What you need to know:
- After realising their talent could see them make good money, Flavia Namulindwa and her colleagues perform songs from prominent Ugandan tribes at functions for a fee, writes Isaac Ssejombwe.
Dance is one way that expresses Uganda’s rich cultural diversity and with more than 50 subcultures, various traditional dances signify culturally important events and emotions of love, sorrow, joy, and excitement.
The Dance n Beats cultural troupe has capitalised on this to create a reliable source of income.
The Dance n Beats cultural troupe was started by media personality Mary Flavia Namulindwa in 2016 as a professional African dance group of highly talented artistes. It started in a one rehearsal space in Old Kampala as a church dancing group with 14 people but kept growing to more than 30.
Namulindwa says she started this troupe because of her background.
“Before I joined the media industry as a TV and radio presenter, I was a cultural performer all the way from primary school, a talent that gave me an opportunity to travel to Sweden at an early age,” she says.
Adding that it is the motivation and strong feeling she had for culture that pushed her to start.
“I came up with this idea six years ago and I have seen it become fruitful. I always dreamt of creating a group of theatrical performers from the different traditions and cultures to be representatives of Uganda and Africa expressing it through music, dance and poetry,” says Namulindwa.
The group entertains at weddings and rallies as well as in other gatherings.
“We settled on the unique African songs that form the best entertainment in many events and functions. So far we have perfected ourselves in more than 10 songs and dancing styles,” says Edward George Matovu who also serves as the team trainer.
The group is made up of young talented musicians, instrumentalists and dancers.
“We have performed at several events in Kampala educating the crowds through our songs and dances on dangers of HIV/Aids, leadership, peace and culture among others,” says Matovu.
The Dance n Beats might be descriptive but Namulindwa says there is more to the name. She wanted something to signify joy, celebration and possession by a higher power linked with a traditional rhythm and transformation to create a main accent or rhythmic unit in traditional music, dances and poetry.
She wanted to create something unique and urban, influencing the majority of youths to join and embrace their cultures since most of them are driven by the urban dances.
“It is hard to clearly tell how much I have spent on the troupe since I started it in 2016 as its stage, activity and performance calls for different investment from the word go,” she says.
However, Namulindwa adds that the troupe actually makes some good money from weddings, traditional ceremonies and entertaining at corporate events and says they charge Shs3m in Kampala and beyond the city they charge slightly more.
As a form of abstract art, cultural dance requires total concentration of mind, body and soul to synchronise the movements with lighting and music to tell a story and bring out emotion.
“Watching a dance is as important as going to a gallery to see art,” explains Namulindwa.
Does dance pay? “Only if one is well known and has opportunities to perform during high profile fetes,” says Namulindwa. When they attend high profile festivals in Kampala, they are paid according to the amount of time they take and the number of performances.
At busy functions such as weddings, trade shows that can last for days, the team leadership negotiates for a better pay.
“We are convinced that through the talent development and involving youth we can create our own jobs and earn living from it,” says Namulindwa.
Some of the youths in the group are secondary and university students who could actually be relying on their parents for pocket money, but do not anymore.
“We can now earn something for being involved in music, traditional dances and songs. It is a perfect way of socialising and I feel appreciated after entertaining other people,” says Timothy who is diploma student in a local college.
The troupe’s breakthrough was at Bebe Cool’s ‘The Life of Bebe Cool’ concert at Serena Hotel, Victoria hall and since then, it has continued to perform on various corporate events such as the Kabaka’s 26th coronation anniversary in Nkumba, the grand opening of ceramic tiles in Kapeeka, Luweero District where president Museveni was the guest of honour, the Bride and Groom Expo 2016 among others.
They have continued to perform on various traditional ceremonies in and around Kampala.
“The troupe organised two cultural experience shows at Kampala Serena Hotel, Victoria Hall In May 2018, and in June the following year to celebrate the uniqueness of Uganda’s culture,” says Namulindwa.
The troupe also holds classes– for a fee – at their base. But they also hold free classes for budding dancers. Namulindwa says their dream is to open a school of both cultural and contemporary dance in Uganda. But that will take time. “Most parents still do not appreciate that you can make a career out of dancing,” she says.
Even with six years of experience, the group has encountered some challenges along the way.
“We meet some Ugandans who demand we perform contemporary dances which is contrary to our niche,” says Namulindwa.
The struggle to retain talent is the other challenge, according to Namulindwa they lose most of their dancers to rival troupes who come offering more money.
Despite the challenges, she believes the troupe has a lot of positives such as enhancing the quality of life and increasing overall well-being for both individuals and communities with improved learning and increased tolerance and opportunities to come together with others to paint a cultural picture beyond borders.
They have united young entrepreneurs with a common mindset in business, through building relationships, networking and mentoring.
The group has created income generating activities through talent development; for example, to help our members turn their ideas and passions into businesses and develop future business leaders.
