Time check: 6 pm. Visibly excited, she steps onto the stage. She smiles at the audience with ease, almost as if she recognises each of them. Her brown skin radiates through her bright orange kitenge dress – a clever wardrobe choice for the occasion. When she gets to the poem recital, there's no doubt she has felt these emotions and experienced this story. The performance is as raw as it gets.
Philippa Namutebi Kabali - Kagwa is a storyteller, the author of Flame And Song, a memoir whose launch took place on Tuesday night, April 4. It is the story of a Ugandan middle class family experience set in the 1960s through to the 70s and eventually the 80s which she describes as, “how I saw it.” Namutebi is also the daughter of the late Christopher Henry Barlow, author of the famous poem, Building The Nation which she artistically employs as a sub theme in her own prose and poetry book. In one of the book's poems, The VIP Room, an emotional narration of her father’s last days in a dysfunctional Mulago, she writes; “The builder of the nation gone…”
The audience which filled up Ibamba Restaurant at the Uganda Museum comprised writers, readers, poets and notable members of society, young and old alike – an indication of the vast pool of Ugandan readers that this memoir has attracted. But even more notable was her family, most of whom live here even when she settled in Cape Town. The Reverend Canon Diana Nkesiga, a member of the Barlow family herself, started off the event in a heartfelt prayer. Two of her nieces later each recited a poem from her memoir.
Veteran journalist and storyteller, Drake Sekeba too sat in the audience unnoticed until he got the microphone to ask a question and introduced himself amidst the crowd's cheering. He said that he was “jealous” of Namutebi for telling this vital story of Uganda’s history and sought to know the challenges that she faced. Namutebi in response noted that some of the events as she remembered didn't check out. For example, whereas she remembered that the family had driven in a certain car model to Mulago, she didn't recall them owning that vehicle. Philippa during a Q and A session with journalist Josephine Karungi lit a candle as a symbolic wish for the “flame to keep burning.”
Nyana Kakoma, Ugandan writer, editor and director of Publishing House, Sooo Many Stories under which Flame and Song is published said in her remarks that there was a need for our Ugandan stories to be told for those who come after and that is why she was drawn to this particular story. The launch ended at 8:30pm with a photo moment and later a meet and greet book signing session.
Book Title: Flame and Song
Author: Philippa Namutebi Kabali – Kagwa
Available at: Aristoc Bookstore, BookPoint Uganda