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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our very own Robin Hood


On Thursday and all through the weekend, the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society returned to the National Theatre with yet another end of year pantomime after last year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Written and directed by Tom Adlam and produced by Flora Aduk, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest draws from the 12th Century English story of Robin Hood, who shuns his wealthy family and leads a band of outlaws into a forest from where he becomes a hero by robbing the rich to give to the poor.

It opens with King Richard (Tom Adlam) departing for war and entrusting his Kingdom of Uganda to his young brother, Prince John (Alistair Taylor).

Under the wicked influence of the Sheriff of Kampalaham (Dick Stockley; known to his friends as Big King Dickie), John and his clique impose unkind taxes on the poor who, to make things worse, are already finding hunger and poverty unbearable.

Meanwhile, the rich go about singing “money oh my honey” and the deprived have nothing but to grumble at the unfairness of it all; paying taxes yet the roads still have “cracks,” and of the rich having so much but not sparing a few shillings for the poor.

The redeemer comes in the name of Robin Hood, who, flanked by his band of “Merry Women” (in medieval England they were called “Merry Men”), including a nun – Sister Tuck (Sharren Glencross) who waylay the rich barons, rob them and take to the poor people of Kampalaham.

“Robin is a special hero for children, whose innate sense of fairplay and morality immediately recognise the intrinsic justice of his direct approach to the redistribution of wealth,” reads a note from the director.

As the plot develops, a plan is pitched by Robin’s foes to nab him at an archery contest and throw him in “the deepest, darkest, dankest dungeon,” but will they catch the hero of Robin Hood’s calibre?

That Mabira Forest is the home of Robin Hood could be viewed by critics as satirical to the present establishment that earlier this year sought to cut down the forest to plant sugarcanes but met stiff resistance from the masses.

The musical comedy is further given the Ugandan flavour with some of the characters adopting the names of local celebrities. There is for example Bobi Wine (Lucas Haitsma), a little boy of about eight years who goes the extra mile to wear a T-shirt with “Ghetto President” emblazoned on the front, an oversized cap and the accompanying bling-bling.

Just like his little friend Bebe Cool (Alex Sherwen), they get distracted during the show but are adorable all the same especially when ‘Bobi’ pulls some awkwardly slow but hilarious break-dance strokes on the stage.

Staying true to British tradition, the hero (the “principal boy”) – Robin Hood is played by a young woman (Hope Laila) and another major role – that of a large, older woman (the “dame”) known as Widow “Booty” Winterbottom is excellently portrayed by David Griffiths.

And like all traditional pantomimes, there’s lots of audience participation through music and rhetorical questions for comic effect. But slapstick is stretched (much to the laughter of the audience) when a gentleman is wooed from the audience to the stage only to have his face smacked with pie.

The romance between the “so dashing, so brave” Robin Hood and the feisty Maid Marion (Barbara Kasekende) is funny but nothing beats the expert portrayal of the huge crush the “horrible, hideously ugly (especially with that wig) Widow Winterbottom” has over the principal baddie, the Sheriff of Kampalaham.

Although the director called it a fun thing for children, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest also appeals to adults because it tackles salient issues in contemporary Uganda; the wide gap between the rich and the poor, the misuse of public funds and poverty. In fact, one is bound to ask, when is Robin Hood coming to rescue Ugandans from the political shackles that hold us down?

The production will be staged again today and tomorrow, 7:30p.m. and 3p.m. respectively and tickets are available at the National Theatre Box Office for Shs12,000.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2008

Pure Souls spread the word through rhythm


After five years of true and firm discipleship through holy hip hop, Pure Souls are wrapping up 2008 with a celebration of their ministry’s achievements in a concert codenamed Urban Fest at Calvary Chapel in the city centre this Sunday.

The all-male crew based in Kampala have had school outreaches and visited many prisons “taking the gospel of hope to the hopeless.”

They curtain-raised for Papa San when he performed in Kampala early this year and have ministered in Kenya, California and around the country. Julius Mukasa , Joel Otim, Simon Mubiru and Odie Trophimus believe their meeting was divine.

“We were brought together by God for a great commission; to spread his word through beats and rhymes,” says Mubiru.

This much is clear in their two albums Doxology (2004)’ and Cross Reference (2006) which have been well-received in the Christian circles.

“Our music is urban-centred and our core audience are the youth especially those caught up in the misleading culture of secular hip hop,” says Trophimus. “God is leading us to show them the right way through spirit-filled and anointed rap songs.”

In Luganda and English, with an extra one or two songs in Swahili, Pure Souls “spit” unadulterated ‘sermons’ over hard-hitting beats that will not leave you lounging on the sofa.

Beyond glorifying God, their lyrics are drawn from personal testimonies; the struggle between good and evil and the challenge of “keeping it real for Christ” amid the lures and lusts of this world.

They also sing about social evils, the anti Christ, the last days and about false prophets and plead with God to deliver the city from adversity and let peace reign in the land.

One of their more popular songs, Vanity, is about a young man who falls for a pretty girl called Veronica. When she invites him to her place one evening, she tries to intoxicate him with booze, he stands up to her in defiance: “I’m born-again Veronica; no liquor…”

The song is dedicated to big timers in the music industry, They “gat” all the fame, money and the girls, but life without Christ, no matter how fancy is all vanity.

In some faint way, Pure Souls sound like Cross Movement, an American holy-hop quintet who inspires them. From their fashion and passion, this Ugandan act is an authentic representation of hip hop, the difference being that everything they do is based on “Biblical Truth.”

And more distinct is their versatility and creativity; the story-telling, the dramatic pauses between the songs, the suspense, wordplay and the conversational approach does make their music stand out. During the weekly Gospel Night at TLC on Tuesday nights, the quartet is loved for their spontaneity.

“Through Pure Souls Ministries, hundreds have given their lives to Jesus Christ –the masterpiece of God’s love,” says Mubiru.

Urban Fest is a free concert that has the blessing of their pastors --Josh Carlson and Brian Kelly. And will have other gospel bands, choirs and individual artists such as Levite Clan, Worship Harvest Choir, Soul 5 among others.

“It’s not going to be just another entertainment time,” says Trophimus. “It’s going to be different in that Jesus is the focus of our rhymes, so we encourage you to come in multitudes and you will return home rejoicing to the world what the Lord will do for you,” says Mubiru.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2008

Art for peace


Tulifanya Art Gallery on Hannington Rd., opposite Crested Towers, is one of the oldest and most active galleries in town, organising exhibitions every month. From mid November to December 10, is an exhibition of 30 paintings by Sudanese artist Ahmed Abushariaa, who has lived here since 2001.

What should pass as Abushariaa’s trademark style is his masterful contrast of bright with darker colours, which shows his inner conflict between peace and war. One of his paintings is bloody red, and others on big canvases capture destruction of innocent lives and war in Darfur.

The bright colours that appear largely in his small paintings depict life in the village and generally show his dreams about the return of peace and calm so that people can live normal lives again.

“I hope one day we shall wake up and there will be no war, terror and fear,” he says. “I support peace in all my paintings.”

Abushariaa studied art at the University of Khartoum and uses water colours and mixed media on the canvas. Sometimes he sticks old newspaper cuttings onto the canvas and draws onto them, and they become part of a painting – a style artists call collage.

Some of the titles of his works, like Symbols of Hope, Oldman’s Story, Dreams of Peace, and Once in the Village show Abushariaa’s concern and connection with society and the people therein.

This year alone, he has participated in three exhibitions in Denmark and two in Germany, not forgetting his present exhibition at Tulifanya. His unique and moving work shows what professional art should look like.

--Sunday Monitor, December 7, 2008

This is the age of the Ugandan woman writer

In a world where patriarchy rules, literary works of female writers have often been underlooked and men given more ownership in writing and publishing but this trend is soon to change writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

There used to be an exciting literary time for the Ugandan male writer, especially following the publication and immediate success of Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino in 1966. In all literary genres, names like John Nagenda, Okello Oculi, Henry Barlow, John Ruganda and Richard Ntiru among others, added meaning to the words: prolific writer.

