Let’s be honest. How do you get an important message across to the apathetic section of society that is Uganda’s middle-class youth?
Just follow these simple instructions: cloak it in song, garnish it with lyrics and thrust it upon them with blazing neon lights.
That sums up Open Mic Uganda’s concept, Mirrors, staged at the Uganda museum last Friday.
Open Mic started in 2009, as a small group of people passionate about poetry and the spoken word. It met once a week to share any message that had been, until that moment, nestling only in their hearts.
Today, it is called Open Mic Fusion, and this event indeed brought together musicians, poets, dancers and artists to challenge us to look within ourselves, and realize that everything that happens in society is our own reflection. Hence the cleverly- coined name for the event: “Mirrors”.
The event kicked off 90 minutes late, but nobody really minded after the entrance fee of Shs 10,000 had been waived, courtesy of ActionAid.
Another sponsor, Smile Telecom, provided free WiFi so we could facebook and tweet about the show. The person with the most tweets would win a prize; so, you can be sure the tweet board was working overtime!
The friendly emcees, Marcus and Maritza, informed us that the theme of the show was corruption. Seeing as the founders of Black Monday, Uganda Youth Network, put the concept together, corruption was a natural theme, indeed. And the germ of an idea of a corrupt-free Uganda infected each and every one of us.
It was like something stirring in you when Milege band came on stage, and the lead vocalist announced: ‘’Each and every single one of you is here to witness the dawn of a new era. Watch your reflections. Do you like what you see?’’
That sentence made for deep thought. The term ‘Milege’ itself refers to an ankle rattle, announcing the coming of a king. And the performance of the band was perfect. They sang songs from western and northern Uganda, which was an interesting paradox –because the west is believed to have the richest people and the north, the poorest. But when it came to music, those perceptions were laid to rest.
Everything about this show was meant to tease our senses. For example, when Ruyonga kicked off the show, he never got on stage! This way, everyone was forced to listen to him, giving out messages on corruption like: ‘’There is a full systemic degradation because as mirrors, we reflect. You can only infect or disinfect but you must connect. What will you reflect? What will you mirror?’’
The words spoken on that stage by the different poets and performers were etched into our brains, and we were all left thinking just a little bit harder. When poet and rapper J.T got onstage, he impersonated a corrupt person, telling why he has to get more, no matter who he is stealing it from.
Poet Gilly Willy performed a piece about how Ugandans have over time become self-serving and greedy. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the common question of the day. This message was emphasized by another invisible voice accompanied by a keyboard player onstage. The voice told a story about how we always ignore ‘the other guy’; the guy with no money and no hope.
‘’That guy is Ugandan too,” said the voice. ‘’Is there nothing we can do?’’
A visual artist then walked on with a blank canvas, carrying his paints and distracting us just a little bit from the main performers. Then he started to paint. Within an hour and a half, we were torn between focusing on his work, and that of the main performers!
Eventually he got down from the stage and set up at the far right side. Patrons were invited to go add their own creations to the painting. The artist also offered to paint our bags, shirts, wallets, and anything we felt needed a ‘facelift’. The stage was busy, and so was the ‘painting area’, all at the same time. Yet none pulled the audience’s attention away from the other.
Rehema Nanfuka, winner of the Spoken Word Uganda competition, talked to us about ‘Big Daddies’ who think they can buy young girls with their money. The corruption question aside, the show later got groovy with reggae singer Bryan Otutta getting everybody on their feet.
With his absolutely beautiful voice, even members in the VIP section were dancing away. T-Bro capped the party for me, singing The Ugandan Flag. The air became pumped with energy as everyone started dancing like crazy.
I was desperately trying to get the artist to paint my laptop bag. When I looked up after a few minutes, T-Bro and the audience had Ugandan flags in their hands. What an awesome show!