posted on August 09, 2007 04:05
Live at the Awer IDP Camp, Gulu, Uganda (July 2007)
This gig was nothing like any I have ever been to before. I’ve been scratching my head trying to come up with a frame of reference, and all I’ve drawn are blanks. Was this a great gig? Well though was nothing like Toots & The Maytals in Vicar St, it was a different type of good. It was one of the most memorable gigs I have ever been to, the atmosphere was amazing, (the music more often than not wasn’t!), hell, it was probably a once in a lifetime experience.
The CLUAS Verdict? 8.5 out of 10
We had arrived in Gulu two days previously, hot, sweaty and sore after a seemingly never ending bus ride from Kampala, a journey broken only by infrequent stops either to allow half the bus time to piss against its back tyre, or chain smoke in petrol stations.
Gulu itself is a relatively small town in the north of Uganda, and for the last 20 years it has been largely inaccessible. It was from here that the LRA rebellion really took hold, and some of the worst violence, in one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts, took place. We had come, taking advantage of a tenuous ceasefire, to visit the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, to experience life in what is still officially a war zone, and to sate some unexplainable, magnetic, fixation. The last place I expected to find myself was in the middle of a crowd, in the middle of an IDP camp, bopping my ass off to the “cream” of local Ugandan talent.
The concert was organized by “Invisible Children” an NGO set up to care for the child victims of the civil war. “Fallout Boy,” an America band, have become involved with I.C. and were over to shoot a video in Awer camp. As a token of gratitude, and to relieve the monotony of camp life, I.C. were putting on this free gig, where local artists would perform. I don’t think Fallout Boy’s brand of punk is quite in touch with the average Ugandan’s tastes…
We arrived an hour and a half late for the gig (this being Africa!), but (eh, this being Africa again!) it turned out that we were actually an hour and a half early. The stage was set up at the corner of the main square, and a couple of hundred kids, as well as a few token alcoholics (banana beer breath smells BAD) were milling around the stage, grooving away to the Top of the Uganda’s Pops, which was booming from the speakers. Being brutally honest Ugandan pop music is dire, consisting of pre-fabricated synth drum tracks, and Casio preset keyboard lines. In the rush to modernity the people seem to have forgotten their rich trad history and the drumming that can fire up any hoolie.
Most acts here don’t have backing bands, and cost must have been a factor for the gig, so all the acts sang over their CDs, or tapes. This is the first time I had seen something like this outside of a kids birthday party, but given the occasion, the enthusiasm of the crowd (which had by now swollen to well over a thousand), and the performers exhilaration, it all somehow worked.
Five acts in all played, though the language barrier kept me from getting all but one of their names, Lady Jane. In a tantalizing brush with celebrity however, the headline act did get changed into his stage gear in the back of our car. Some of the tunes were great, some were awful, but the crowd responded to them all energetically, and the day was a memorable, bizarre, and ultimately feel-good experience. The undoubted highlight came when one of the rappers pulled a group of children from the front row, only for one of the kids to grab a microphone and rock the crowd, and the mic, like a bad ass pro. They did have to cut him off when it all got just a little too raunchy, but it was something you just don’t see everyday.
The acts will probably never hit the big time, or even make it out of Uganda, and hopefully the situation that gave rise to the camps will never occur on these shores, but should you get the opportunity, you will never forget it!