However, in this age of local literature, the woman writer was conspicuously absent. As Austin Bukenya, in the Ugandan Creative Writers Directory (2000) puts it, “…the insidious manipulation of patriarchy did not promote publication of their work.”

Even in the then literary productions, women were given minor roles that would not permit them to develop as today’s woman. It’s after the publication of the epic poem with its heroine Lawino that the wind of change began blowing.

“Okot p’Bitek had uncannily succeeded in giving the Ugandan woman a literary voice…” writes Bukenya. “After Lawino, women writers began to make themselves heard with impressively strong voices…”

Among them was the deceased dramatist, Rose Mbowa and Jane Kironde Bakaluba who authored the satirical novel, Honeymoon for Three.

Whatever happened, the enthusiasm of the male Ugandan writer has long waned. Today, the predominance of their female counterparts cannot be disputed. To put it clearly, this is the golden age of the Ugandan woman writer.

Femrite, the Ugandan women writers association founded in 1995, has since published over 20 books and 10 of its members have won national and international literary awards.

It must hurt the nation’s manhood that it’s the women (in the Femrite July 2008 week of literary activities) that challenged the Education ministry to harness Ugandan literature by considering much of it on the national school curriculum.

It may be true that few local publishers publish creative writing but what have the men been doing while the women lobbied and organised creative workshops and literary discussions to further their goals?

Femrite recently organised the first Regional Women Writers Residence in Africa and Uganda, from November 15-22 that brought together some of the best female writers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Do you see the irony in the fact that the chief guest on the opening day was Prof. Timothy Wangusa? He addressed the guests on ‘Overcoming the barriers in the art of creative writing” which must have amused the women because the “barriers” he shared have not stopped them from writing unlike their male colleagues.

Prof Wangusa who has been writing for 40 years and said he only recently finished his second novel 20 years after he wrote Upon this Mountain, seemed to plead with Femrite to do something about “its aggressive and gender-sided publishing programme” and consider publishing “something by a gender-sensitive gentleman writer.”

From his presentation, it appears the males have been waiting for the spirit of creativity; the so-called muses believed to inspire writers in third century Rome. That is why, as someone joked, “the woman is busy telling Herstory while the man tells History”.

The residence was organised to promote intercultural literary dialogue among female writers and create opportunities for promotion of new African literary women’s voices and generally to have African women writers inspire and support one another to be able to “cause meaningful change in the social and political environments that continue to humiliate, dehumanise and gag women.”

Sponsored by Africalia and The Commonwealth Foundation and running under the theme ‘Shared Lives,” the residence had women engage in creative writing, the results of which were shared with the public during a reading session at the Makerere University last Wednesday.

“All the stories from the residence will be published by Femrite in an anthology,” said Femrite Coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe. “Femrite has also established a literary award that will be awarded to the best story. The award is open to all the writers in residence and to other Femrite members that will submit stories.”

Femrite founder Mary Karooro Okurut reiterated that African women have from the stone age era been known as natural storytellers but this should extend to women worldwide. Remember the best-selling novelist of all time, according to The Guinness Book of Records, is Agatha Christie, whose books have sold some two billion copies in 44 languages.

So while men wait for the muse, one of our women could be on her way to winning a Nobel Prize in literature. It’s debatable that women are more talented than the men but seem to have learned to put into practice the famous words that writing is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.

--Saturday Monitor, December 6, 2008

EpiHandy mobile simplifies survey and data collection


Commercial companies, research organisations and individuals involved in collecting field data have something to smile about because the latest developments in Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are first improving the way data is collected and disseminated.

Makerere University Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) together with The University of Bergen, Norway, have implemented a mobile-device based form application called the EpiHandy Survey Data Management Suite, which is out to change the way surveys and data collection are done.

During the launch and demonstration of the EpiHandy mobile tool in Kampala on Friday, participants agreed this could be the solution to the traditional paper-based data collection techniques that have proved expensive and time consuming for many years.

According to, “EpiHandy is a new cutting edge solution that revolutionises the way surveys and data collection are done in health and development research. It eliminates bulky paper questionnaires and subsequent data entry as well as costly errors related to manual data entry and lack of validation of data at time of collection.”

This is possible because the EpiHandy mobile tool has in-built validation and cross-checking features which simplifies the collection and correction of data through an easy-to-use technology that researchers who are used to the traditional way of collecting data can easily adopt to prepare, gather and interpret data faster and more effectively.

“The EpiHandy software can be downloaded from Google and free of charge onto mobile devices such as Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) commonly known as the hand-held computer and phones for collection of data,” said Daniel Kayiwa from the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (FCIT), Makerere University, adding that it will go a long way in helping to get updated and reliable data much quicker even from the country’s remotest areas.

The building of the EpiHandy software began in 2005 at Makerere University’s FCIT under the Department of Software Development and Innovation, out of the desire to develop a paperless system of data collection and management, for the generation of high quality and timely information.

After developing a user-friendly questionnaire design in EpiHandy, it was field-tested in Iganga and Mayuge districts using 30 hand-held computers with inbuilt cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) connectivity, wireless data synchronisation and memory cards.

“On average, each field worker would do a minimum of eight households within five hours which is compared to an average of seven households within eight hours using paper based forms,” Doreen Nabukalu, who was part of the digitalised research talks about the advantages of using the EpiHandy mobile tool. “There were fewer errors found during editing as most of them were captured during the data collection exercise; talk of reduced costs, better quality data, timely reporting and analysis, and flexibility as opposed to the inconvenience of conducting paper based interviews.”

Exactly how the EpiHandy works; a questionnaire or form that guide the data collection activity in the field is designed on the server; then downloaded to a mobile device on which data is collected and then manually uploaded into the database through synchronisation. Cleaning and editing of the collected data is done from the database within the office. The mistakes that would result from the feeding of data into the computers or systems by people who did not collect it as has been the trend with the traditional way of collecting data, cannot arise with EpiHandy since it comes with an easy procedure of collecting and finally exporting of collected data into the computer. The data on the phone is sent using HTTP, GPS Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a data cable which are all possible on a java enabled phone. The only fear is the security of PDAs, the possible loss of data due to battery failure, and smaller inbuilt capacity memory cards which may not accommodate the ever increasing data volumes.

Otherwise in a world where ICTs are advancing rapidly and changing society profoundly, electric data collection and processing systems have shown that reducing the data collection time can improve reporting and therefore decision making. Even in Africa, the mobile phone is fast becoming the most immediately accessible ICT device because of the direct result of the benefits and convenience it offers at low costs, which means there is much to gain in sensitising the masses to utilise all the possibilities and efficiencies to be derived.

As Prof. Fisseha Mekuria of Makerere University FCIT said, “Mobile phones are a platform for public information access and are no longer a voice only communications tool. It’s a mass product carried by three billion people worldwide and is used as a video camera, an MP3 player, calendar, calculator, alarm clock…we can use it for innovative mobile applications, for example in health, banking, education, voting, census and marketing of goods and services and generally as a vehicle of economic development.”

He added: “The EpiHandy tool is only the beginning; we want to work together with you to solve outstanding issues; develop mobile based services to the public and private sector; we need a change, and –‘Yes We Can’ locally develop innovative mobile applications and use ICT and mobiles for social, business and economic development.”

So the EpiHandy mobile tool excited participants but many, including Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the Dean of FCIT Makerere expressed their fear in regard to its general acceptance and practicability especially in Uganda where many live in rural areas, and about 90 per cent of mobile phone owners hardly use other applications on their devices beyond placing and receiving calls.

Mellisa Ho from the University of California said technocrats need to evaluate what makes new technologies work, and that a lot of sensitisation ought to be done in order to build a community that will innovatively use mobile phones to enrich their lives.

In October 1983 when the first commercial cellular call was placed, few would have guessed that a time would come when we would access the Internet, listen to the radio and watch television programmes on our handsets. Likewise, the development of the EpiHandy could be a linchpin to greater things to come.

