciplinary approach set a precedent and a pace for any other event that would get on to the market. The artists really appreciated the programme exchanges, workshops, masterclasses and the stage collaborations between disciplines. Like dance and music, visual arts and poetry. Many had never known of such a possibility if it wasn’t for the festival to show that all is possible.

The planning of the 2009 festival gave us a chance to review our mistakes from the previous year. This learning process was much more strengthened with my visit to Morocco with my partner in the summer of 2008. As we traveled through the country, we visited festival like the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Festival Timitar in Agadir with over 500,000 people attending this festival, with the brilliant weather and the barber culture, people would travel from a far village to spend an entire week in the city to attend this free festival for all. I got my guts and ran to my hotel room to re-write my ideas for the next edition of Bayimba.

On my return, I briefed my team on how we needed to cultivate the audience first to learn about what we are doing by allowing free access to the festival and experiencing this new dawn on the scene. As I had thought from the founding of the organization, Bayimba was about understanding who we are as a people and we had not understood our audience yet. With all the effort and planning that came along the lessons learnt after the major loss. We were able for the second edition of the festival to bring in over 9,000 people who attended the festival on the 12th – 14th June 2009. From 60, to 9,000. That was remarkable. The strategy was, finding a strategic location where everyone can easily reach – we moved the festival from the Rugby grounds to the National Theatre which was more of a public space. Gave free access to the public so that they can see what we are trying to do, programming a better mix of local and international artists with an emphasis on young upcoming bands.

The buildup to this audience and participation also involved us engaging in offering more opportunities for learning and collaboration of different artforms like street fashion which we introduced to the programme to drive inspiration for many more young fashion designers who had no idea what to do with their skills. We wanted them to start designing clothes for artists, and young people at universities and in malls so that they do not have to all wear second hand imports from Bangladesh and China. That year Ras Kasozi of now the Kaz Wear brand launched his career that has seen him showcase at Vancouver, London, New York and Milan Fashion shows. The launch of Stella Atal [born 1983] as a contemporary painter and aspiring fashion designer to one of Uganda’s fashion and fabric experts now working and living in Paris, France today.

Developing the skills of young artists is not only cultivating their creativity, but also nurturing their potential to shape the world with their unique perspectives and creative expressions.

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 First training in Cultural Economics for Local Stakeholders Bayimba organized

Skilling the Youth and Stakeholders in Creativity:

For a long time, the language of hip hop in Uganda had been very much influenced by our major access to the Americanrap music, gangster like dress code and attitude. Whereas the founding of this genre back in America was mainly presented as a form of expression for the marginalized youngsters living in the projects and practicing street life. Hip hop music brought to waves and screens the level of poverty, anger and frustration in these communities. But for Uganda, the use of the American rap language with slangs as expressions was just confusing to the average Ugandan. Even though it was meant to express all the frustrations and poverty in the ghettos – the artists at the time were totally coming from different backgrounds to champion the genre. 

Hip Hop in Uganda was earliest founded by the Bataka Squad [formerly Bataka Underground] formed by Babaluku aka Sniperous MC [born 1979], Saba Saba aka Krazy Native [born 1977] and Big Poppa Momo MC. The genre was later joined in the early 2000s by the formation of Klear Kut – an elite five-member rap group composed of Navio [born 1983], Papito, Abba Lang and The Myth. As the genre took shape, the underground Bataka Squad group started to incorporate in their presentations emceeing, deejaying, beatboxing, break dancing, b-boying and graffiti, later on fashion and poetry was added to their electrifying performances. Even though they were both striving to get their musical message heard across. The Klear Kut team’s status was really above the bar. Because they came from well-off families [all of them], they could afford to make some expensive music videos to promote their work, with motor bikes, swimming pools and around some of the most expensive hotels in Kampala at the time. They clearly showed how they idealized Hollywood. On the other hand – the Bataka Squad focused on the ghettos and the suburbs in Kampala with not so good hand-held cameras with shaky images to create their promotional videos. 

