A Conversation with Uganda’s finest Festival Producers & Artists — KQ

DJ Hibotep, Derrick G. Debru, Faisal Kiwewa, Rasheeda Nalumooso, & Anthony Jermaine.

KQ Hub Africa in collaboration with Design Hub Kampala and with support from Wild Coffee and Safe Boda organizes monthly Creative Talks sessions which happen every second Friday of every month.

This month, we were honored to collaborate with In Place of War ( A global Organization that uses Creativity in Places of Conflict as a tool for positive change) to host their CASE TALKS sessions, an exciting series of 8 networking events taking place across the year in partnership with leading creative event platforms and institutions such as British Council, DOADOA, TEDX Kampala and more, engaging on conversations ranging from Fashion, Technology, Music, Dance, Festivals etc.

The first session with the CASETALKS which also happens to be the third edition of our Creative Talks that we hosted was with the theme “Making the Festival”.

“With all these festivals mushrooming and already established festivals; we wanted to get a vivid understanding of what it takes to run a festival in Africa (Uganda) and a how-to guide to making a successful festival. We also wanted to explore the realities of running a festival from the resourcing, selection of the venue, creating an identity and finding your unique selling point and how festivals are publicized. To address concerns of artistes that have incessantly complained about being paid peanuts or ripped off altogether” said Daina Leigh the Project Coordinator In Place Of War.

We wanted to get the perspective of both the organizers and artistes so on the panel we had DJ Hibotep who’s built herself a remarkable reputation playing at various festivals and events, and for the Festival Producers we had Rasheeda Nalumoso who’s a Creative Producer at 32 Degrees East, the collective that’s in charge of the KLA ART Festival, Derek G. Debru one of the head honchos at MTN Nyege Nyege and Nyege Nyege Tapes, Faisal Kiwewa the brain behind Bayimba International Festival, Anthony J. Thompson founder of The Creative Tribe and the fuel that propels the StoneFest Music, Art & Tech Festival.

Here is a summary recap of the conversation moderated by KQ HUB AFRICA Creative Director Wabwire.

What is a festival?

Faisal Kiweewa: People have different ways of conceptualizing festivals but the common theme is the experience that they offer to the audience. Festivals address different needs in the community and offer an alternative means of leisure.

Rasheeda Nalumonso: Festivals are shared experiences and meeting points for people. Festivals originated from ritual so it has the heritage of the “what is it that we haven’t we shared?” segment which is the beginning, then creating a community to share the festive experience which is the middle and finally the end. Festivals are also a big business and there are a lot of people going to festivals.

Anthony J. Thompson: Over the years the context of festivals has adjusted to fit the current times. Modern day festivals are a source of income and create jobs and also shine the spotlight on the particular acts.

What’s unique about your festivals?

Faisal Kiweewa: We were looking for a festival that could offer an alternative space where artists in all disciplines could meet. We thought that starting a festival that would incorporate all art forms would be different from what was there. We had events where numerous would perform in one day but we didn’t have a space where photographers, visual artists, journalists etc. would meet and that’s what started Bayimba International Festival.

DJ Hibotep: For instance for Nyege Nyege I’d say I know most of the people there so I’m comfortable performing there.

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Our theme for KLA ART 18 is “Off the Record.” Generally as a festival we’ve always had a curiosity to springboard from the theme which I think is a great way to program a festival. Generally through a theme we share and have a discussion with both the artist and the public. KLA ART presents an opportunity to share work from artists we work with to the public who may not generally engage with artists or art generally outside of the main gallery setting where art is on the wall. We’d also like to shine a spotlight on the vibrant city that is Kampala where creativity and festivity happen every day through our festival.

Derek G. Debru: A lot of attention goes into our programming. All year long we try to listen to what’s happening regionally in regards to new music. We’d like to position ourselves as a place you go to discover new East African music as well as an international line up that any international festival would respect. What sets us apart is the camping aspect that we bring to the festival that allows the reveler to enjoy the full experience.

Do you think people are embracing the idea of festivals?

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Generally, festivals are growing. On a global scale, there’s a market for festivals and all kinds of audiences are partaking of them. There’s a scope of ways of attracting new audiences and getting away from the usual suspects.

Derek G. Debru: Nobody on this panel can deny the festive nature of Ugandans. A festival attracts everyone but like everything else, it depends on how you market yourself. I think people are embracing the Nyege Nyege Festival because of the numbers. We started out with 800 people three years ago but our most recent festival attracted over 10,000.

DJ Hibotep: Festivals are growing and getting better. The question is; are they affordable? If your festival is affordable then you’ll even have trouble hosting attendees.

Faisal Kiweewa: I think the festival culture has grown. What we need to do is attract larger audiences. People need to know where we are and what they should expect to get out of our program.

How did you source for funds to start a festival?

Derek G. Debru: I went to my bank account, withdrew every shilling that was there, over five years of saving and started a festival. If you want to start a festival, you have to start with a loss. There’s just no other way around it. Obviously if you want to attract sponsors, you ton show them that people like you. Give out as many free tickets as you possibly can. You should be worried about whether people are going to show up or not. Not if you’re going to get or lose money. If you manage to invite over 1000 people in your town and lose all the money you invested in the festival but if there are 1000 or 10000 people and you took the right photos and videos, you go back to the sponsors and say, “look, this thing is working and this year everybody had fun.” That way, you’ll be in a better position to get funding from corporate sponsors.