--Daily Monitor, Wenesday, December 3, 2008

Boyz II Men are coming to paint Kampala with love


When Boyz II Men perform in Kampala next weekend, it will be a time to reminisce for the high school "kids" of the first half of the 1990s, when songs like End of the Road, I'll Make love to You and On Bended Knee were hugely popular. They will be reminded of the "squeeze" dance during "socials" and the grooving that crowned inter-school debates and seminars.

Boys coupled with girls and slow-danced to Boyz II Men's enchanting "love cuts" on memorable evenings. One day during holidays, my elder brother told us how he had serenaded the most beautiful girl from Bweranyangi Girls School, bringing tears of love to her eyes! End of the Road was the magic!

He knew all the Boyz II Men songs word for word and the wall above his bed was plastered with a mega poster of them with sharp boxy haircuts that every high school lad at the time loved to sport. Masters of the romantic song, Boyz II Men's lyrics played a prominent role in the love letters wooing the stunning girls in the neighbouring school.

The passionate choruses that made their smooth harmonies were unforgettable and lovely to sing along to, which made it easy for the school show-offs that loved to mime their songs. R&B and new jack swing was in vogue and Boyz II Men were a young and stylish act with great vocals that had many try to replicate their style. No doubt it will be a memorable day to see them perform live in Kampala.

They are now older than the four adorable smiling young men on the poster in my brother's room back in the day that we all wanted to be like, but they are still Boyz II Men. If the four-time Grammy award-winning, chart-topping, record-breaking, most commercially successful male urban soul artistes that have sold more than 60 million recordings are truly coming to Kampala, then it's amazing!

You have to delve into history to fully appreciate the magnitude of their talent and acclaim. Marc Nelson, Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris first hooked up in high school in 1988 under the name Unique Attraction.

"Boyz II Men were put together by Boyz II Men," Wanya Morris told Shane Gilchrist of Otago DailyTimes Online in a May 2008 interview. "There was nobody standing off to the side saying 'I want to put together a group'. Music put us together – that is our mother. Music is our mother."

When the quintet sneaked backstage at a 1989 concert and impressed a former New Edition singer-turned producer, Michael Bivins, with an acapella version of New Edition's Can You Stand the Rain, they had no idea a miracle was about to happen; Bivins offered them a recording deal on the spot! They immediately changed their name to Boyz II Men, an altered version of Boys to Men, another song by New Edition, the group they idolised that brought them good luck.
Suddenly, Marc Nelson quit; leaving other members dispirited but determined to move on. Their first album, Cooleyhighharmony was released in 1991 and became an instant hit, winning them the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
It was followed with the alluring End of the Road which confirmed the notion that Boyz II Men were "crooning Cupids." The ballad was no.1 on the music charts for 13 weeks, breaking the earlier record of 11 weeks set by Elvis Presley's double-titled single Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog.

In 1994, they released their second album simply titled II. It went up and on to sell over 12 million copies in the US alone. This album has timeless harmonies like On Bended Knee, Water Runs Dry and I'll Make Love to You. The latter enjoyed a record 14 weeks atop the charts, ending End of the Road's 13-week reign. It was later overthrown by On Bended Knee and Boyz II Men joined Elvis Presley and the Beatles in music books as the only artistes to replace themselves at number one.

In 2005, they scooped two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album for II and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for I'll Make Love To You. They had become legends and are said to have started the "boy band craze" with groups like Take That, Soul for Real, 98 Degrees, Blackstreet Boys, All 4 One, Jagged Edge and Backstreet Boys; who tried but miserably failed to imitate the inimitable style of Boyz II men.

Their uniqueness lay in the avoidance of the trend of the time where other groups would have one or two lead singers and a choir. A music critic observed: "The multiple-lead arrangements became a Boyz II Men trademark, and it became typical to hear Wanya Morris' vibrato-heavy tenor, Shawn Stockman's smoother tenor voice, Nathan Morris' baritone, and Michael McCary's deep bass (often used in spoken-word sections of many Boyz II Men hits) trading bars in each song. Their flawless four-part harmonies blend so smoothly that most of the general public would be hard-pressed to name any of the group's individual members."

Most of the early songs by Boyz II Men are groovy and funky; a style related to new jack swing style, which they christened "hip hop doo wop". They later carved out their niche in soulful ballads which a Ugandan night show radio presenter would later call "the right music for all the lovers in the house!"

The next album, 1997's Evolution didn't meet much success but gave us the sweet and heartfelt A Song for Mama which today is arguably the number one dedication to mothers. The follow-up album three years later also sold few records but the class and passion on a couple of its songs such as Pass You By and Thank You in Advance helped confirm that Boyz II Men are the true manufacturers of romantic music.

These Philadelphia natives last year released the LP Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, with songs originally performed by greats such as Marvin Gaye (Mercy, Mercy Me), Just My Imagination by the Temptations and the Commodores' Easy, to honour the legends that "paved the way with their style of music, their lyrical content, just the spirit of those songs actually gave you another vibe… those artistes became the soundtrack to our lives."

Boyz II Men are bringing with them a 20-year music experience and songs that millions of people worldwide have loved and related to. Will it be the groovy and funky types like Beautiful Women and In The Still of the Night (I'll Remember) or will they take it slow throughout the concert, resurrecting their Midas touch on classics like End of the Road, Doing Just Fine and Dear God?

Or will they put Kampalans in a Christmas mood with The Christmas Song and with their version of The First Noel? It may not be the same without Michael McCary, who retired from the group in 2003 because of back problems, but when Boyz II Men do step up on the stage, many will remember and cry over the golden days when music was still real.

--Sunday Monitor, November 30, 2008

Makerere’s food basket


A Ugandan blogger once complained about the weathered sculptures and other artistic pieces that litter the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts courtyard. Visiting there, you honestly wonder why they cannot be spruced up or new ones added to give a fresh look to the surrounding.

It’s not clear if Vincent Kaganda read her blog entry but the 22-year-old third year student of fine art recently invented something he said he would be remembered for, and that would probably inspire future students to take the step too. His invention is a life-size sculpture he put up just opposite the Art Library. Titled “Food Basket”; the sculpture depicts a happy mother holding a basket of fruits.

“Every mother is happiest when she knows she has something to feed her family,” he said with a smile. “She’s holding a basketful of fruits which are a source of vitamins and other nutritious values.” The basket is actually a kisaniya (shallow pan) like the one the roadside chips dealer uses to fry his chips, which the sculptor bought from Kisenyi and welded onto his invention while the said fruits are also metal scraps also welded onto the kisaniya.

“I used scrap metal to show that discarded materials or waste can be useful too,” said Kiganda.” What strikes you most about his work is the smile; very broad, truly motherly and so heart-warming to look at. “Many artists put emphasis on the agony but I chose to capture a big, warm smile symbolising a mother’s love, and to reflect the theme of my sculpture – Happy Mood,” he said.

Under the supervision of Dr George Kyeyune, who is Dean at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts, and Dr Lillian Nabulime, one of Uganda’s acclaimed sculptors, it took Kiganda a fortnight to complete his captivating creation.

He made his armature (the framework that supports a sculpture while it’s being moulded) with metal and iron bars, upon which he added cement which is water resistant and would make his work last.

“Food Basket” is the more colourful because she’s wearing a delightfully greenish dress used by her creator to harmonise with the green grass and the flowery environment.

“Many related sculptures I’ve seen are plain and I decided to introduce the element of colour because I’m also a painter that is used to colours,” said Kiganda. “I also mixed oxide of many colours to get that coffee brown colour of her skin.”

The result of his ingenuity is a three-dimensional (meaning you can walk around it) semi-realistic figure in whom I seemed to recognise the cheerful woman; the avocado seller at the nearby market!

Also a creative art designer and a painter that lives by the slogan “Creativity talks”, Kiganda scored 85 percent for his project and will be remembered for making the area in front of Makerere University Fine Art Library very attractive.

--Sunday Monitor, November 30, 2008

When colour speaks


Colours, especially red, fascinate and inspire Ugandan painter Fidelis Nabukenya Matovu. “I believe much of the beauty of a painting is decided by colour,” she says.

This explains why her first solo exhibition is codenamed “Colour Speaks.” The exhibition that started on November 5 and ends today was organised in partnership with Alliance Française and Uganda Germany Cultural Society.

