There is no doubt that the Coronavirus Pandemic has shaken up the arts industry world over. However, Uganda’s arts industry has defied the odds of lock-down by devising new ways of entertaining their audiences.
Although the curtains in Theatres are down, the doors to concert venues and Clubs are still slammed shut and the creatives can’t access studios but art is finding way to the fans, some artists are determined to beat the blues and are finding solutions. Writes Hattie Hanyerere
Singer Kenneth Mugabi had been booked for over 30 events. He had still curated his annual concert at Serena Hotel in Kampala but all this was brought to a sudden halt when the Nation was shut down by the government as a Covid-19 control measure.
Mugabi says that it is no time to worry but a time to find solutions with government putting up measures to keep the fans heathy.
Dorothy Nabunjo an arts manager and the proprietor of Karizm business and arts booking and development outfit in Kampala says she got a couple of her events cancelled.
Nabunjo believes that in times of trial, most people resort to art for healing. This has inspired her to concentrate on making content that fits the public mood in Uganda but also across the world.
Nabunjo argues that while physical public venues were closed, thanks to technology, the performing space has only become bigger by enabling artists to reach a much wider and diverse audience.
“Even in the times of war, art prevails; COVID has come to give the creatives a challenge to rethink their trade and how to distribute the art to the consumers” she adds.
Performing to the audience from home
Singer and visual artist Sandra Suubi has chosen to give back to the fans that she treats to free cozy recorded music performances in her bid to bring hope to the people.
Suubi, who sings both gospel and soul music has attracted a couple of music lovers who have gone further to sing along to her song dubbed Musalaaba (the cross) in their living rooms and post on social media.
Another notable figure in the mainstream music industry is Omulangira Suuna alias OS who went further to host a live music performance on Facebook and attracted thousands of fans.
The Love yo emala Singer Suuna also used the performance to fundraise and buy food for the vulnerable in his community.
On Easter Sunday, gospel singer Lukas Levixone of Chikibombe fame conducted a live performance on Facebook which was viewed by over ten thousand people.
Just like many others, Levixone encouraged the fans to stay home and draw a gesture that music can get to them even away from the usual venues.
However, with restrictions relaxed, the arts are heading to return to the jungle as well as gazetted places. Recently, singer Jerry Sesanga organised the first ever movie premier since the lockdown at Acacia mall.
The event characterised with COVID guidelines saw film lovers attend the premier in a Cinema that was strictly at a half capacity.
For some artists like Quex of Kachumbaali fame and Mugabi have taken to Arts Tourism fusing the music with tourism related activities.
Premieres in the Lockdown
At least two short films have been premiered via YouTube during the lock-down. Most prominent was Swangz Avenue’s Rolex, a film directed by popular art director Benon Mugumbya and another film produced by Tabu Flo a local Dance group called Yala.
In similar breath, this Saturday, musician Navio under is label Navcorp will be launching a new album called Strengths in numbers via all social media platforms in a way of giving back to the fans at a time of trial.
The First ever Paid Concert
Much as many performers have been doing free performances online to keep up with their audience, local art outfit Fezah Uganda has curated a paid concert that will see fans pay to watch.
Dubbed Kenneth Mugabi Live, the concert which will happen on Saturday will be streamed live on Zoom platform where the audience will have to pay via mobile money to get a password and enjoy the concert.
“We are proud to pioneer an unthinkable approach in the arts industry and we hope to see similar innovations say for art exhibitions, comedy and other various genres. We leave off art because we invest into it and our fans have to contribute by paying for our performances” Mugabi explained.
Covid and dance
Antonio Ssebuuma a Ugandan Dance choreographer who returned to Uganda to continue with his weekly dance classes was not moved by the situation.
Ssebuuma currently conducts his classes via zoom where his clients are required to pay via mobile payment system. He also does free amateur classes for his fans via Facebook and WhatsApp.
He says that the only difference now is that people have turned their living rooms into dance studios but most importantly he has got more clients than before since people want to keep busy.
Ssebuuma’ s approach is not any different from that of celebrated dance group Batalo East who have chosen to resume their monthly dance sessions via online.
Abdul Kinyenya Muyingo the curator of the said dance sessions called Equationz reveals that the dances that happen at National theatre during normal days will be held via social media with the choreographers and students engaging live from home.
E’ concerts at glance
Online concerts have become the way to go and this has seen festivals, periodic performances take that path.
Club Beatz has been the major platform for local musicians attracting the likes of Sheebah, Kenneth Mugabi, Lydia Jazimine, Cindy among many.
Much as many organisers opted to postpone festivals, others like Batalo and Nyege Nyege opted to go online, despite the fact that revenue options were greatly reduced.
Praise by Stakeholders
Robert Musiitwa, the Spokesperson of the Uganda National Cultural Centre says that UNCC is looking to diversify art in the Covid era by upholding the digital culture that is taking shape.
Musiitwa says that UNCC is also planning the first ever digital art exhibition in Uganda that will be handled by UNCC and the Nommo gallery.
“We have been obviously dependent on physical art sale and ticket sale approach and for now we are working on a couple of plans to push forward the industry even when people are at home and we have also called out the artists to prioritize digital productions” Musiitwa added
Elsewhere in the world
In a live concert dubbed “One world; Together at home” singer Lady Gaga held a concert which was streamed live from the United states and on BBC TV .Organized along with the group Global Citizen, held a concert in which they raised over $35m to fight COVID-19.