As thousands of revelers enjoyed the sound of Uganda’s sold-out concerts Nyege Nyege music festival on the banks of the Nile, relieved organizers said an attempted ban on ‘immorality’ had only served to boost sales.
A public outcry forced Ugandan authorities to reverse the ban – imposed following allegations that the four-day extravaganza promotion of sex, homosexuality and drug use – but not before news of the ban made international headlines.
Some of the revelers at the festival, which brings together performers from across Africa, told AFP they only heard about the event which ends on Sunday thanks to the ban announced earlier this month .
“I heard about the festival when the Ugandan government banned it on the grounds that it was promoting immorality,”
British engineer David Kempson told AFP.
READ ALSO: Topless virgins dance before the KING
Nyege Nyege festival-goers speak out
The 31-year-old Londoner had never been to Africa but the news prompted him to book a flight and travel to the scenic Itanda Falls in Uganda, where he joined 12,000 revelers, including 5,000 foreign tourists .
“It’s the first time I’ve come to Africa. I didn’t expect so much, the huge presence of fans, the greenery, the waterfalls and the hospitality.
It was the second ban imposed on the festival since 2018, when Uganda’s former ethics minister Simon Lokodo, an outspoken homophobe, called the event an orgy of homosexuality, nudity and similar drugs at “Devil Worship”.
Moreover, the ban did not hold, following an outcry on social media.
But this time the ban turned out to be an unintended publicity boon for the festival, organizers said.
“We are heading for a much larger number (than) we ever anticipated,”
event co-founder Arlen Dilsizian told AFP, referring to ticket sales.
The ban “increased vigor and interest in the festival”, attracting visitors from the United States, China, Europe and the Middle East, he said.
“No evidence of orgies”
The festival, which moved to a new, larger outdoor venue this year, started in 2015 but had been on a pandemic-induced hiatus since 2020.
Nyege Nyege means an irresistible urge to dance in the local Luganda language, but it may have a sexual connotation in other languages of the region.
Although Dilzanian insisted that “no evidence of sexual orgies has been offered by anyone making these allegations”, the festival took place under tight security, in accordance with a government directive against “smuggling, narcotics, vulgar language, songs, expressions and gestures”.
Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi earlier warned that if there were serious breaches such as “sex orgies and nudity”the police would stop the event and clear the site.
Despite the presence of a police van equipped with sensor cameras and remote-controlled drones, fans were unfazed, determined to savor the buzz and the chance to see famous musicians such as 80-year-old Cameroonian Eko Roosevelt.
“When I come for Nyege Nyege, I become free, I meet people from all over Africa and elsewhere, we laugh and we dance, the stress goes away”,
Pamela Nyinabangi, a 27-year-old beauty salon owner from the capital Kampala, told AFP.
Another participant, Kenyan businessman Isaac Odwor, told AFP the festival was “the only event where African music is showcased and where we can interact with musicians and artists. »
‘One of a kind’
This year’s performance comes against the backdrop of an economic crisis as the prices of key commodities, from fuel to food, rise in the wake of war in Ukraine.
From street vendors to makers of handmade jewelry, many Ugandans hoped the festival would boost their fortunes as tourists thronged the premises, listening to music, bathing in the Nile or rafting.
After holding Nyege Nyege’s first international edition in Paris earlier this year, the organizers plan to take it to Cameroon next year.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind festival”
British visitor Tom Uragallo told AFP.
“You can bathe in the Nile in the morning and then dance all night until the early morning.”
© Agence France-Presse