All the 22 colourful paintings on display are dominated by red, supported with a shade of white and black. These are paintings that start an inner dialogue with the viewer because the colours are arranged in such a complex yet lively way; the subjects look real yet not real, so you wonder how the painter did it.

It’s something she says she was able to achieve because her work philosophy is that for a painting to be complete, it must touch or move the viewer.

“Come my Beloved,” shows a group of people on a journey. Jesus is depicted in the top corner of the same painting with his benevolent face and open arms and the background is bright - symbolising the beauty in the after life.

“I was thinking of life after death; everybody dreams of going to a better place after death,” said the painter. From her own confession and by looking at her collection, Fidelis is a painter obsessed with hope, love, spirituality, life and death. So she tries, in her work, to capture her understanding of life and its secrets.

You can even tell by the title of her creations. “A Journey Well Travelled” was for example inspired by her deep thoughts on life and she wanted to pass on the simple message that “A life well lived is a journey well travelled.”

The interconnectivity of colours in her paintings and the way the painter distorts her figures yet still manages to achieve that naturalistic effect is in its own way symbolic of the mysteries of this bittersweet life that we lead.

Also, the exhibition shows the painter’s interest in women. But again, the world of womanhood is one she understands best. “I choose to paint women mostly because men tend to hide their feelings a lot and women are expressive and go through a lot,” she explains.

“Emerging Beauty” is a painting of an attractive woman and the backdrop is grim. The simple message behind the painting is that we should always settle for the beauty as opposed to the ugly things.

Another piece shows two curvaceous and wide-hipped women flaunting with pride what God gave them. It’s aptly titled “Showing Off”. Even “No Longer Prisoner”, one of her favourite paintings, shows a woman standing tall and firm.

“She has had a tough past but now she has conquered and is ready to move on,” said the painter, with a glint in her eyes. One distinctive feature about Fidelis’ work is that she concentrates on women’s head gears and their faces, often painting the lips red.

Fidel has all her life been searching for the meaning of life and in her art probes even more the meaning behind everything. And her paintings, though largely semi-abstract, have authentic human appeal.

They cost between Shs70,000 to Shs450,000 - a price she says is determined by the attachment she has over the painting, the message it conveys, the originality, not forgetting the materials used.

It’s interesting that Fidelis, who today is one of Uganda’s top painters, actually majored in sculpture at university.

--Sunday Monitor, November 23, 2008

The imprisoned writer is remembered

Despite persecution from the powers that govern, writers in Africa and worldwide have always expressed their feelings through drama, prose and poetry as amessage to those exploited, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Many enjoy reading great books but little do they know that some of the authors have paid with their blood for using their craft to say no to injustices in society. Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka was once detained for his critical writings against the tyranny, corruption, and violation of human rights. His jail experiences inspired one of his most powerful works, The Man Died (1972).
It's because writers were increasingly becoming targets of cruel rulers that PEN, the worldwide association of writers was founded in 1921 to champion the values of literature and defend freedom of expression.

The organisation is open to all writers, publishers, editors and journalists and has national chapters in 104 countries. Every year on November 15, writers and Human rights activists join to remember colleagues who have been killed and to highlight their plight and campaign for the release of those still in prison. They encourage themselves to remain steadfast and continue to use their pens to help change the world.

This year, Pen International has recorded the killing of 31 writers and print journalists who it is believed to have been targeted for what they wrote or said to displease the authorities. Somalia tops Africa in the persecution of her writers and many see the writing profession as very risky.

Pen Uganda, the national chapter of Pen International on Saturday joined other countries to remember the Imprisoned Writer. Writers, journalists, human rights activists, literature and media students and lecturers gathered at Makerere University on November 15 to honour the courage of those who have committed their lives to speaking the truth, even when it puts their personal security at risk, said the president of Uganda Pen Centre, Prof. Arthur Gakwandi.

The group mourned the humiliation and depersonalisation that people experience in prison and expressed solidarity with them as a way of defending human dignity. But the day’s highlight was the reading from some of the most fascinating prison literature from Africa. The opening scene of the controversial play, The Crocodile of Zambezi by Raisedon Baya and Christopher Mlalazi was read.

“Prison is a form of sanction/Against flesh and the soul/It is not a place to seek truth/But a place to die a thousand deaths/It is not a place to be born in/Certainly not a place to dream about I am here/I have been here/I will always be here/Because my name is Conscience/And will not allow or watch/My peoples honor and dignity/Kicked and trampled My name is conscience.”

A student from Makerere University, Rachael Amutuhaire, read a section of Soyinka’s, A Man Died and another read from Ngugi wa Thiongo’s, Detained. An impassioned discussion followed in which the discussants agreed that the writer is under siege everywhere; they suffer intimidation; their stories are imprisoned with death threats, forcing them to adjust their content to what is acceptable by those in power. Prof. Abbas Kiyingi of Makerere University Literature department called this; “a great atrocity”.

What the group found disheartening is that most countries where writers are persecuted are signatories to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights: Such countries cannot easily change these practices unless pressure is exerted by the international community, said Gakwandi. That is why it is important for us to organise and continue to oppose anything that constrains the writer.

Isaac Ssettuba, a poet and Vice Chairperson Pen Uganda observed: Incarceration has been a recurrent theme in literary creation down the ages, in both the fictional and autobiographical modes of writing despite the critics little attention to this ever-growing body of literature.

As writers celebrated the courage of those who have refused to be silenced and pledged their commitment to speak out in support of one another, they also reminded themselves that while it was their right to enjoy freedom of expression, they had to do it responsibly and not violate the rights of others.

The overall unity and determination of Ugandan writers was admirable but it was the enthusiasm shown by literature and journalism students that stood out. It means the country is assured of a new generation of courageous writers, those who are ready to embrace the words of former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt that books are weapons and use their pens to fight the political, social and economic forces that make the world uninhabitable.

--Saturday Monitor, November 22, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sharing artistic experiences


At the National Theatre on Wednesday evening, Uganda Theatre Network (UTN), gave theatregoers a taste of what will be showcased during the fifth Eastern Africa Theatre Institute (EATI) regional festival in Ethiopia from 22-27 November 2008.

Phillip Luswatas latest play, Crazy Storms was staged together with a musical production from Bitone Children’s Centre and Troupe titled The Princess Wish for Marriage.

Crazy Storms, which is directed by Mr. Richard Kagolobya, a lecturer of drama at Makerere University, is a product of the play-devising workshop by Performing Arts Cooperation between Sweden and Eastern Africa (Pacsea). It dramatises the experiences of refuges and the challenges they go through in a new setting.

The title carries symbolic connotations, for in this play characters struggle to deal with psychological, physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and political storms as they find themselves in a refugee camp and so have to face this displacement in its totality and the many storms raging within themselves.

The other artistic presentation uses various traditional dances, instrumental music and drama to narrate a story of how the kings only daughter married a commoner. In normal circumstances, it would be impossible for a princess to marry the local guy; a commoner, according to Mr. Lawrence Branco Sekalegga, the Executive Director of Bitone Children’s Centre and Troupe.

Among the audience was the Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs, Hon. Rukia Isanga Nakadama who said she was fascinated by the professionalism in the two presentations and thanked UTN for its commitment to promote and facilitate the development of theatre in the region.

Overall, 40 artistes including professional storyteller Ms. Judith Lucy Adong, will represent the country at the biannual festival and get to share their artistic experiences in theatre management, script writing, sound and costume design and performances in acting, storytelling, music and dance, with others from Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Themed Celebrating Cultural Diversity for African Solidarity and Peace, this year’s event will celebrate the contribution of art and culture to social development and the role of the artists in addressing social issues.

There has been growing concern that our cultural differences have worked to divide us than to enrich our lives, said UTN Executive Director Mr. Andrew Ssebaggala Lwanga. This festival is therefore a conscious and deliberate effort to reiterate that cultural differences should be perceived as a positive environment for understanding, tolerance and growth.

He says the festival will build a platform for enrichment of cross-cultural artistic exchange and learning to help performing arts grow in strength and scope both for individual participants and their communities.

