Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stone a Ugandan

Yesterday Uganda nearly erupted. The tinder box was nearly lit. It was not a Kenya style post elections 2008 explosion, yet, where ‘hunting’ for the ‘wrong tribe’ was afoot but I was there, I was in the middle of yesterday’s eruption, trapped along Entebbe road, and I can say we are headed there. I’m a survivor of yesterday’s violence that convulsed parts of Kampala from downtown Kisekka Market (the famous second hand automobile car repair market), spread rapidly through to Nakulabye, Kasubi, Mengo-then a tossed Molotov cocktail soon we were learning Kireka, Ntinda, Nsambya were all now inaccessible-you only went there if you had to go there, that Friday 29 April 2011 morning. 

This kind of craziness, barricades of tree branches, old car tyres, anything movable mounted in the middle of roads, had not really come to Entebbe before throughout the 3 weeks so far of the walk to work demonstrations. Kajjansi had witnessed some violence in week 2 of the demonstrations, but it had been more because the security apparatus overreacted than Kajjansi residents actively going out to demonstrate and then engage in stone throwing, burning tyres, and eventually robbery and looting of all that was not securely locked down. 

This Friday 29 April 2011, it came to Entebbe. It did not reach Kajjansi or the centre of Entebbe, where the ‘official’ Uganda State House is located and where President Museveni usually sits when he is not at his country home of Rwakitura. But I have little doubt that if there is another demonstration that turns violent, it is going to try and reach ‘that’ Entebbe and that is when we will see live bullet shooting into the surging scattered crowds that will leave possibly in the hundreds dead. 

For this Friday 29 April 2011 though, Entebbe was cut off from Kampala by the demonstrations cutting the snaking highway from Zzana and Namasuba-then Ndeeba (another famous local artisan market).
But why am I calling them demonstrations? What I saw could not have been described as demonstrations. That would be a lying definition. Can I call it a riot? A protest? The ‘explanation’ this Friday eruption is that it was a protest against the way former Presidential candidate and Forum for Democratic Change leader retired Colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye was brutally arrested on Thursday, 28th April, when after an incarceration over the Easter break at Nakasongola Prison, he was stubbornly once again trying to lead the twice weekly walk to work demonstrations he and other opposition figures have tried to lead to protest the rising costs of living brought about the high fuel prices.
It was not a ‘demonstration’ I was caught in at Zzana though. We need a new word to describe the pent up fury of flying rocks I saw heaved by faces contorted in a crying rage that went beyond bleeding hearts for what another Ugandan had been put through by security forces. It was more than a protest, it was more a demonstration, it was terribly much more and I came face to face with it. I looked it in the face and was shocked to discover it was no subterranean HG Wells fantasy beast, sat up in the front seat of the taxi I was in, next to the gap toothed grinning driver, and saw it was no Bethlehem slouch when it came to taking its vengeance as that youth, running like a streaker into the road we were on, held out his hand like Traffic policeman for us to stop-and then when we were about to, realised almost too late, in his right hand he had a huge rock and he was going to heave at the windscreen of the taxi we were in-12 human beings of us, 12 Ugandans who this morning had little idea our eyes might not live to see the evening sun-in streaking to the middle of the road, he had been trying to get a better ‘shooting’ angle...
...and then he heaved that rock at us!...
With all his might, like a javelin thrower.
And it hit us!
That is when the walk to walk protests became ‘real’ for me.
That is when I knew I could no longer be a spectator. That is when I knew I had to pick a side. That is when I knew I had to stop simply hoping for good times to come back somehow without my participation, or minimal participation.
That rock shattered my glassed in complacency.
I have the bruises and the scratches, from that shower of splintering glass. The driver was much worse off. He had to get stitches on his forehead, his left eye swelled will have to be closed up for a while-a pirate who took back his life-and he will probably lose his job because while his ‘boss’ had repeatedly ordered him to park the taxi, as news of the violence in the streets spread, he had not, determined to get his passengers to safety first-laughingly confident he could.
The adrenalin thrill of the ‘riots’ was gone for us, as he weaved and struggled to bring the taxi to a halt by the side of the road, youths baying and yelling, “Amafuta mugajawa? For you how can you afford the fuel?” We knew they were not good Samaritans. We all know what happens when an accident occurs in Uganda, and ‘helpers’ swamp around the wreckage, soon predators.
The ‘riots’, ‘demonstrations’, ‘protests’ (call it what you will, I demand a new definition) of Friday 29 April 2011 had just begun and we were right in the middle of them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


All those waiting for the show to begin: it has.

3: 18 pm and I wake up. What’s wrong here? I should not be waking up at this time. I have not had to watch up at this moment for almost a year now. Not even when I have taken my nightly cup of coffee & then in the Nescafe smaller glass mug sneaked another. I have known sleep for a while now. 

But this waking is not in panic. Nor is it the dragged out reluctant going-to-‘prep’ table read. No. One moment I was asleep. The next, I’m wide awake. No pauses. No check out counters. Yet there is no nightmare in this waking. I’ve woken up too few times like this to remember what it is like. I imagine this must be how babies wake up-when the internal body clock ticks ‘Enough. Time for milk.’ 

