I just spent a week in Jinja, Uganda, speaking as part of the Doadoa East African Performing Arts Market. I gave a presentation about music marketing.
It was, it has to be said, a very different presentation about music marketing than the one I gave at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the previous weekend – though I guess some of the key principles remained the same.
Chances are the vast majority of African musicians you’ve actually heard of are West African musicians. In East Africa, generally speaking, there’s very little in the way of infrastructure, not much happening in the way of performance opportunities and hardly anything you could call an independent music industry.
There are, of course, some fairly big name pop stars in Uganda, and indeed, one of them played out the back of our hotel at deafening volumes until 2am on Saturday night – which seems an odd thing for a hotel to allow. But in general, there’s not a great deal going on for most people.
If you want to start a career as a musician or you want to be a music industry worker in Uganda, then your options are fairly limited in the grand scheme of things.
The big tip-off for me was the complete lack of record stores. This is the first place I’ve ever been where vinyl shopping was simply not an option. Nobody owns record players, and nobody sells records. Seems it’s always been this way. You can buy a CD – burned to blank disc according to your specifications from an old PC in a small roadside store. But other than this – no music retail. And not much else in the way of music business either.
However, there are, of course, musicians. Great musicians. Some good producers too. A couple of really wonderful venues.
Here’s a brief sample of some of the music we encountered or caused to happen.
There just hasn’t been any real consolidation of the pockets of activity happening around East Africa or any clear route to market. So one of the things that Un-Convention has been involved with here for the past year has been the establishment of the Bayimba Co-op, which brings musicians and other artists together to share knowledge and contacts – the idea being that collaboration provides an opportunity to build sustainable careers within the arts for local people.
To see musicians working together towards the creation of a whole new industry, built on principles of cooperation rather than competition has been fantastic to see, and it’s an amazing place to be – for all sorts of reasons.
It’s my first time in Africa – let alone Uganda – and it’s been a fantastic introduction.
I’ve been very busy the whole time, of course. I swam in the Nile, hiked alongside waterfalls, watched some of the most incredible percussionists I’ve ever seen, danced to one of the best live reggae bands I’ve heard, won hundreds of thousands of shillings at the roulette table (nearly £30), and saw some amazing animals.
I was there with a fantastic bunch of people and have many, many stories to tell…
I also took about 500 photos, which you’re welcome to wade through, if you feel so inclined…