The closing ceremony will see Uganda’s long theatre practitioner Fagil Mandy and the chosen few from other participating countries awarded for their outstanding contribution to the development of the regions performing arts.

The Ugandan team is expected to return with a deeper understanding of cross-cultural issues and to share what they will have learned with their immediate audience to enrich the country’s creative industry.

The venues for the week-long festival include the Ethiopian National Theatre, The Addis Ababa City Hall Theatre, Hager Fiker Theatre and Addis Ababa University.

--Saturday Monitor, November 22, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Every inch of Kayunga is an adventure

From the dusty roads, a flat terrain, simple people to stories of unearthing the dead, Kayunga is a home of peculiarities, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

Kayunga is an interestingly peculiar district. On a recent trip there, I jumped on a boda-boda motorcycle to be taken to the district headquarters. A woman stopped us along the way. The cyclist asked me to inch closer. That’s when I realised he wanted me to share the small seat on his rickety bike with the chubby, unknown woman. I flatly refused. He then asked if I was going to pay double the fare. I said I would pay no more than what we had agreed. He called me stubborn and angrily asked me to get off his boda-boda before he stormed off back to town having lost both passengers.
But it was later that afternoon on our way to Bangala landing site on Lake Kyoga that I realised that Kayunga, which was formed eight years ago, can be spectacularly unforgettable as soon as you begin to traverse her remote areas such as Galilaya sub-county, which in English becomes Galilee –that Biblical town made famous by Jesus Christ.

A seemingly endless dusty road cuts through stretches upon stretches of remarkably beautiful shrubs. The shrubs harbour a variety of invisible insects that at zero cost entertain a first time visitor with a rare genre of music, which when it interlocked with the rev of the car engine and the whispering breeze was so sweet to my ears. I closed my eyes and momentarily forgot about the business of the world.

The terrain is flat; very flat in fact, that when I stretched my eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of a hill or village in the distance, it was the same lush, graceful vegetation that confronted me. I was left wondering at the amazing lifesaving medicinal properties that could be hidden in there. Suddenly, a beautiful rabbit crossed the road and my mouth immediately watered at the thought of the sweetness and tenderness of its meat.

It is about 86kms from Kayunga town to Galilaya and every short distance we were interrupted by herds of cattle ruminating in the centre of the road. Several times, I got out of car to whip them off before we drove on, until, seeing how exasperated I was, the driver asked me to get used to it because “these cows are the owners of the roads!”

Chuckling, he added that they are set free every morning to go feed themselves before they find their way home in the evening and that the wild rabbits like the one we met earlier have taken advantage of the situation to grow fat on free milk.

Only once did we meet a hunched man whistling beautifully to himself while attending to his cows. I also learned from Mr Paul Byakika, a clinical officer at Bbaale Health Centre Four that many residents in the area suffer from consistent diarrhoea because of drinking too much unboiled milk from dirty containers.

At the same health centre, I met a handsome young man whose foot had been cut open. The story is that the mentally-ill man trespassed into a bachelor’s home one night and the owner, mistaking him for a thief, cut him. How the machete landed on his left foot and not on his head or hands or stomach is something I failed to crack.

The area, like I said, is a flatland with scarcely any hills and vales. And the weather can be devastating. The rains have dug trenches and ditches, forming ugly puddles and mini-lakes in the middle of roads. We found over a dozen bare-chested men labouring to help a lorry stuck in one of the said ‘lakes.’

But this didn’t foil the beauty in the straightness of the area. Foliage stands majestically tall on either side of the road, and because of that, I felt like we were about 30 feet below sea level. Yet through the windscreen, the sky seemed near; very near in fact, that I stretched my hand through window hoping to feel the anomalous clouds whose lustrousness is beyond description.

At about 3p.m., we arrived at Bangala landing site. Canoes in blue and maroon rested and floated on daffodils by and near the bank. I wanted to see fishermen at their trade but was told to wait for dusk or to come early the next day. I parted with Shs5,000 in exchange for my first experience in navigating the lake in a canoe. I was allowed some rowing too, and as the little canoe wavered against the waves and picked up speed, golden rings formed on the blue water. In the far distance, Amolotar district beckoned; it was beautiful!

Before we knew it, dusk had fast fallen and stars, so many, lit the sky but could not avert the blanket of darkness now covering us. Soon we were racing back to Kayunga town. Having read odd stories about odd people in this place who dig up human corpses (perhaps to eat them), I expected strange creatures to crop up anytime in the middle of the road and have us for dinner. I implored the driver to triple his speed while mosquitoes the size of houseflies rapped on the windscreen wailing and threatening to suck us dead.

We arrived in Kayunga town after 10p.m. Now, getting a taxi to Kampala at that time was tricky. And I had turned down a kind gesture from the driver to sleep at his. I bought airtime and though I was as tired as a drunken old man, I pulled out my best and convinced the attendant to give me a place to spend the night. Just in case.

Suddenly, a battered taxi coughing like someone with a chest heavy with smoke surfaced. I grudgingly bade goodbye to the pretty MTN girl and dragged myself in. I closed my eyes and tried to nurse my weariness thinking about the lovely calf we had earlier in the day seen by the roadside butting its mother’s udder and suckling passionately. Then the five made-in-Kayunga chapattis I had eaten –which must be the most delicious chapattis in all the earth! And about the really tempting garden of ripe pineapples which brought a smile to my lips reminding me of the naughty years of childhood when I would have plucked the fairest of them regardless of the trouble such a move would cause me.

Kayunga is a home of peculiarities.

Uganda’s prolific sculptors in grand exhibition


Ugandan sculptors have not earned the recognition that’s due to them and have for a long time lived in the shadow of artists who specialise in portraiture and other paintings. Saturday was the opening of the Grand Sculpture Exhibition at Makerere University art gallery with the hope that it will change the situation. The exhibition runs up to November 30 and will be an annual event.
On display is a variety of what the gallery administrator, Ms Rita Namayanja, calls the “finest works from the very cream of Ugandan sculptors.”

The artists used natural materials such as wood, bronze, leaves, polythene bags, scrap metal, plastic, glass, and horns to come up with terrific creations, most of which are functional. For example, Isaac Sulah’s Cow Horns is designed to act as fluorescent bulb holders. The light emitted through the softened translucent horns from which it’s created gives out beautifully relaxed radiance.

Henry Ssegamwange’s Look Through is a circular piece made out of bamboo and glass and holds a mirror that every woman would love to have in her dressing room.

Another untitled piece curved out of wood is an idealised representation of all the clans in Buganda and their totems. Geometric lines separate the totems and the lifelike portrait of the Kabaka is included. The piece is large enough and would do great decorating a cultural centre wall.

The exhibitors are experienced sculptors but a few good enough university students were given a chance too. It explains the presence, at the gallery, of the work of Brian Wambi, a student but a master in his own right. His creation, titled Like Margaret Trowell is made out of bronze.

A note on the painting explains that iconic figures in society breath the same air like us, walk the same path, and are as human as we are; that’s why the artist sculpted his portrait with his heroine’s face partially unmasking her skull on the left to prove his point – that you can, if you put your mind to it, achieve like Margaret Trowell, after whom the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts is named.

Koona Dance depicts a dancing couple. Allan Mwebe’s Misery is made out of sponge. Mama Africa has exaggerated lips and Dr. Lilian Nabulime’s curved wooden piece shows a woman with thick red lips and eyes that stare at you unblinkingly. These and more explore the subjects of beauty, revelry, misery, neighbourliness, feminism, disease, and politics that evoke mixed emotions.

Lucus Ogwang, a third year art student, summarised the exhibition: “These sculptures are simply incredible. Their different shapes and their roughness and smoothness represent the sculptors’ unique styles and the messages they are putting across. Anyone interested in art would be inspired!”

Not your dream circus


The Kampala Dream Circus that promised to be was after all ordinary. It appeared to me the organisers poured their all in painting faces and picking masks than planning memorable performances.

