A Musical Weekend at Milége World Music Festival
The Milége World Music Festival is an annual music festival in its second year, which showcases Ugandan and African musical talent. This year was at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens, a wonderful venue with plenty of shade for the outdoor event. Featuring all kinds of traditional music in its various forms, the two-day camping festival was indeed a tribute to our musical heritage as a country and a continent.
This music festival started on Saturday the 22nd and went on up to Sunday the 23rd. Even though people were there by 2pm, the actual musical show did not start until late in the evening at 8pm. Nevertheless, the attendants were not left with no entertainment as there were games like chess, matatu, duulu, sack race, tug-of-war and kwepena, as well as other activities like sports (the football players did not seem to run out of steam), nature walks, art on exhibit and fashion stalls with African clothes and items to buy.
It’s a good thing there was a whole camping ground for people to spend the night because the music did not stop playing on the first day until 5am!
No wonder the Sunday event also started quite late, around 6pm after it had rained all morning and threatened to ruin the day. But Mother Nature came through with sunshine around midday and the preparations started for the evening jam session.
The camping grounds were quite removed from the main stage, so as to allow families that wanted to go to bed early to do so without much interference from the music. However, I assume only those with small children managed that as there was a lot of dancing and merry-making at the foot of the stage and anyone would feel like they were missing out if they didn’t join.
Milége Band, the main organisers of the festival, had a few guidelines that each performer should adhere to in order to be showcased during the weekend. The guidelines were:
- All music should be traditional music, in its pure or fused form. Which meant that all the music should have local origins like kadongo kamu, or a style that is indigenous. No reggaeton, Gangnam style, hip-hop or any genre of music imported from other parts of the world.
- All music has to be original. That meant that we had a whole weekend of no one doing covers and ruining someone else’s music. It was awesome, to say the least.
- All the music had to be live, no playing CDs and singing over a recording. The better to show off talent. Personally, I feel like musicians who need to sing over their recorded music should not have the title of ‘musician’, but that’s my personal preference.
- A very vital rule was that every performance had to be positive and family friendly, since there were lots of small children and families around. In fact, the festival was so child-friendly that there was a bouncing castle during the day.
The festival was not all about music though; there was space for poetry as well, besides all the games being played. I chanced upon the Lantern Meet of Poets doing their original poems around a campfire, reminiscent of the days of old when stories were passed down through oral tradition around a fire. The first day had a large crowd of between 150 and 200 people. The organisers were shocked by the number of tourists coming directly from the airport as one airport taxi after another kept offloading passengers way into the night. I guess its proximity to the airport made the festival the go-to place for someone landing in the country on a Saturday night and looking for something fun to do.
There was so much dancing that the entire area in front of the stage was crowded with revellers ‘shaking what their mamas gave them’.
Even though it was a family event, there was free flowing alcohol and Sunday morning saw campers fighting off hangovers with local food prepared by the enterprising food vendors.
Even with a rule against musicians singing over recorded music, there was a Deejay for attendees who wanted to dance the night away. In between stage set-ups and guitar tunings, the deejay would keep us in the dancing mood with great Afro beats from all across the continent. If you are unaware, it’s impressive how great our original music is on its own and it left me wondering why we want to copy other cultures’ music and sing in patois. I guess this is why campers who decided to spend Saturday night on the camping grounds did not enter their tents until the wee hours of the morning just before the sun could peep out among the trees.
The musical acts were so impressive that crowds did not want to leave, even those that had planned on driving back home ended up spending the night or leaving very late because they could not bear to miss a single performance. There were bands from all corners of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, the greater Africa and even a performance from a Japanese duo. The lady is an honorary Kenyan though, and she sang in Jaluo and Kiswahili while playing the adungu, so that counts as East African music. There were dance performances from various cultures, which made the attendees get up and join in the dancing and made it one big dance party at the end of the day.
I unfortunately had to leave when the clock was showing close to 11pm on Sunday night but I left a whole lot of people, over 100 people, still revelling in the music. There was also another stage being set up, I assume for later on in the night after some people had gone home. The entire festival was run with such a laissez-faire attitude where people were allowed to choose whether they wanted to get involved in the games, listen to the bands playing, or simply sleep in their tent all day. The organisers were very attentive, however and even without my ‘press pass’ tag, they made sure I was well taken care of and comfortable at the festival. How I wish there was a day after the weekend to rest from all such exciting weekends!
Event: Milége World Music Festival
Location: Entebbe Botanical Gardens
Organised By: Milége Band