The Spirit of Kampala

This article was first published in The Notice News Paper in 0ctober 2012

Take a walk through Kampala central business district and you are bound to find a crowd at any time. Masses of people walking in lines forced upon them by the lack of space; from taxis, to boda bodas, to bicycles, to street vendors, gaping holes and then the angry pedestrians. It takes a toughened skin to survive in this city, this city has spirit!
50 years down the road and our capital is the capital. There is nothing that cannot be found in Kampala. If it is not made here, then it is sold or advertised here.

Over the years, population has increasingly drawn in from all sides of Kampala and settled in and around the city. Gone are the days when the only people who drove cars were civil servants, these days, it is common place to be competing for parking space with a university freshman. The diversity in products is no more about just colours but brand names and countries of origin. One who doesn’t know any better might be tricked into thinking Kampala is one of China’s warehouses because everything genuine has a counter on the market. You have to shop with your eyes open.

We live in a city where the fads are no more determined by international superstars alone but local artists as well. Musical lyrics influencing the language so much so that the diction is as constant as chart topping hits. With all the hard work that goes on in the city, one wonders if there is any partying going on. This city works and plays hard. No more are the days when the only source of entertainment was watching Afrigo Band live and no one went to the movies but watched plays. There is a wide array of night clubs, bars, cinema halls and pork joints usually all in a line on the same street and none without customers. Concert after concert is organized from international artists to local artistes who launch “singles” and not necessarily albums.

50 years down the road and the capital is still the capital. It is a city that is determined to be the pace setter for the rest of the nation; A place whose residents are not afraid to take risks and speak their minds even when it might cost them. Kampala has had its fair share of victories and losses; has faced terror attacks and threats, has had its people and buildings painted pink to disperse a striking crowd and for a moment looked like Baghdad. The prices of commodities and services have gone through the roof and back and then up again. However, in spite of all that’s happened here, the city still stands, its spirit unbroken. Kampala is still the capital.

A city, like a child grows and changes over the years. The influence of both internal and external influences reflected in her choices and tastes. Like any parent, the residents sometimes sit back and wonder about where it all began from, taking a walk down memory lane; telling stories and showing pictures to all those who were unfortunate enough to miss out. This is the tale of Kampala.

Insomnia Vs Amnesia
Which one do you prefer? No, I am not talking about the mental condition. However, that is the experience these owners were promising when they set up these joints. The Kampala night scene is filled with places with the catchiest names ever, the name is a reflection on the experience you are likely to have there. None the less, Insomnia is the name that could be given to the city that never sleeps

From the moment of birth, the residents of Kampala loved the night life. Even with national curfews, wars and the next day always not certain, these people chose to have a good time. The night club or disco as it was commonly referred to has evolved through the years. From dj’s with real LP’s, to live bands performing, to now what is known as the night club. Good businessmen over the years realised that with the influx of people into the city to work, study and realise the “Ugandan dream” more night clubs were needed. Ange noir and club silk are some of the older names in this industry. The former started as a Kololo night club in 1986 and later grew into a night club. It has been evolving creating theme nights and different wings to attract all classes of money spenders. Through out the early 90’s only two names were known as far as high end night clubs went. But as we go on more and more places come up, the names more exciting!

Who are you wearing?
Looking back twenty or so years ago, I am amazed at who wears what in Kampala these days. No more are the days when shopping was done for “Christmas clothes” and the whole family had matching dresses and shirts from the same kitenge or nylon material. Good dressing meant shopping for material and looking for a tailor to fabricate something up for you depending on their experience. There was not much to choose from. Everyone’s hair was high and stiff on their heads and they were proud! Walk through Kampala today and the only people you’ll probably find with hair that high and mighty are students from a certain prominent school in the country….uhhmm. The whole city is like one big red carpet. I am quite sure if you walked around with a microphone asking that question “who are you wearing?” you would get true responses and not just blank looks. The people of Kampala have always been fashion conscious but are now savvier.

Local designers competing with international brands and not doing shabbily either; be it men, women or children, who or what you are wearing is as important as your name. From wide legged trousers to skinny and colourful jeans for both men and women, fashion is embraced here like a clan mate. Local fashion shows are crowd pullers especially at the night clubs and bars and modelling is a profession parents are starting to consider acceptable for their children. Everything from the car you drive to the phone you have is considered a fashion statement.

How many channels does that package offer?
Growing up in the 90’s, there was only one TV station I was assured of. UTV now known as UBC was the faithful one, other channels came and went but UTV stayed. Our affair has been long but not without its issues. We have had moments when we disagreed about time, leaving me staring at a range of colours hoping someone will come back on and say something at midnight. Those older than me have relayed me with stories of before colour and only one rich man in the village had a TV; a black and white screen TV. Everyone gathered to watch the president’s address and South African movies and songs. However the conversation today goes something like this:
“How many channels does your package have, mine has 30” Person one asks
“Which decoder do you have because my service provider has only one package” person two answers.
Is there anyone in Kampala who does not have a decoder? Reason: digital migration.

Don’t touch my cassette!
Now, that is a statement you can hear no more in this area. Back in the day, all a salesman had to do to close that radio deal faster was mention that it was a cassette player. Everyone walked away happy, it was a good deal indeed. Congolese and south African music flooded the market on these cassettes, with a mix of Judy Boucher here and there. The local artistes were mostly bands, solo artistes being a rare occurrence. These were the main acts at most of the night joints of the time. Fast-forward many years down the road and to celebrate 50 years of Independence, an international artiste will be on the Ugandan stage.

He is definitely not the first and will not be the last. Concerts are part of Kampala’s DNA. Back then, we had the late Lucky Dube, Redrat, Shaggy and then for the younger generation Wyclef Jean, Sean Paul plus many international artistes. Our local artistes, whose numbers increase on an hourly basis, followed suite.

A concert will ride on one big song alone, how they do it you ask, well, they invite over twenty other friends of theirs with one or two hits and the album launch is complete. However, the music is as diverse as the people.

Live band performances have ceased to be just for the older generation and have seen many youth attend and even play in these bands, a genre of music that is fondly referred to as afro-pop. Hip-hop is a genre that has been broadly embraced here more so when it came with a twist, the raps were done in local language with tongue in cheek statements that greatly contribute to today’s diction.

Fifty years down the road and we might have failed in many areas but one thing is for sure, the people of Kampala appreciate their own, they value local talent and are innovative with it. Whether it is fashion, music, night clubs or even food, the people of Kampala love their own. Now, that is the spirit of Kampala!


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