Sylvain Bernabe, a guest from France who was expected to show Kampalans fireworks did a couple of flip-flops and other aerial acts with a colleague that lacked that colour that would leave the crowd in awe; the homeboys far outstripped him.

However, his counterpart in Germany’s Mareike Moerschen had some magic up her sleeve in a performance titled “Love under Water” in which she set out to woo a marine she was in love with. Accompanied by the sound effects of bubbling water, her suppleness and fitness were things to marvel at as she “swam” under the waters and pulled daring moves using a piece of blue cloth strung high on a rail.

Dr. Diotribe is a clown that’s no stranger to the Ugandan stage. He was one of the main acts and appeared with his clumsy walk and bulbous red nose and waltzed with a red nosed old white lady in a straw hat. Then he juggled balls, mimed washing his hands and proceeded to pull from his pants his well known orange underwear with which he wiped his hands. These are moves many Ugandan theatregoers have seen him perform over and again which makes them quite unbearable. To be fair though, he had children giggling heartily which can only mean they enjoyed him immensely.

About 90 per cent of audience at Nakasero Primary School playground where the show took place on Saturday were white children and their parents. Their faces were inscrutable while their own performed and then they stood up and watched intently as if to pick something from what ours had to offer.

The Fondodelik Squad, a group of Rastafarians who had earlier in the day performed at Hotel Africana were on spot in red baggy overalls dancing energetically and spectacularly to the Congolese rhythms of Awilo Longomba. One of them, Fireman, sent the children into hilarity when he pushed flames down his undergarments and jumped up and down as if being blazed. Then he collected himself into unusual calmness before swallowing tongues of fire. His acts had the day’s emcee, Susan Bamutenda, begging the children not to play with fire when they get home. The Fondodeliks also writhed and coiled like snakes around the stage, and using each other as steps glibly made a tower atop which was a small boy who threw balls way above him, catching and throwing them back in fluid succession. Another entertainer walked on wire, stopping midway to remove his trousers, and still balancing on the wire, putting them on again. They also played tricks with a bicycle rim, leapfrogging on their butts and somersaulting in so spectacular a way it seemed to defy gravity.

Organised by Alliance Française Kampala and the Ugandan German Cultural Society together with In Movement: Art for Social Change, the circus had the Break Dance Project flaunting a large repertory of dances that understandably excited the children.

But the mature people were the more charmed by Black and White – a modern dance by the Burudani Dance Company in which two black men clad in red pants and white tops danced with a white lady apparently to explore the prejudices caused by race. The dance is actually one-hour long but was reduced to a few minutes because of time.

So the Kampala Dream Circus didn’t have the audience jumping about with enthusiasm as is so at many circus performances but the effort must nevertheless be applauded for our interest in circus entertainment has been kindled and there’s no looking back.

Daily Monitor, Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wapi proves its versatility

The audience was impressed by the tone, pace and variety in the show and by the different creative performers , writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

"Fresh" may not be the real mot juste but it was a thing of beauty the Baxmba Waves did to the soul at the fifth edition of the Words and pictures (Wapi) presentation at Hotel Africana’s Peoples Space on Saturday under the theme: 'Focus Uganda.'

Relying on African drums, the guitars, the keyboards and other types of percussion instruments, the group played on exuberantly for over an hour, producing intimate jazz and heartfelt cultural sounds. The highlight was their collaboration with the man who has popularised Lugaflow (rapping in Luganda) GNL and the Jinja duo of Coin and Bear who have increasingly become popular at Wapi.

Those with an eclectic taste in music who were getting bored with the shallowness, monotony and predictability of the previous events savoured the moment and you could tell from their whoops that they would give Wapi another chance.

And the wannabes who had taken to miming in the name of singing were shown that you have to learn to play an instrument and perform live, to entertain rather hop about the stage, but most of all train your voice to be noted.

The Saturday show had new faces in Fondodelik Squard, an ensemble of Rastafarians who warmed up across the stage shouting hail Haile Selassie. Their leader assured the audience early that “you will love some of our samples.”

The “samples” were Rastafarian rhythms fused with acrobatics, magic tricks and somersaulting. One of them, shirtless Powerman, lay on his back on top of sharp nails and had a kanyama step up on his chest. When he was up again, he turned his back to the audience who saw where the nails had pierced but no blood.

Then Fireman played around with matches; lighting and smoking a cigarette with his feet, and then swallowing tongues of fire and waiting a while before spitting out the smoke. Accompanied by African drumbeats, the background crew all this time sang feelingly: “We knew no feeling till we came to know Jah/ We knew no love till we came to know Jah…”

Wapi is a platform for “underground visual and verbal artists” and so sculptor Hebert Bakka stood out among other arts and crafts exhibitionists. His little ‘guitarman’, ducks and dancing creatures all made out of old cutlery, especially forks and spoons were quite an attraction.

And plastered on the wall of another stall was some poetry by the East African Poet. Afrika was about the never ending beauty of the continent whereas Hush was “written for that only one who runs me helplessly helpless!”

The change extended to the free condom distribution and the Youth Link newsletter, which, Joseph Kasozi, from the Uganda Youth Anti-Aids Association, said were aimed at encouraging the youth to abstain from sex or use condoms to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

If the Wapi advisory board and performers retain this standard or more, there’s no reason why our visual and verbal arts cannot attain the desired greatness.

So much to learn from Leonardo da Vinci’s world of art


Is Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) the greatest artist to ever live? What is that quintessential element that made Mona Lisa and the Last Supper his most famous masterpieces?

Mona Lisa is arguably the most talked about portrait of all time and Last Supper is one of the most celebrated paintings worldwide.

Last Supper dramatically depicts that Biblical moment after Jesus informs His 12 disciples that one of them is to betray Him (Matthew 26: 23-25).

The mural wields heavyweight influence that it took some of the best artists 22 years, starting 1977, to clean and scrape away “500 years of dirt, glues, and mold, as well as many layers of overpainting by zealous previous restorers” in order to “preserve what is left of Leonardo’s work”.

But that’s beside the point. The discussion is: what really separated Leonardo da Vinci from the boys? In a 1983 National Geographic article, Carlo Bertelli writes that Leonardo da Vinci was a man after perfection.

That one day, the painter saw a stranger whose eyes bore “a sadness and pathos” he had been struggling to sketch. So he followed him through the streets of Milan until he memorised “the details of the man’s face”, with which he visualised Apostle James as he wanted him on the painting.

Matteo Bandello, a Leonardo contemporary and writer, also wrote that Leonardo “would stay from sunrise till darkness, never laying down the brush, but continuing to paint without eating or drinking. Then three or four days would pass without his touching the work, yet each day he would spend several hours examining it and criticizing the figures to himself.”

Leonardo has been described as “a master of perspective” who “designed the ceiling of the room in his Last Supper; the tabletop and the height of the figures all to give anyone in the dining hall the feeling of dining with Christ and the Apostles.” He preferred intriguing subjects and in the Last Supper, he was captivated by the “concept of betrayal”. That’s why the spotlight in the painting is on a seemingly isolated Jesus and the reactions of the twelve are captured vividly; their faces reveal different emotions, the shock and anxiety caused by the disheartening words of their master.

In the book Lives of the Artists: Leonardo da Vinci, 16thCentury painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari lauds Leonardo for drawing with “such marvellous skill” and for painting with “wonderful realism” which made his creations look “more convincing than the real thing.” In the Last Supper, Leonardo left the head of Jesus unfinished; convinced he would never give it “the divine spirituality it demands.”

Then he did his best to depict “features that would form the countenance of a man (Judas Iscariot) who, despite all the blessings he had been given, could so cruelly steel his will to betray his own master and the creator of the world”.

So, Judas as he appears on the Last Supper is “the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity.” More amazing is that “the texture of the very cloth on the table is counterfeited so cunningly that the linen itself could not look more realistic.”

It is said that Leonardo had a room which no one else ever entered. Sometimes he locked himself in to weigh ideas which he would later express masterfully with his paint brush. To Vasari, Mona Lisa is the best example of “how faithfully art can imitate nature”.