The start of the breakthrough in hip hop was in 2003 with Sylvester and Abrams due fusion with the blood brothers at the sharing youth center in Nsambya – then rap started to make sense because the audience could see these very respected reggae musicians playing live music to rappers flawlessly flowing through it. Which I think came to bring about the birth of one of the contested crafting of the word LugaFlo. As the genre picked up momentum, more youngsters started to join in crews and groups. The Bavubuka Allstars led by Sylus Babaluku [but was still part of the founding members of the Bataka Squad], GNL Zamba, Urban Legend, Saint CA, Lady Slyke, New Hope Squad, Batabazi, BSG Labongo, Lyrical G and others were some of the most influential rappers and Emcees of the time.

Coming from the first two editions of the Bayimba Festival 2008 and 2009 that were challenging to programme because of fewer live performing artists. We had agreed to invest more in training local artists to create content for the future festival programme – with three days of live bands forming the 60% of the general festival programme. We had to figure out how to stimulate content creation by cultivating young artists to start forming bands with an assurance that they will have a slot at the festival. Part of my job as the artistic director was to go around schools and universities meeting with music clubs to interest them into working on a production for the next Bayimba festival – as we later called it commissioning productions. 

Luckily though, the 2008 and 2009 festival programme saw many artists struggle to perform live on stage, and they all saw it because they were part of the audience – especially with hip hop. Therefore, the idea was not so hard to pitch to them, we just had to demonstrate our commitment to the solution of investing in skilling them so that we could premier their work every year in addition to the commissioned productions. Several meetings were held together with some artists benchmarked on a five-year fund Hivos and Doen Foundation had confirmed to Bayimba.

Whereas most artists needed training in live performance – from the most prominent to the emerging ones. Hip hop did not only need training but also direction. And our Bayimba strategy team come up with two concepts – one was a programme called “Youth and Hip Hop training” focusing on young aspiring hip hop artists funded on a five year partnership with the Danish Center for Culture and Development and the second one was “Taking Arts to the People” under the umbrella of the Bayimba Regional Festival – which aimed at offering a physical experience of live performance as a platform for artists outside the Kampala urban center in partnership with Hivos. 

Both programmes were running concurrently, the hip hop training boot camp could start two weeks before the regional festival and end with artists showcasing their works on the platform. But also most significantly, all participants had to record an Extended Production [EP] with an idea that they could hear and analyze their sound as many had never had a chance to hear themselves on record. With the help of some of the hip hop legends like Babaluku, Navio, Lyrical G, GNL Zamba and others as mentors of these budding youngsters in the regions, we managed to give a chance to some of the prominent and trending hip hop artist in Uganda today both male and female like Byg Ben, Leumas Owabajaja from Mbale, Wang Jok from Gulu, Tushi Polo and Reycho Rey as female Emcees, Sagio and Truth among others. 

Such forms of investments in skilling young people with underlying talent that stimulates them to become more creative, expressive, imaginative, collaborative, adaptive, flexible and risk-taking provides them with an opportunity to explore, experiment and cultivate their creativity while developing life skills that benefit them both on and off stage. Bayimba continued to discover and skill arts journalists, photographers, creative writers and street artists in the same spirit.

The success of a performing arts market in East Africa lies in the harmonious blend of diverse cultural expressions, nurturing the talents of our artistic communities, and creating platforms that amplify the voices of our unique creative communities.

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 Early just formed Sarabi Band form Kenya debut at DOADOA in Uganda

DOADOA l East African Performing Arts Market:

The introduction of DOADOA to East Africa came as a result of the overwhelming increase in the number of independent artists and bands that looked at the Bayimba Festival as the only platform they could share and showcase their work. Whereas Bayimba festival had made it a point to premiere two to three bands each year – it had become impossible for us to accommodate all the new artists and their bands. We needed a solution to our artistic practice and policy to prevent what we had observed as a growing anger for those that do not get a slot at the festival. 

At the same time, through our growing network of peers in the business, there were just a few artists but for the majority – it was still challenging to programme them and their bands at international festivals in Europe and the Americas – or even just around the continent. One of the issues was that many Ugandan artists could not attract a bigger audience like the artists from West Africa, South Africa and Northern Africa when it comes to venues and festivals programming. I understood that as a festival director. I could not force my colleagues in the network to book our artists. 

