Recently, festivals have become the real deal in Gulu’s social scenes.
From Film Festival, Acholi Cultural Festival to Paul Mutanga’s Open Mic Festival and now Wer Waa Art Festival.
But what is an art festival?
An arts festival is a festival that can encompass a wide range of art genres including music, dance, fine art, poetry etc. and isn’t solely focused on “visual arts.”
I plead guilty as charged for not attending the 1st and 2nd editions of Wer Waa yearly festival.
Ignorance has never been an excuse and that’s why I will write this article so that ignorance should not be the reason for you to miss next years 4th Wer Waa Arts Festival.
At 6:00pm, Uganda had defeated Cape Verde to win itself a place in the African Cup od Nations (AFCON) finals in 2019.
It was a tense, nail bitting game from Uganda’s mediocre performance. Luckily, Kaddu Patrick nodded home a smart goal in the last minutes to the excitement of Uganda fans.
The mood for partying set in as fans in Gulu were spoilt for choices to either attend the Premier of the Movie “Tears of Akello” or attend Wer Waa Art Festival.
I finally chose to attend the festival which felt more fun instead of a passive moment watching Akello’s Tears.
If you have been to Gulu, the venue for Wer Waa Art Festival was in a quiet ambience in Senior Quarters at the extreme end of Upper Churchill Drive.
The quiet ambience with low volume music gave it a unique romantic experience.
At the entrance was a mini tail-agate of youths sipping beer at the bonnet of their cars. One would get a feel of young career youths with exclusively beautiful well dressed ladies that exuded pomp and confidence.
The dressing of the ladies portrayed absolute freedom as they showed a lot of modern culture and cleaverage defining their youthfulness.
There were all signs of love in the manner of their conduct. From their sexy smiles, to the cuddles and caressing by their boyfriends.
As one approaches the point for payments, the aroma of the barbecue welcomes you.
Approximately, 5 meters from the payment point; a thick dark skinned young man is busy working at the barbecue, tossing my most pleasant of beer diets-pork from left to right.
As he works up the barbecue, he shakes his head to the beats of MC Wang Jok’s latest music Rec Agara. These are all delicacies that naturally instruct salivary glands to send saliva to the mouth and a good appetite.
The young man at the gate notices, who I am and out of respect decides not to receive my cash, only to say welcome sir. Your friends are the other side, turn left next to the bonfire.
This courtesy guarantees me already a very cold bottle of Uganda’s finest Bell beer. As a friend would say, BELL (Better Education Less Labour).
Walking beyond the barbecue, I approached the counter to get myself a drink. There is a racially inclusive crowd at the bar’s counter buying and sipping beer.
On a ratio of 1 to 5, you would find 1 African speaking to 5 Muzungus with a forged American accent. You can tell he has never been to the land of the White people but hopes to be there some day. His new accent is from listening to them speak.
A young friend comes over to keep my company. I open up the discussion. I asked him who are these naturally, strong young men with unimaginable dancing skills.
He answers,”these are street kids who come here to learn how to sing and dance. Wer Waa Art Festival which literally means Our Song is a platform to showcase different forms of creativity and art by young people.”
It hits me hard that the guy speaking with a forged accent could be a street kid with a natural artistic talent.He must have been speaking about his life and talent to interested Muzungus.
I excuse myself from this friend to try and trace “the guy with a forged accent”. He was no more at the bar counter.
I spotted him showing his Muzungu guests art paintings and drawings placed down on a well kept compound at the entrance and others hanging over a wall.
These were fantastic pictures that could earn thousands of dollars if it were being auctioned abroad. This talent could instantly change the life of this street kid if he were in the land of the White People.
But how did I miss to see this art pieces as I got in? Could it be that the aroma of the barbecue tampered with my attention to detail or the African in me failed me to appreciate creativity and art? For instance, there was a very meaningful art piece showing a picture of Legendary artists Okot P’ Bitek, Geoffrey Oryema , Lumix Da Don and Mc Wang Jok. The artist seem to say, the only Acholi living legend standing is Mc Wang Jok as the rest all passed on.
A lady friend noticed am in attendance and invited me to their company. I was fortunate to meet in this company Gulu’s top female music artists at the event. Janet Prisca and Pamela Peace welcomed me to their company.
A log was placed around the bonfire a reminiscent of life in the village around the fireside telling folk stories. Just that this time round, we shared urban stories.
As we all enjoyed great stories over beer about life and the festival, photographers comrades Pat Larubi and Walker were busy taking our photos giving us a little celebrity status.
Adjacent to our seats were a team of only Whites who presumably understand and appreciate better the meaning and importance of art festivals.
They sat on mats and car tyres decorated with artistic writings and improvised pillows in the middle making comfortable seats.
One could tell this companionship was purely of close and connected White community of Gulu.Ironically, as Pat Larubi focused on taking their pictures, Walker (Muzungu) focused on our team of “local celebrities.”
On stage, the music had changed to strong and fast Caribbean beats.Unlike many shows where the stage was lifted higher for proper viewing; this time round the stage was a laid carpet on grass with a unique artistic background showing creative unique drawings and writings giving it a beautiful artistic impression and a concentration of strong lights on stage.
The dancers were young, fast and physically fit as they made uniform twist and turns to the rhythm of music. From acrobatic dancing styles to what looked like Acholi aerobics.
This was a highly rehearsed and perfected style of dancing. The climax was of one young tall and handsome black boy dancing Salsa dance with a polite and mild mannered jaw dropping beautiful Muzungu girl.
This certainly is life one must live before they die. Periodically you would hear jubilation and excitement from fans as they celebrated the night away by clapping hands to appreciate every stage performance.
Heaven threatened to open up and so the drizzle would only make it more of like the Tom Sawyer love scenes in the book.The drizzle only made it a more cosy and romantic night as fans dared the rain and never took shelter save for a few fans with no more beer and loved ones.
In conclusion Wer Waa Art festival was about culture, creativity and company.
While art has become more accessible, but interacting with paintings, installations or sculptures, or seeing them up close, often provides a deeper appreciation that could never be put into words.
Gulu has been known for its past record of insurgency, a new generation of creative youths is using Art to change its narrative using music, culture and film festivals.