Last week proved to be another eventful adventure….
Burney MC and Friend
Burney MC and I caught the Post bus to Gulu in northern Uganda to attempt to establish End of the Weak in the north. After the 6 hour bus ride we arrived safely and covered in a fine layer of red dust. The highlight was having grilled bananas, called gonja, so I was satisfied.
Having been to Gulu before, we walked the familiar streets to find the guest house Happy Nest, where we would rest our bones for the few days we were there. We met with Juma, a radio presenter and local promoter to discuss running the MC Challenge in Gulu. As it would be, all he really wanted was money as the amount of NGOs and misappropriated money has spoiled the people in this war fatigued area. We attended a talent show, which consisted of young men and one woman miming over a well-known artist’s song. Most of it was Hip Hop from the US such as 50 Cent or local celebrity Bebe Cool. Although Burney and I laughed about it, it is quite disheartening to see these kids imitating Western music instead of creating their own. However, these talent shows seem to take place in so many cities and towns, that this is the entertainment of the times.
I met a producer named Babu who has become my main guide and go-to guy for information about the Hip Hop scene in the North. He is a man of few words who barely cracks a smile, but he has been honest and helpful. His partner and co-producer, Ash Bee, has also proven to be of infinite help and is the comic relief in my endeavors to provide a platform to help strengthen and educate hopeful artists in Acholiland.
Burney and I retired to the guest house late that night, discussing the struggles we faced with working in Gulu.
MCs in Gulu
The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast of buttered bread and coffee, then set off to Babu’s studio for more discussion. We met Ken, brother to Babu and a jack of many trades. He took us to a T-shirt printing shop where I proceeded to have End of the Weak Uganda shirts printed. Then off we went to meet with local boxing coach and mentor to Stacy, Kidega. He gave us useful information on how to work in Gulu and with his brother Komacech, helped us gather rappers to introduce the idea of the MC Challenge. After a brief nap, we returned to Alobo, which is a bar, restaurant and community center. We met with a few MCs before the electricity went out and more came to speak with us in the darkness of the restaurant. When the power returned, Burney played DJ and the MCs spit their freestyles, most of them in English, which showed us again how imitation of Western artists is their main education. It was great to meet the guys and see their talents and eagerness for some kind of recognition.
We had more meetings at a discotheque called Herm before going across town with another new friend, Adi from London. Adi is a filmmaker working with Al-Jazeera (largest Arab TV station) on a documentary of people involved in the 20 year conflict with Sudan. He had some interesting stories as the people he had met had experiences common to a war zone. Talking to people about where they were and what they were doing during the conflict reminded me of my time spent in post-conflict Croatia in Eastern Europe. There are many people who carry many signs of war, mostly large scars of violence inflicted on them. After a few more Nile beers, we retired home yet again.
Friday was spent having meetings with radio personality Emma of Choice FM and manager of Herm’s where I intend to have the End of the Weak event. I battled with them as they wanted too much money, but I think with the proper use of ‘fuck’ in some of the conversation they realized I wasn’t an easy force to battle, like many other dishonest whites in the area. However, they are getting more money than they should as my bargaining skills are developing with every meeting. It was a frustrating day, but we finished it off with spending a comical time with Babu, Ash Bee and friends. After too much booze for Burney, Stacy and I, we slept a few winks before rising for the next day….
Burney headed back to Kampala and Stacy and I headed to Kitgum, farther North. We arrived in Kitgum, somehow, after the bus broke
Santana and I
down for what seemed like forever. In a place without AAA, Stacy and I wondered how exactly we would get to our destination if the bus crew had not managed to get it started again. As soon as we hit Kitgum, we went straight for a lunch of pork at a friends restaurant. It is nice to be welcomed back with big smiles and warm beer.
It was a big night for Stacy and I, as our friend Hoppy Benny organized a Hip Hop show at Club Galaxy. Benny’s friend and promoter, Santana, took Stacy on his motorbike and Benny taking me on his motorcycle, we headed to a radio station to promote the night’s event. The radio show was in the local language Luo, but Stacy and I spoke about our projects in our best English. Although many people in the city of Kampala consider the North to be traditional and uncivilized, the Acholis speak better English than the Bugandas (people in the central where I stay). After a short but entertaining set on the radio, we went to Santana’s station, which was in a large house and though the equipment is old, it gets the job done. After yet another entertaining 10 minute show, we went back to our local haunt for dinner, of, yes, more pork.