The other issue was the never ending conversation within the business of artistic mobility. African artists in general still find it a challenge to access Europe and the Americas. At least one would say – North America is far more accessible than South America. The issue that African artists never want to return home was not far-fetched reasoning. There had been situations for artists like Papa Wemba [RIP] having served jail time in 2003 for his illegal involvement in a network with hundreds of migrants he assisted from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Europe. It is inevitable to overcome this notion and as an organization like Bayimba that invests year in, year out to skill and develop professionalism and perfection of artists hoping they will get chances to perform equally with their peers from around the rest of the world; we needed to find an alternative solution to the challenge.

The idea that several professional and emerging artists met once a year to share their knowledge, skills, ideas and new technologies in artistic production and performance was exceptionally exciting. I took time to attend the Berlin Music Week panel sessions, sneaked into workshops of sound engineers, body sensors productions, showcases in digital concepts and ideas for on the road recordings – and I told Ruth, we need this in Uganda. 

For us to pull this idea off – I needed allies. And I immediately went into a scouting mood. Reaching out to some of my colleagues in the region that I knew would embrace the idea of an East African Performing Arts Market. Busara Promotions at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, Tanzania; Sarakasi Trust of the Sawa Sawa Festival in Nairobi, Kenya;Fatbuzz music [which later turned into ONGEA – The East African Music Summit] in Nairobi, Kenya; Ketebul records in Nairobi, Kenya; Caravan Records in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and others to joined me in this effort. We formed a consortium to raise funds and the discussions around branding the initiative took shape. A few months into our exchanges with Christine Voight our chief graphic designer – DOADOA l East Africa Performing Arts Market came to sound relevant and equal as a Swahili word for spotted. 

Since the first event of DOADOA, over 15,000 professionals have attended the Market platform; demonstrating itself as a safe space for industry stakeholders to learn, exchange, collaborate, experiment and network among peers. With masterclasses, artistic bookings and the formation of the East African Festival Network as a result; strengthened by the number of high-profile industry practitioners and participants coming from all-over the world. DOADOA still stands as the most influential market access platform for the performing arts in the East African region. 

Art in public spaces enriches communities, stimulates dialogue, and fosters cultural exchange

Art in public spaces:

The Bayimba profile and brand grew within the arts and culture at both the local and international scene. The European Union under the ACP [Africa, Caribbean and Pacific] Cultures programme was planning on hosting a traveling Art@Work Exhibition titled “Visionary Africa ”. The exhibition came in form of a temporary pavilion designed by London-based architect Sir David Frank Adjaye OM OBE RA [born 1966], in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania of Ghanaian descent; curated by Paris-based independent curator Simon Njami [born 1962] in Lausanne, Switzerland of Cameroonian descent while local curators were engaged to showcase visual works of Ugandan artists. The exhibition pavilion – free to the public – was set up at the centrally located Kampala Railway Station Gardens, in a quest to demonstrate new ideas and opportunities for art in physical spaces around Kampala city. The official opening of the pavilion took place on 18th of September 2012. The first high profile exhibition of art in Uganda’s public spaces featuring some of the iconic photographic images of Malick Sidibe.

Next to the exhibition pavilion, Bayimba took responsibility in renovating the then dilapidated Kampala Capital City Hall to host the conference on the role of art and architecture in urban development of cities across East Africa. Despite the conference and exhibition being highly political with government authorities like the Kampala Capital City Authority, the Ministry of Foreign and Internal Affairs Protocol and the department of Culture under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Bayimba’s involvement as a lead local and independent organization helped bring on board several other cultural institutions that were not necessarily going to have a chance to participate in this high-profile conference, workshops and meeting. The adaptation of the declaration of Kampala – which I personally worked on developing the text with the coordinating team from the ACP Cultures, further informed the City Authorities in changing their attitude and policy when it comes to cultural practitioners and city real estate. It’s a policy now for every new city structure to avail space for public art and 20% residential capacity for every mall and high buildings.

The experience and success of organizing the visionary Africa traveling exhibition with the European Union and the ACP Cultures motivated our work at Bayimba. Having contributed to writing the Declaration of Kampala, action 4 of the attention directed civil society organizations to raise awareness and contribute to the implementation of the purposes and objectives of the declaration, and seek advice and assistance to facilitate its implementation. Bayimba immediately started to invest in art in public spaces.