They also give back to the communities through service learning and engaging them into our activities by carrying out workshops to train our communities more sustainable agricultural practices that address the concerns of ongoing climate changes and how to start up income generating activities.
The youth are inspired to become entrepreneurs through music, dance and storytelling, mentoring and networking.
They instil self-confidence, the fear of God, honesty, and self-respect in the poor and vulnerable children in our communities through our performances based on values, morals and ethics.
The types of dances they offer:
Namulindwa says her group offers a variety of dances depending on the occasion and says they can offer dances such as:
Nankasa, Baakisiimba, Muwogola
This is a traditional folk dance that originated from the Buganda kingdom. The dance was a result of one Kabaka of Buganda kingdom who got ‘drunk’ from the local drink ‘tonto’ or ‘omwenge’ made from bananas. As he danced out of happiness, he was joined by the people around him and has since been a celebratory dance among the Baganda people.
They use instruments such as tube fiddle (endigidi), drum (namunjoloba), shakers (ensaasi), long drum (engalabi).
This is a dance performed by the Banyankole from the western part of Uganda. This originates from the Nkore or Ankole kingdom which is one of the oldest traditional dynasties in Uganda. It was created after the merger of merging the Nkore kingdom with the smaller chiefdoms of Sheema, Buhweju, and Igara. Ekitaguriro is the dance performed by both men and women.
They use it to tell stories, communicate vital cultural information, good harvest as well as a celebration of fundamental life changes such as birth and marriage but mostly to show appreciation of their cows.
The men step from one leg to another imitating the back and forth movement the cows make when walking and the women spread their hands across and above their heads in the representation of the long-horned cattle and majestically sway from side to side in unison.
The dance is performed whilst wearing the Banyankole traditional dancewear known as ‘bitambi’ or ‘lessu’ (wrapper) which is tied tightly around their waist and another lighter cloth around the shoulders complemented by several African themed jewellery for the women. The men add to the ankle beads to their ensemble whose basic role is to draw attention to the foot movements and compliment the sounds of the ‘Kitaguriro dance’.
Acholi traditional dance
Acholi people have eight different traditional dances for different occasions and reasons. They have the lara karaka dance. Also known as the ‘courtship dance’.
This is the traditional dance of the Bakiga people from the south-western part of Uganda known as Kigezi. In celebration of their hard work and harvest, they perform the Kizino dance consisting of hand-clapping, embuutu (big drum), endere (flute), ensaasi (shakers) and rhythmic singing led by a lead singer.
Both the men and women jump and thump the ground as they raise their hands up and down to match the legs. There is so much energy evidenced in this dance, vibrating from the dancers to the ground, as well the screams of excitement complimenting the singing.
Iteso people are Nilo-Hamites that live in Eastern Uganda. Another courtship dance performed to the sound of thumb piano (akogo), small drum and flutes customized to a softer sound.
It is performed by both women and men showing off their stamina ability frantically thumping on one foot as the men make advance moves towards the woman of their choice.
The dance is performed with instruments such as embuutu (big drum), emgalabbi (long drum), akasekendde (shaker) and runyege (tied around the legs). The runyege dance is performed with vigour and skill intended to impress the woman of interest to pick out the right man. He is joined by his family and friends to show the great family and supporting community she will be a part of.
This dance is used to send quite a number of signals to the opposite sex to let them know how the other feels.
This is a dance performed by the Karimojong people who live in the areas of Kotido and Moroto districts of North-eastern Uganda.
The edonga dance is performed by jumping with the entire weight of the body to as high as one can go to signify enthusiasm and love for their culture and country.
Named after the main instrument of the dance called agwara (local trumpet/horn) of the lugbara people.
The lugbara people are settled over the areas surrounding the borders of DRC and South Sudan in northern Uganda.
It is a celebratory dance done in imitation of the movement of hunters as they sneak up on the animals. This dance was performed to prepare young men to join the hunting parties as well as celebrate successful hunting trips.
Starting up a cultural group
A capital of Shs5m can start a fairly good cultural troupe. This capital can help one purchase instruments, buy material and make some costumes accompanied with the right skills in different dances and songs together with the ability to manage a business.
Starting a cultural group requires someone to be passionate about music. They need to be very creative, able to compose and choreograph different dances as this will help you showcase different styles at different events.
There is no cultural group with instruments. You need to have a set of different instruments for a specific occasion and culture.
Musical instruments serve a variety of roles: some may be confined to religious or ceremonial occasions, others are used in a more secular fashion for entertainment.
Some of the known are drums, xylophones, adungu, tube fiddle, flutes, shakers, long drums and thumb piano among others.
The instruments range in size and complexity from hand-held objects to large, elaborate devices constructed of many parts and, even today, they are mostly crafted from natural materials using age-old methods.
They are significant because every dance has its costume. Lara karaka dancers from the north have head gears and beads in their waists, those from the central and east have kikoyi and people from the West have ankle beads.