Friday, March 20, 2009


So it’s been a while since I last wrote. I haven’t been lazy, just absent minded about blogging. I’ve finished 2 audio documentaries (Prince Primary and Lyantonde vs. Internet Pt. 1), finalized and received the blueprints and bill of quantities for the renovations at Prince Primary School, edited a Bitone documentary video (already accepted at Sundance and Cannes), held the second Project Focus Uganda board meeting, celebrated my 37th birthday, started the Prince Primary pen-pal program, moved places in Kampala, took the bus to Rwanda to refresh my expired visa and explored 3 mind-bending genocide memorials... and some other busy-work, but the only thing I feel like telling you about is Lyantonde concert number 2. Last time I told you it was the duo Radio and Weasel, this time it was Weasel’s older brother and rival – the self-proclaimed “heavyweight” – Chameleon. Chameleon can’t catch a break lately. I haven’t really kept up with the tabloids as much as I should but I know that he slept-walk off of a 2nd story balcony in Tanzania and broke both of his ankles, had a bad car accident and got roughed up by some thugs. He was in the paper a few weeks ago leaning on a cane while handing out money to traders to help rebuild Kampala’s biggest market – Owino – after a devastating fire. Maybe it’s all lies for publicity, you couldn't pay me to care, I just know Lyantonde was bubblin. I’m not sure why I am so moved by these concerts but I’ll try to paint you a picture.

Imagine a back lit outdoor stage with massive trees hanging over both sides, the silhouetted branches broken up by stacks of slightly mismatched speakers ascending up to clearest night-sky on the planet. Next to the stage is an incapacitated petrol station; the outside walls lined with peeling coca-cola advertisements, English football posters, and NRM campaign flyers dating back two decades. The empty station finds life during the concert, serving as the main bar, but there are many tables scattered around selling single-serving bags of gin and vodka. Behind the stage the artists congregate before and after they go on. I didn’t make it backstage but I heard Coldplay and Nas were around. There is one band for the whole night. The horn players were both dressed like Jermaine Dupri, but as repetitive and one dimensional contemporary Uganda pop seems to my foreign ears, this band had a range, blessing us with Al Green, Stevie, and Bob Marley covers in between artists.

The chairs run out fast and most people bring their own stools from home but loose them half way through the opening acts and clear the rug for some cuttin. I think this is really why I love these shows; I get to dance with the butcher (and his wife), waitresses, shoe polishers, restaurant and shop owners, mill-workers, hair-dresses, and everyone in between with no thought or mention of our positions on the hierarchical totem pole. I know this is the same reason everybody loves a celebration, but it seems different here. I’m not completely sure of the extent that people here really identify with those roles anyway; it wouldn’t surprise me if it were just my perception. All I know is people get nutty to live music, and there isn’t much that I like better then bumpin asses with a big bad Ugandan woman in a gomesa. Because of the single-serving bags of gin and vodka, the repeating drum pattern, and my bad Luganda, all the songs ran together for me by the time Chameleon came on, and I found myself in the middle of dance circles defying the whiteness of my pelvis. “Muzungu! Omoni Okuzina!” -- “Whitey! You can dance!”
Now it’s the next day and I’m staring down the barrel of my to-do list. Thank God for Chameleon. Thank God for fun.