In Western Uganda, cows, women and children reflect the beauty of na­ture, the wealth of a family and the strength of an individual. Anything beautiful must therefore include a gentle long-horned cow, a hard work­ing woman and children. The artists in Mbarara share the same believe as their leaders and community and decided to erect a statue in Mbarara Town that would reflect these three principal elements. In Fort Portal town, we agreed to commission and finance four local artists identified with Jabulani in Fort Portal town; we invited Stacey Gillian Abe as a new graduate from Margaret Trowell School of industrial and Fine Art at Makerere University to supervise and guide the local team in realizing their concept of the Empaako monument.

Bayimba continues to invest in artistic dialogue through Culture Unlimited and Wazo – Talking Arts as platforms stimulating more public awareness on the value and role of art in public spaces and the importance of documenting our culture and creative history. That way, we believe we can strengthen our relevance, increase access to indigenous expressions and activities as a benchmark for generations to come.

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The struggle to survive – Bayimba Commissioned Production

Covid 19 Pandemic:

If anything in this world has ever been infectiously scary, the Covid pandemic was the first of its kind in our generation. An influenza that made people all around the world lose their loved ones. In the first weeks of its outbreak- around November 2019, many of us in Uganda, related it to our usual on and off Ebola outbreaks in the western parts of Kasese and Eastern Congo. We kept hearing from the media – just like Ebola, it would be contained. As it made its way to Italy and started taking Europe by storm. We continued to hope that it would stay there. Little did we know that we were in for the worst to come.

Just like everyone else – I struggled to keep my team afloat, engaged and excited. I worried about the expenses we had already made for activities we would not do, along the way – I started to worry about my relevance to the artists as they continued to suffer in isolation and with lack of support from the government while their content continued to be consumed online for free. I was terribly worried about funding for my organization – like my funding partners who were concerned too about the wellbeing of individual artists rather than organizational running costs. I started spending more than I should off the Bayimba surplus that earmarked for Lunkulu development. It was a disaster for the organization.

I was very grateful though to all our partners who reached out for both emotional and financial support during that period. A conversation with my dear friend Ruth Daniel helped me buy a truck of posho, beans and sugar for 250 artists distributed by the National Theatre team. Cato Litangen at MIMETA helped me give some financial support to advance some artists struggling with rent. On a promise they would do something for Bayimba in the future once life gets back to normal. The Doen Foundation added on to our draining surplus that helped me keep supporting my staff and paying a part of the government taxes. However much I tried to juggle around with the little we had in coiffures, I still carry a significant amount of debt here and there – much of it to the government taxes.

Our efforts did not only come to a stand still but the industry we were building went back to remorse, with no plan B for resistances and not much consideration from authorities to uplift the creative economy. It took almost a year for the creatives to be resilient. After realizing they were very much on their own, picked up a few digital skills and started to develop alternative ways to survive. As the government started realizing the need to step in as much as they could – some lucky few managed to balance their livelihoods and emerged from that dark period. 

The industry lost a lot of talented content creators at the time, not necessarily to the pandemic, but the failure to easily adapt to the new normal and had to pick up new forms of expression and entertainment. Those that felt shame trending on TikTok and snap chat saw themselves leaving the industry to emerging young Tik-Tokers. I was regularly in conversation with several artists explaining their logic of transition from being artists to vending food; while others started to put their followers to use by selling online merchandise.

Vision 2030:

From 2017, I have been working together with the General Members [GM] of Bayimba. What many institutions call the Board, but according to our governance structure – they are members that meet at the general assembly to strategically help the organization achieve its goals and objectives. In structuring our vision 2030, the GM aims to envision the next 10 years with a consolidated programme and strengthening our role in the sector with a new approach focusing on developing systems, establishing spaces and investing in advanced skills that are market driven for young people. 

Now that the land is secured, the master plan is completed. Bayimba will soon launch its capital campaign to raise funds that will help develop the island as a new and unique cutting-edge ecologically sensitive multi-media art space and cultural ecosystem ever constructed in Uganda. The Bayimba Centre for Visual and the Performing Arts.

Stimulating Creativity And Artstic Expressions 7
A view of the new purchased island for the future Bayimba Centre for Visual and Performing Arts

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