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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The fly on the wall at ‘Spoken Truth’

This night gives teens the platform to feel free in their skins and find freedom on the stage, writes Dennis Muhumuza

Beaming on the big projector is Def Jam comedy with Martin Lawrence cracking his audience up with crackling jokes. The American actor and comedian is then replaced with the impassioned Bob Marley, telling the audience to Get Up, Stand Up (for their rights).

It’s Tuesday, 8p.m, Club Rouge, during the new theme night code-named Spoken Truth –”The art of expression!” “We appreciate you coming over, ladies and gentlemen” the night’s emcee says with a twang. The house is nearly full.

In political parlance, that’s more than the quorum; the show is ready to roll. The teenagers in showy attires and heady attitude swagger onto the stage doing what brought them. One of them is wearing a pink t-shirt written on in bold white: “Backyard Superstar’They croon their hearts out about their affections. The patrons are seemingly having a good time; they sing along to some numbers, and their clapping is boisterous.

They recite poetry in English and local languages. Poems about unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, ritual murders, abortion, drug abuse, street life, name it. Some actually conjure up arresting images and frank observations on our society.

It’s time for the comics. Kenneth Tusubila, after his failed attempt at becoming the country’s official stand-up comedian, is here to lighten the hearts of the goers. He steps on stage but repeats the stuff that had him booted from the Stand-Up Comedy Uganda reality show. DJ Apeman, who calls himself “Africa’s finest deejay,” is scratching the turntables pompously and feeling his own vibes, precisely judging by the ostentatious way he nods his head to the beat.
With Tupac Shakur’s War Stories bouncing through the heavy speakers, a female rapper of the Bataka Squad calling herself the grandmother of Ugandan hip hop, flashes some “‘gangsta” signs and asks the ladies to holler.

“Lemme give you truth about a hussler,” she says, “Never fall in love, never be with one man!” As the fly on the wall recovers from the shock at the harm such a statement could cause innocent girls, the emcee grabs a mic and goes on about how “That sister is tight and all game!” Everyone claps.

A couple of budding rappers emerge from the audience for what is called “Freestyle Fellowship” – the session the organisers say brings to the surface the hidden talent, mbu “that will redefine Uganda’s music”.

“The world has been waitin’ for the resurrection of Ugandan hip hop,” says the emcee. “It’s Luga-flow time – the new platform for our tradition’s freedom of speech; bring it on, baby!”
Excitement kisses the ceiling. The fly thinks this enthusiasm is catalysed by the beers the guests are swigging. Meanwhile, a street baller of about 18 is on the stage doing killer tricks with a basketball. It’s way past 11p.m when the show climaxes. Stefan Jude Serunkuma, one of the organisers, reveals that Spoken Truth is the idea of Babaluku, the brains behind the hip hop outfit – Bavubuka Foundation.

“Half the Ugandan population are youth and they have got a lot to say,” he says. “Spoken Truth gives them the platform to feel free in their skins and find freedom on the stage; and through music, comedy, poetry and dancing, they reveal what’s on their mind.”

Sounds great but why late at night, moreover in a club? Serunkuma clears his voice and after a few seconds of contemplation says: “Our programme starts at 8p.m because “kids” finish school late. They can ask their parents for permission; at the end of the day it depends on the kind of person you are or the kind of parents you got.”

Serunkuma is unconvincing, and his friend, a visiting New Yorker named Angelica Towne, tries to bail him out thus: “This is a bar that’s positive. And nobody is telling you to drink. In fact, we are telling you to get your life together; do things that are positive. It’s showing them a different way of dealing with nightlife; of being with peers, of being cool.” We leave it at that, and head home.

--Sunday Monitor, April 26, 2009