He describes the portrait beginning with eyes as having their “natural lustre and moistness, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution. The eyebrows were completely natural, growing thickly in one place and lightly in another and following the pores of the skin. The nose was finely painted, with rosy and delicate nostrils as in life.

The mouth, joined to the flesh-tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating...”

Leonardo was very creative while painting Mona Lisa that he hired singers and comedians to keep her happy “and so chase away the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits.”
That’s how he managed to capture what has since come to be famously known as the “enigmatic smile”, which Vasari describes as “so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.”

Clearly, Ugandan artists have much to learn from the patience, hard work, creativity and class of the Italian genius, whose works continue to immensely influence modern art over 500 years after his demise.

The circus comes to Kampala

It will be a beautiful moment as refined form circus performances come to town as opposed to the almost amateur style stage clowning and acrobatics we are used to writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The art of circus in Uganda has seemingly remained elusive although the country boasts a vibrant performing culture in as far as music, dance and drama go. Will the upcoming Kampala Dream Circus then set the precedent and stir our performers to rediscover themselves in the area of circus entertainment?

That for sure shall be known on Saturday November 8, at Nakasero Primary School playground (near Fang Fang Hotel) where the first Uganda made circus show will take place from 6-10pm for Shs2,000 (Adults) and Shs500 (Children).

Organised by Alliance Française, Kampala and the Ugandan German Cultural Society in conjunction with the In Movement: Art for Social Change, and sponsored by the French and Germany Embassies, among others, the event is aimed at promoting local talent and intercultural exchange, raising awareness and appreciation of the art of circus in Uganda.

It’s a show that will combine the art of juggling, clowning, miming, acrobatics and gymnastics, break-dance, magic tricks, balloon making, walking on stilts, and movement --the latter focusing on what the organisers have called “the concept of animals.”

Although the show will feature international circus artists like Mareike Moerschen from Germany and Sylvain Bernabe from France, critics will be curious to see if the performances are relevant in concept and nature to appeal to the average Ugandan.

Should that not be the case, then those interested in nurturing the art of circus will have lost an important platform in the making, considering that the organisers view this show as a dress rehearsal of sorts which if well-received will be turned into an annual event.

There’s however reason to hope for the best since preceding the Saturday show has been a weeklong workshop that began November 3-7 in which local and international artists had to interact and talk about technique methods and training through performance.

The opening act at the Kampala Dream Circus will be a combined team of children from Nsambya Ex-Street Children Organisation, Rainbow International School, Reach Out School and Banunule Primary School.

Circus clowns are known for overt exaggeration: big noses, oversize shoes, strange haircuts and mismatched clothing as they bumble their way across the stage, engaging in foolery meant to make people laugh.

Hopefully it won’t be the kind of clowning that borders on the vulgar. But as the show is directed by guest artists who are experienced professionals, one expects a hilarious approach, perfectly timed tricks and generally mirth-making closer to what made Charlie Chaplin a darling of the world.

Rapping his way to international stardom


Eric Twizera, whose stage-name is Ddosa, is a 13-year-old rapper. He was the youngest rapper during the British Council-organised event code-named Words and Pictures (Wapi) show at Hotel Africana recently.
A Primary Five pupil of Stathasius Primary School, Eric said he was taught how to rap by his father at the age of five. He would rap and dance at weddings and birthday parties and for his parents whenever they seemed unhappy.
When asked about his dreams, Eric smiled and confidently said: “I want to do music forever. I want to be a star like Lil’ Bow Wow and Rocky Giant.” Bow Wow is an American hip-hop artiste who became a star at a tender age and Rocky Giant is one of the loved Ugandan rappers.
Eric has done songs like Gy’akola, Tetwagala Tunyoma and Mwekolele. Eric is the son of Maraji and Modex of Kisenyi.

A parable of the lost love

Book: Jesse’s Jewel.
Author: Nick Twinamatsiko.
Reviewer: Dennis D Muhumuza.
Available: All leading bookstores. 
Will Nick Twinamatsiko be the one to write the great Ugandan novel that will distinguish him like Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiongo or Senegal’s Sembène Ousmane? That question kept roaming through my mind after reading his first autobiographical novel, Jesse’s Jewel. 
Subtitled 'A parable of the Lost Love,' the novel is an interestingly peculiar read largely because, besides a raging conflict between the conventional and the unconventional, it explores “memory’s partiality towards peculiarities.” 
The protagonist sees life as a curve and as he grows up more in wisdom, he’s not at all surprised that “memory concentrates its interest on the turning points.” 
At the tender age of four months while on his mother’s back, he sees his cousin hit by a shell; then his mother’s description of the monstrous pains she braved birthing him, the piercing whips on his buttocks from his drawing teacher and meeting a drunkard reciting Shakespeare are some of the things that stand out in his young mind. 

Then he begins contemplating the mystery of God, who he hears is everywhere and all-seeing; was God watching when he did “dead things” with girls, which his cousin introduces to him, saying they are sweeter than mangoes? He’s gripped by the fear that he may not have a seat in heaven, which comes with the dreaded everlasting torment in hell. 
As he seeks the answers to life’s hardest questions, the women of the village dismiss the inquisitive 6-year-old, advising his mother to rush him to a witchdoctor. Fate brings the clever 16-year-old Helen into the life of Jesse, and she begins explaining things that troubled the solitary mental faculties of the young boy. She convinces Jesse that his peculiar fascinations, talents and physical characteristics point to a peculiar purpose and challenges him to keep true to himself and identify and fulfil that for which God placed him on the earth. 
Soon enough, Jesse’s peculiarities become his source of satisfaction and pride. When Helen suddenly dies, he’s shattered and struggles to remain as original as God created him. At school, he meets staggeringly beautiful girls that inspire much of his poetry but few come close to stirring his curiosities as Helen did. 
As more pages turn, you get the feeling that Jesse is an unrepentant braggart and idealist but upon much reflection, it strikes you that it’s only because he’s a man of distinct features and talents that the society in which he lives has failed to reconcile with. 
Besides, childhood events and the intellect of Helen have had a powerful psychological influence on his life that he cannot extricate himself from especially when he ponders what a genius like him should achieve.
At university, Jesse realises that his potential is in his imagination and ingenuity; that the Civil Engineering course he’s pursuing won’t help him attain the fullness of his potential. 

He begins to reminisce about his childhood: how he found beauty in the spectacles and sounds of nature while his own peers were indifferent, the mystery and beauty he discovers reading the Bible, his intense desire to leave a mark on the world, and he concludes that “every person’s peculiar path, is a function partly of his choices – both the wrong and the wise – but mainly of the invisible hand (of God)”. 
The 156-page novel is written in the first person, which gives it the desperation and intimacy that heightens with the protagonist’s inner conflicts. The writer’s preoccupation with the peculiarities of life is counterbalanced by humour, romance and a poetic language. 
The author’s tale sounds more like a trumpet call to readers to challenge convention and pursue what stirs our affections if we are to become the heroes of our own lives. 
Published by Pilgrim Publications, the book won this year’s second best of the National Book Trust of Uganda literary award in the published novel category. It’s a recommendable read especially for students torn between what choices to make in life as they pursue the academic careers that will affect the rest of their lives.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


In March this year, Uganda lost one of her gifted performers. Winkle Karitundu who was delightedly known to his fans as Rutamikira because of his unforgettable star role in the 90s drama titled Omwana W’abandi, was murdered by criminals outside his home in Nsambya.

At the time of his death, a film, Eshaha Yamwenda (The Ninth Hour), in which he was starring was being made. It was very difficult for the Abafrika Entertainment with whom he was acting, to continue with the movie when its star was killed before the shooting ended but they decided to carry on the mission; tweaked the plot, and finished the film which was screened last Friday and will show again this weekend at the National Theatre as a special tribute to the fallen thespian.

Although Rutamirika is not physically in the movie, it rotates around his life. In fact, the original title was changed to Oku Mwankunziire Tindibebwa (The way you loved me I’ll never forget you), which are said to have been his last words.

