In his famous quote, Alphonse Karr says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” However, the longer things stay, the better they (should) become. This is what should be the case. The latter is true for Bayimba, a home of the arts in Uganda. Bayimba opened its doors twelve years ago to a myriad of the arts and the story has never been the same. The story of the arts in Uganda has, over the years, become a better story.
Like any other another story, there is a voice that crafts and tells the tale. I met Faisal Kiwewa, the face and voice behind Bayimba, an institution he has seen grow over the years. The story begins in 2005 when he had to make a choice between being a performing artiste himself or a programmer with an intent of tightening the artistic elasticity that was slowly growing loose. The place of the arts was wanting. Not many parents wished their children to be artistes of any kind. It was viewed as the pathway to going astray.
In 2005, Faisal took to the road less travelled choosing to retire his act as a performing artiste, a slot he had enjoyed from an early age of 6. Something bigger had called and needed to be addressed. He needed to look up the bigger picture of nothing other than building a platform on which all other artistes would be better served without a conflict of interest.
This work was not about organising just another concert. Things needed to be elevated a notch higher. The world was watching and a mediocre way of doing things was not going to be entertained. That is how Bayimba made its way. Like a sprouting seed, it had to begin underground to fix the strings of the various performers so they could be tuned to meet the desired standards. There was need to appreciate the multiplicity of the various arts other than singing. Yet there was a huge divide. The music was raw and lacking. There was a shortage of hands to do the much desired skillful work that could make a mark on the market. There were very few people to turn to to offer that service.
These were the problems that the arts silently suffered. Some knew of them and others did not know that such were even problems in terms of running a professional outfit of being a full time artiste. Faisal jumped into this deep end well knowing the challenges he had to deal with himself having been a culprit. There was a need for a wider call to action.
Today at 12, Bayimba prides itself in knowing that thus far they have come. Things have changed. Many artistes across the divide have come to appreciate the need of scaling up and becoming professional in their conduct. There is a growing demand for excellence and many are striving to achieve the status.
The organisation is responsible for the annual Bayimba Festival, Doa Doa, Amakula Film Festival and the celebrated Kampala International Theatre of the Arts. These events are spread out through the course of the year to cater for the various parties involved. This has helped to create a place where the various players strive to become more skilled in the way they do their work.
The Bayimba Festival has grown over the years beyond the board. One of the challenges they had in the recent past is the need to create a wider space where the festival can be consumed without congestion. Until last year, the available space at the National Theatre was becoming smaller with the bulging numbers that the festival was attracting every other year propelling the organisation to acquire a bigger space where the artistes can have more space to themselves. The Foundation acquired Lunkulu Island where they will be hosting the festival for the second time.
With the passing of the years, there has been a grand transformation in the way things are done on the side of both the organisers and the artistes. However, there is still need to fully professionalise the arts as a whole. Bayimba has since immersed some of its efforts in that regard. Today they have established the Bayimba Academy where up and coming artistes are skilled on becoming better musicians. There is a production house that caters for the production of quality music. And this stems from the fact that arts are no longer seen as charity but rather a business. And his calls for putting one’s best foot forward. This does not mean it is only Bayimba making things happen, there are other players involved.
However, having survived the past decade and seeing that more Ugandans are appreciating Ugandan artistic craft is the reason Faisal Kiwewa and his team at Bayimba wake up every other day to add yet another brick to this industry slowly taking shape.