Faisal Kiweewa: Our first Bayimba Festival, we invited over 400 million but we only got 6 people. We lost money and the biggest challenge from that was whether to continue or go down to a village where people don’t know me. We took the courage to rethink our approach. When we started Bayimba, we had no idea what a festival was all about. We went back to the drawing board and reinvented ourselves. Our first festival tickets cost 10000 shillings and that’s where no one paid. So we decided to make the second festival free so that people come and see what we’re talking about.

Anthony J. Thompson: Right now, we’re not so concerned about sponsorship. We run the festival as a community. We have people who are willing to provide equipment at no cost and artistes who perform for free.

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Festivals are all about taking risks and you’re if you break even. I think it goes back to the values of your organization. Organizations make festivals free because we’re trying to build an audience for artists and art itself so 32 Degrees East keeps KLA ART free in a majority of our program. It’s all about a business model that works. But we’re also looking at a model that can ensure sustainability.

Can you address the concerns of artistes who complain about little or no pay at all after performing at Festivals.

DJ Hibotep: Some people will feel cheated but you have to ask yourself, are the people who called you making enough money? Also, did you sign a contract? That’s very important. It may seem like you’re not getting paid but getting paid isn’t always in monetary form.

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Transparency is really important. You can have different models of payment but it’s important that the artists know what those are to be upfront from the beginning. At 32 Degrees East we have an artist commission and a fee that will be set across all the artists we work with.

Faisal Kiweewa: You can’t run a festival like Bayimba for 10 years and fail to pay artistes. The challenge however is being able to pay the artist and not end cash strapped as a festival. That balance has to be there, you can’t argue that.

Derek G. Debru: My advice to the festival programmers is that you should “underpromise” but “overdeliver”. Often, as an event promoter you want too much for the artiste so you promise things that you can’t deliver and the artiste feels cheated. But if you promise less and deliver more, the artiste will feel happy. Sometimes you give an artiste an opportunity to perform because you were not willing to book them but they insisted. So you tell them that I don’t have a budget for you but I’m giving you an opportunity to perform and these are the artistes who complain about being cheated.

From all the money that you’ve made from festivals, have you invested a portion of it in trying to bolster the creative ecosystem?

Faisal Kiweewa: People know Bayimba because of the festival but we do a lot of other things. Our focus has always been to expound on the cultural creative sector. And we’ve invested a lot. Over 25% of our annual budget goes into arts education and this includes musicians, visual artists, art galleries we train art managers, creative entrepreneurs and art directors.

How do strike a balance in payment between local and foreign artistes?

Derek G. Debru: We have this rule that the lowest paid artiste shouldn’t be paid four times less than the highest paid artiste. We have artistes who are already established and command a huge following and there are artists who are starting out. You can’t pay an artiste from South Africa that the whole of Kampala wants to see the same amount as an artiste that doesn’t have a large following. Hopefully in the future we’ll able to pay all the artistes a universal fee.

Why do we have few local festival producers in Uganda and Africa as a whole?

Faisal Kiweewa: I think it’s an issue of confidence. Very few people are willing to take the risk and most times you don’t have the financial backup. There’s also a lack of trust and not wishing your fellow countrymen well. Another issue is lack of exposure.

Are you trying to work in collaboration with each other or you have your sights set on building a monopoly?

Faisal Kiweewa: Every year we put out two bands so we created a market called DOA DOA where we invite programmers from different festivals to come and see the content that is here. This allows artistes to pitch their work and this opens opportunities for them. That way they’re not going to say when there’s no Bayimba then I have nothing to do.

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Collaboration is key and at 32 Degrees East, we try to work in partnership with colleagues across the sector. We’re not in a bubble, we’re all part of a large ecosystem.

What influences the choice of venue?

Faisal Kiweewa: We bought an island and it’s 100 acres and that’s where Bayimba is going to be staged for the future. The reason why we bought this island because we know that the future of culture anywhere in the world is uncertain. No one knows where the money will come from tomorrow. We have to create spaces where artists know whether I have money or not, I can go to this space and I’ll create my work.

DJ Hibotep: When you think about it economically, a lot of people are coming to see Uganda. When you change the venue, you’re making it interesting for a lot of people and in so doing, you’re promoting tourism.

Derek G. Debru: Staging a festival out of the city allows people to step out of their mundane daily routine. When you take a matatu with friends to go attend a festival in Jinja, there’s a level of excitement that the trip itself evokes.

Rasheeda Nalumoso: Thinking about venues is key to KLA ART. Public space and private space in Uganda is contested. What we may consider public space may not be so public. As a programming team, we’re having interesting conversations as we try to gain access to some of Kampala’s heritage sites and locations that are supposed to be public but are not. So those are some of the negotiations we make as festival programmers to try and curate the city in unusual ways for people. Running a festival is political act.

Find pictures to this conversation on our Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kqhubafrica/

By: Bitalanga Jacob. I’m an in- house blogger at KQ.