Off to Club Glaxay we went, where we found many young men and women ready for a talent show and Hip Hop event. We stood outside talking before being escorted in to a large club full of people sitting watching TV. We went back to the VIP room where Stacy and I had a beer and talked about solving world issues while the people watched a soccer game. Once the show started, we went to the main room and sat in the very front row as we were the guests of honor. Benny and Santana wanted us to speak, but we denied wholeheartedly as being on the microphone is not what we came to do. The talent show consisted of more miming to Western music and some really great traditional dancers.
I discovered we were true VIPs when I had to pee and had a bodyguard escort me to the back. He moved people out of the way as if I was Obama and no one could touch me. I didn’t like the treatment as I don’t want to be singled out, but I imagine I would never have moved forward as many people are interested in talking to a muzungu.
Ice Dream and Chainy Crispy
Benny organized a mini MC Challenge so that someone from Kitgum could go to Gulu to represent a major town in the North. Organizing this event has proven to be difficult in many ways, and trying to have musicians from many areas represent their local language has been my focus for the past week and will continue for the next weeks. I was impressed with Benny getting the people together and I am so incredibly thankful to have him on my side. After the Challenge ended, we were escorted to the back where Stacy and I became surrounded by MCs wanting to talk and see what we thought of their performances. After many discussions with people we met before mixed with new faces, we were escorted out the back door as though we were JayZ and Beyonce.
After a few hours of sleep, we were up and ready to receive musicians from the previous night to discuss End of the Weak and Hip Hop in general. Although people were slow to come, their was a great turnout. Benny is establishing the Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture to help stimulate and expose the artistic abilities in the North and so we spoke about what Hip Hop means and how it can help guide them. It seemed to be a productive meeting, under a tree in what little shade there was, and I hope the meeting will help strengthen the ideas and hopes of these guys.
Stacy remained in Kitgum to run a theatre workshop and I jumped on the Gulu Express bus to finish up my duties in Gulu. I had been told about edible rats in the North, and got to experience it first hand on the ride to Gulu. They only come around in the dry season and so are treated as a delicacy. At a roadside market, the biggest selling item was this big ass rodent that had been sliced in half and dried for sale. With many people buying these supposedly delicious creatures, the bus had a scent of dead animal that would fill the bus whenever it stopped and the air became stagnant. I asked Ash Bee about this source of food and he became very excited in describing how they prepare it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I wasn’t able to partake in rat soup.
1st meeting of Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture
I received a copy of the Sunday Vision, an country wide newspaper that had a Q+A with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see it and was quite happy with the response from people. If someone calls me a celebrity one more time though, I’m going to have to look into buying a car as celebrities don’t walk. Ha!
After a mellow night with Ash Bee and a brief encounter with Babu, I slept a few hours before catching the 7AM bus back to Kampala.
the road to Sudan
6 hours and a headache later, I arrived in Kampala where my bodaboda friend picked me up and took my dusty body and backpack home. My bodaboda friend, Mayaja, being much in love with me, brought me a bouquet of roses and lilies and a chocolate bar for Valentine’s Day. It’s nice to know where ever I may go in the world, there’s someone who loves me.
A day of not much rest, and I had to get the End of the Weak auditions organized for yesterday, Tuesday the 16th……..
Having the day start with monsoon rain and then having people show up late to the venue Club Rouge put a damper on my spirits, but the auditions turned out to be a success. Although there where minor glitches in getting started, the emcees did their best to display their skills to judges Tafash, a female MC from Kenya, and Sylvester, an MC from Uganda. After a few exhausting hours, Burney and I had accomplished what we came to do.
We finished up the night with Spoken Truth, a weekly event for poets and musicians to talk about whatever and then back to Makindye for a night of restless sleep.
Now I will eat my first meal of the day (it’s almost 5PM) then meet with a few End of the Weak partners and champions, who (some) will make their debut on Jam Agenda, a local show promoting music.
Another day down and more hurdles to jump but success remains attainable.