The pearl of Africa Uganda has the world’s largest cultural diversity put together.
This was well reflected in the “Pearl in Africa” musical performance at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, last Friday.
Denis Kiima, the brain-child of the musical, said: “There is only so much you can do with a one-hour performance. Uganda is so vast, so we only give you a tip of the iceberg and ask you to come visit and explore the Pearl of Africa.”
With a taxi bordering the left of the stage and a thatched structure of a hut to the right, the story begins with Unia Kiima and Marcus Kiryowa narrating the story of Uganda. Families stretching from sleep in the hut as the cocks crow and children start to play, fill the stage as women with kettles on charcoal stoves prepare morning tea. Something traditional about the setting reminds one of life a decade or so back, before one is driven into the present Kampala.
The “city of seven hills” is described as one with a hubbub of busy people. The audience keeps laughing at the realities of how many stories are being told as traders call out for customers to buy rat poison, or when women selling mangoes in baskets in the park are robbed while another takes a selfie.
Unia Kiima argues that “the concept is meant to encourage Ugandans to believe in this country because we are beautiful. We are unlike any other nation. We were very intentional and put together a very skilled team,” she says. And this reflects when Denis Kiima, with his firm voice, melodically melts into Anne Wanjiru’s strong voice, or when Giovanni Kiyingi strums the African thumb piano, beats the drums to African roots and blows the Bahima flute.
It is a piece tailored for perfection. They only need room to improve the dance motives for the different cultures but the dancers already have the hang of it. Kiima says they plan to work with various artistes, more dancers to have Ugandans tell their own stories instead of letting Europe doing it for them.
The country is sculptured into sections depicting the “wise men” from the east, the graceful people of the west where the energetic Bakiga hail, and the “warriors” from the north.
“We have done a lot of research. But we still have a lot more to do in finding more information and skillfully put it on stage.
A choir of about five bursts into melodic flavours of music once the lead song, Awero, begins to play.
In the central, a tale of the mighty Buganda Kingdom, their Kasubi Tombs, their contribution to a widely spoken local language, and the Kwanjula [marriage] ceremony, are affront.
To the east, the adrenalin capital with bungie jumping, water rafting, all the way to the land of the Bamasaaba, is screened along with hard-thumping of the ground dancing to Kadodi. A quick re-enaction of the circumcision custom, then the drink (Ajono) loving people of Teso sub-region, are introduced.
With more than 50 languages spoken, some tribes such as Sabiny and Jophadola only get mentions but several more dance routines depict these people.
One does not need dialogue in the musical. The action amid the dance motives tell the story. Northern Uganda, where the people’s story is that of resilience, is decorated as the land blessed with game and tales of sorrow, yet people still dance with joy. The props such as leopard print dresses are very representative, the calabash, the motor and pestle, among other cultural regalia.
The story comes with humour, for instance, when Kiryowa says it is only in the west where a man calls his woman a cow and she won’t hate him!”
Steven Asiimwe, the chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), in his speech after the show pledged that UTB will partner with the Kiimas and their company to stage an even bigger show.
While Uganda prepares to be marketed in the UK, German, Austria, Switzerland, and Ireland by major companies there, Asiimwe promised that this musical shall have the opportunity to travel and sell the country in such artistic ways.
This fit well into Denis Unia’s plan to have more stakeholders in the tourism business and investment sector “because the show is about marketing Uganda overseas…we would like more Ugandans to experience it ahead of the road show that will go around different continents of the world,” he says.
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