I have longed for such waking. I’ve read them in some poems. I’ve watched them in some films, hard to find downtown Kampala, like Stoned. I’ve dreamed and tried to write such waking. But I have never woken up enough times like this to savour it, to know it, when I wake up like this, so perfectly timed that there is no panic or fear because it is early enough in the still night covered earth to revel in the knowledge I’ll go back to sleep sometime and I’ll have enough time still to sleep long and wake in the morn not yawning. So I can enjoy this dawn stillness, when the dogs are no longer barking, pointy claws marking the soft earth with Olympic sprints, the cats squealing backed against a wall or a tree threatening to fight rather than just be mauled; no cars rambling down the road beside my fence, or a boda boda and his passenger cursing, hurling insults at each other as they pick themselves up, the motorcycle tyre turned after running into the tree root sticking out of the ground. Just silence. 

So I lie there. In the silence. 

Then I understand what woke me up. 

I can barely believe it at first. 

I think I’m listening wrong. 

I wonder if perhaps reading Langston Hughes’s Big Sea autobiography so soon after Walter Mosley’s Black Betty has affected me so. I’m beginning to think I’m a character in a book! Or that I could be this lucky. 

I listen. Intently. 

Yes, there is a drizzle. A gentle patter. It rains so much these mornings. 

But that is not all that is there. Outside. 

Could it be...really

I dare not believe it. Listening as closely as I can. 

When did I last hear that sound, soothing and peaceful? 5 years ago, four years ago? Where I was I? Somewhere in Rubaga, mid afternoon, when bodas were still a novelty enough, and I had taken one, on company money, to go find the great man & watched wide eyed as we weaved and passed through pounding cacophonies of local smelters and artisans until we reached the most unlikely location for the rehearsal home of Afrigo band. I had gone to meet Afrigo band’s leader Moses Matovu (electronic recorder-less, arrgh! Just pen and paper pad) and he said, “Let me play for you.” 

Now...4 years/5 years my bed, with a soothing drizzle a much better place in my life than I have been in a long time, asking nothing...I hear...

...the sweet sure wailing of a saxophone...going over & over a certain note, perfecting it, going back, playing it again, lazily doodling over others...then...short quick bursts...

Me listening, in my bed, wide awake, not daring to breathe too long I might waft it can’t be real! It can’t be real...Oh my God, it is going on... 

I wish, then I don’t have to anymore...

Her hand finds mine and squeezes it. 

I’m 31 years old today. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maurice Kirya & Geoffrey Oryema in the same frame! 2 Greats on the same track?

There are photos you just know are going to be iconic and this is one of them. A photograph of two ‘authentic’ great Ugandan musicians. Geoffrey Oryema and Maurice Kirya. Sometime I would like to talk to you about iconic Ugandan photos I have seen that remain imprinted more firmly on my mind than Armstrong’s footprints on the dark side of the moon. Photos and paintings of Ugandan greats that live and pulsate with an idea of Uganda that today’s circumstances continually try to crush and deny-Ugandan greats who dreamed beyond the fetal comforts of clan & tribe, loved and kissed beyond the colour, learned languages of strangers visiting as naturally as they kneaded matooke or kaloo in the palm to eat. One day, one day…(Do remind me!

But here is a photo of two Ugandan greats, who have already done so much for Uganda-neglected as they still remain in this beautiful land they decided to be ambassadors for. Geoffrey Oryema has created music of depths and resonances that betray the lie that young Ugandans are no longer in touch with the music of their ancestors, refuses to return to Uganda on principle until ‘Freedom reigns’ that after 34 years of continued exile, begins to ‘feel’ like those canterkerous village old men who on principle-because in their childhood they were taught a certain way of dressing, speaking the Queen’s English, even in rag tag suits, still defiantly refuse to abandon all they have practiced all their lives. 

Kirya,well, Maurice Kirya-little exposure that he gets in Kampala, in Uganda, shocking though that is-like a guy who does not know how to take NO from a girl he is courting, keeps trying to woo Uganda, telling all and sundry in his travels, ‘I know this girl back home, she would blow your mind’ unpaid for, unasked, unexpected, far more effective marketing for Uganda and Ugandan culture than we have ever had-a one man band Tourism ministry in themselves. 

So here they are. The two. Two authentic Ugandan greats shaking hands on a Paris street in 2011. Enjoy the treat! 

Geoffrey Oryema & Maurice Kirya (click 4even bigger!)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Biggie Ready to Die Album cover baby is 18

Atoning because I nearly missed this…The Biggie Ready to Die album cover baby is 18! Yeah, just like you, I always thought that the photo on Biggie Small’s classic debut album Ready to Die might be an old Christopher Wallace photograph. How wrong I was! The photograph of the Afro wig wearing chubby cheeked baby had not been jacked from Violetta Wallace’s molding albums of Biggie before Biggie abandoned a future dental career and the straight and narrow path. Wrong! 

The baby on the album cover was Butch Blair, and he just turned 18 years old this year. Here’s a link. It feels great to finally have one more mystery cleared up about Biggie! 

There are a couple of others that I still have queries about…

"Blow up like the world trade..."
LLike is that photo of Biggie Smalls with the twin towers destroyed in the September 11, 2001 Al Queda attacks real or photo shopped? You know in Juicy Biggie raps, “Blow up like the World Trade…” & and we know how that ended.So how did Biggie know? Did he know?