Written and directed by Desha Munyangoga (who also plays the major role), the movie, subtitled Bye Bye Rutamirika, is about the life of Dan Kanyankole (Desha Munyangoga), a jobless graduate who is ostracised from home by his father after impregnating his girlfriend Molly (Anita Seruwagi). A friend, Mark (Frable Kwesiga), gives him a lift to the city where he struggles against the odds until lady luck smiles his way when another friend, Hubert (Aggrey Nshekanabo), helps him scoop a job as an advertising agent. He rises through the ranks and soon becomes the object of envy among friends who later scheme and have him liquidated at the point he’s beginning to taste the sunny side of life.

The entire plot is reflective of the real life of Rutamirika, an orphan who turned his life around from being a secondary school teacher when he formed the Kigezi Kinimba Actors –a group he soon outgrew in popularity because of his riveting performances.

Rutamirika always played the lead roles that included acting as a penniless but very clever orphan who wins the hand of rich man’s daughter in marriage after solving a complex puzzle.

If he was not a born actor, then he learned and perfected the techniques of acting in that he captured human happiness or suffering as naturally as in real life and thereby had a great effect on the audience who empathised with him and always looked forward to his next performance.

Aggrey Nshekanabo, who acted with him in Abafrika Group says Rutamirika’s mannerisms, vocal inflection and sense of humour were the same on and off the stage.

It’s this on-stage natural streak that single handedly helped put drama from western Uganda in the limelight and as well distinguished him from the amateurs who still think real stage action takes the form of ranting and posturing.

As Oku Mwankunziire Tindibebwa screened, it was clear that the film was missing that indispensable touch of its original central character (Rutamirika). The plot lacked the twists and tension characteristic of Rutamirika’s performances, but also, Dan Kanyankole didn’t come closer in distinction as Rutamirika would have.

The tempo of the production is mostly grim and left me looking on nonchalantly even when Dan and Molly are murdered at the end, yet Rutamirika always shouldered his stage roles, however tragic, as humorously and as fascinatingly, throwing in unforgettable witticisms and proverbs to the effect that misery or unfairness are inevitably linked with life.

It’s the few clips showing Rutamirika’s nostalgic performances and the soundtrack of the movie that moved the audience the most. The sorrow of his memory was etched on their faces and as the soundtrack kept playing, many were moved to tears.

It is commendable that the proceeds from the sale of the CD containing the soundtrack will go to support the five children Rutamirika left behind. Like the track says, the pain is too much to have lost such a remarkably talented actor, director, producer, politician and businessman who in a career spanning over 20 years featured in over 37 local films and plays and was still to realise his highest potentiality.

--Monitor, Saturday, November 1, 2008

Never an elien


The novel saddened yet made me laugh out loud as well. Three years ago Richard Wright’s Lawd Today made me feel this way. I had all forgotten until I opened Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, which I bought curiously because I had never read a Cameroonean novel before.

In this work, unpredictability jumps off leaf after leaf.

When Tounde Ondoua runs away from his cruel father into Saint Peter’s Catholic Mission, you love everything the benevolent Father Gilbert teaches him: reading and writing and keeping his own diary. It is his daily recordings in the two exercise books that will sadden yet charm you.

Tounde is fascinated by everything white and when his master and benefactor is suddenly killed in a motorbike accident, he becomes the Commandant’s houseboy. His life begins its nosedown when Madame, his boss’ wife –inexpressibly pretty and delicate –joins his husband and shamelessly begins her cheating ways.

The houseboy is now a brave, witty and keen a man Madame has fallen for but won’t say; a man she knows is not stupid and knows about her looseness as much as her sweating armpits; a man that respects and admires his boss and won’t betray him even if she seduced him.

Imagine Tounde’s shock when he discovers the Commandant knows about his wife’s randy ways but can’t assert himself as a man. For example he vows to leave her but when Tounde catches them kissing soon after, the Commandant behaves like a boy caught stealing something he pretended not to like. Guilt and the knowledge that Tounde knows their ugly secrets drives the Commandant and his wife to frame their houseboy and have him eliminated.

Next we are in the prison; the pathway to the cemetery. It’s terrible. Think of hippopotamus-hide whips and iron boots flogging and kicking innocent blacks. Imagine having a ruffle butt in your chest. Imagine a hospital being called the ‘Blackman’s Grave’? Then on Sunday the colonial priest still finds the voice to tell the “Dearly beloved brethren” to “ pray for all those prisoners who die without peace with God…”

Houseboy is about that and more. It’s about two worlds: The black world is a long dark pit and the other is the couch in your rich Dad’s living room. The whiteman is the one that has come to ‘save’ the blackman’s soul by preaching love of neighbour as of self but his neighbour is the blackman whose land he has stolen. The question of equality is out. Natives have lost hope.

But maybe it’s not all lost because the author still paints the Africans as the true connoisseurs. For example when Tounde collects his decomposing bones into an escape and finds himself in some hat being nursed by fellow Africans, he manages a mischievous wink in spite of the pain. The loving kindness of natives stands out and they are presented as resilient and conscientious workers.

On the other hand, the point is loud and clear that never trust an alien. I still ask myself why poor Tounde is sacrificed and then it hits me his storyline would have been different had the naivety of boyhood not driven him away. As he puts it on his deathbed: “I’d have made old bones if I’d been good and stayed at home in the village.”’

Overall, Mr. Oyono’s magic is in his frugal use of words and ability to show you that not all houseboys are stupid.

--Sunday Monitor, October 19, 2008

Ugandan art mirrors the emotions of independence


As Uganda celebrated her 46th Independence anniversary slightly over two weeks ago, the country’s contemporary artists convened at Nommo Gallery and exhibited works depicting the emotions that followed the attainment of self-rule.
On display was an intrig
uing repertoire of abstract and semi-abstract paintings, metal and wooden sculptures that evoked the deep sorrows of what the country endured on her road to independence, and of course, the revelry that accompanied this achievement.
The words of one critic that authentic art must ignite an argument between an artist and his audience struck the mind by just looking at Yusuf Ssali’s painting.

Aptly titled Africa and the Struggle for Her Independence, it depicts a white and black cock menacingly staring at each other like sumo wrestlers before a bout. The black cock’s beak is sealed with a padlock. A note next to the painting explains that the black cock represents Africans and the white cock symbolises the white colonial masters.The black cock’s padlocked beak shows that Africa’s claim to independence is false since Africans don’t have the freedom “to determine anything before the colonialists approve it” and that “Africa is in a deep state of sorrow for the lost independences she had before she was colonised by the powerful colonies…”
Ssali’s painting arouses disturbing reflections: Is the continent truly free? And if not, what then is the meaning of the annual independence celebrations?
Pinned on an adjacent wall was another painting showing two little figures, predominantly done in national colours and titled Independent Minds. The painter, Bwabee Malik, is the same creator of the Independent Choir. The latter shows a trio of animated sketches playing the flute and other musical instruments, probably to say independence came to the ears of many like a sweet melody.
The Crested Crane, the national bird, was there too, painted meticulously in oil by Ssensalile James under the title Darling Bird. But most outstanding, though it was difficult to tell what it had to do with independence, was a painting by Olsaam Ponika sophisticatedly titled Yellow Mode.
It portrayed a nude woman complete with an inviting cleavage and a luscious figure. It’s not clear if it was a painting or merely a drawing but art connoisseurs say a successful drawing is that one which is not fluent.
Drawn on white, Yellow Mode gets you wondering if the painter used water colour or coloured pencils. You also wonder why the artist employed yellow colour. And is that how an independent woman looks in the nude – delicate and glossy? What was the painter’s motivation? I could not tear my eyes away from Yellow Mode for before me was a rare work of perfection; clearly created with utmost diligence; it looked wet as if it had just been finished, and I wanted to throw my arms in the air and cry out, “Behold a Ugandan Mona Lisa in the nude!”
The overall mastery in the use of colours and the general ingenuity behind the art works on display was amazing. Some of these were made by combining a multiplicity of articles like bark cloth, paper beads, cut-offs from old jeans, candle wax, cassava starch and thread; to form some of Uganda’s finest art inventions.
It’s this complete ability to put in perspective, through works of painting and sculpture, the joys and fears of attaining independence that every art lover must without inhibitions applaud.