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Sheebah faces resistance at Bayimba festival

Sheebah Karungi

At the beginning of the year, Kanye West was announced as a headlining act for the 2015 Glastonbury Festival in the UK.

Only days after the announcement, a British paper ran a story of how the ‘untalented’ Kanye wasn’t needed at a festival that has been graced by acts such as Foo Fighters, Florence and the Machine, Cypress Hill, Muse and Lionel Richie, among others.

What followed was a petition signed by over 130,000 music fans asking the festival to cancel Kanye West’s performance in preference of a rock band, and at one point organizer Emily Eavis even received death threats. It has since been described as mad, infuriating and electrifying.

Yet in Uganda, it is almost the same stigma pop artiste Sheebah Karungi is facing from some partisan circles since she was announced as a performer at this year’s Bayimba International Festival of the Arts that is starting today at the National theater.

Having featured acts such as Sarabi band and Anto Neosoul from Kenya, Suzan Kerunen and Myko Ouma, they felt the festival was losing it by lining her up as a performer.

One of the critics argued that an artiste that has never performed with a live band has no business getting anywhere near any festival stage. Luckily for Sheebah, her detractors didn’t have petitions to sign her off the main stage she is poised to take to on Saturday night.

Festivals in this part of the world have always had a different energy. For the loyal attendees, these are the places they got initiated into ethno-contemporary pop, usually classified as world music, and for some reason they have come to believe the music there should sound like that.

That is why the backlash that the Team No Sleep artiste is facing doesn’t come as a surprise. Joan Kisakye, a music fan that attended the festival for the first time in 2014, was inquisitive on whether Sarabi band would be coming back for another performance.

On learning that they were not coming but there were others like Sheebah, with a sarcastic grin, she wondered if acts like Sheebah perform at festivals.

But it is not the first time, and Bayimba is not the first festival that has been criticized, for having ‘unworthy’ performers. Last year, Pearl Rhythm took the flak after Jackie Chandiru’s closing performance. Not that she was awful. A clique of naysayers thought she didn’t represent what the gig stood for.

And so was Bayimba’s choice of Coco Finger to close the festival in 2013. Apparently Coco Finger put up a show, which in many eyes, was better than the ones given by many artistes who have always been believed to be of festival quality.

Herman Kabubi, a coordinator of Doa Doa, one of the programmes run by the Bayimba Foundation, notes that the main stage at the festival is not reserved for foreign acts or a certain genre of artistes. He says the main stage is an opportunity for all acts to test themselves and try out new things.

Faisal Kiwewa, Bayimba Foundation’s director, notes that artistes are briefed about the values of the festival. He says art festivals usually look to take different disciplines into a certain direction; changing art for the better.

Talking to The Observer, an excited Sheebah said she is quite nervous knowing that festival goers can be demanding, though she says she is ready and will be making an appearance at the do, both as a performer and part of the audience.

“I think we need more of such shows for people to see the different forms of art that Ugandans can offer.”

Other performers will include Maddox Sematimba, Levixone, Joel Sebunjo and Kenneth Mugabi, among others.

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