How Nyege Nyege propelled Busoga’s Nakibembe Embaire Troupe to global Stage

The Nakibembe Troupe at the CTM festival 2020. Photo credit - STEFANIE KULISCH

What you need to know:

  • The troupe has performed at every edition of the Nyege Nyege festival since 2017 and will be a part of the Uganda Waragi-sponsored eighth edition happening from that kicked off November 2023 in Jinja City. 

Most Ugandans – save for those hailing from Eastern Uganda and the Busoga region – do not know the Nakibembe Embaire (Xylophone) Troupe. 

The troupe - which hails from the village of Nakibembe in Iganga District – plays a large traditional xylophone called the Embaire. 

It can be played by up to eight people. 

The troupe has performed at every edition of the Nyege Nyege festival since 2017 and will be a part of the Uganda Waragi-sponsored eighth edition happening from that kicked off November 2023 in Jinja City. 

Thanks to the exposure received from the festival, the troupe has performed on some of the world’s biggest music stages – with the first being in January 2020 at the CTM Festival in Germany. 

They then performed at the Worldwide Music Expo 2021 (WOMEX 21) in Portugal as part of the WOMEX 21 official Showcase Selection – a jury-selected list of performances from around the world celebrating musical diversity. 

This performance would earn the group even more exposure, leading them to the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Forde Festival in Norway, the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, the Brecht Festival in Germany and more. 

The troupe were the first traditional acts to perform at the legendary German electronic music nightclub – Berghain - alongside Indonesian artists Gabber Modus Operandi and Harsya Wahono, who feature on the troupe’s debut eight-track album. 

Nassar Kinobe – one of the troupe’s members –, says the journey to some of the world’s biggest music stages began with an invitation to perform at the 2017 edition of Nyege Nyege by Albert Ssempeke Bisanso – a traditional instrumentalist and music scholar who also happened to be friends with the founders of Nyege Nyege – Derek Debru and Arlen Dilsizian. 

Transformed lives 
This journey, he says, has transformed the lives of the troupe’s 24 members – many of whom are full-time farmers, herders, boda boda riders and so on - for the better. 

“From the time Nyege Nyege entered our lives, we were not known – not even here in Uganda. Since then, we have travelled the world and had our lives changed for the better. Many of us have started businesses, bought boda bodas and so on. We are very proud to say we are part of the Nyege Nyege family.” 

According to the official Nyege Nyege website, since its inception in 2015, the festival has been committed to documenting and promoting the traditional musical heritage of Uganda to the world.

Derek Debru – one of the festival’s founders, says, “With every edition, we make it a point to do our research and find undiscovered local artists to show the festival’s attendees and the world the most epic and exciting Ugandan traditional music.” 

He added that this year’s edition will have a stage strictly dedicated to traditional performances to accommodate the growing number of cultural musicians working with the festival. 

Hillary Baguma – UBL’s brand manager for mainstream spirits, says, “As the Spirit of Uganda, Uganda Waragi celebrates all the things that are uniquely and authentically Ugandan, and our sponsorship of the Nyege Nyege festival is driven by our consistent history of support towards the country’s creative industry as one of the most vibrant in Africa – contributing to the economy by mainly employing a sizeable number of creatives.” 

According to the Uganda Investment Authority, in the financial year 2018/2019, Uganda is estimated to have earned $1.6bn from the arts, culture, creativity, and tourism sectors alone - which provide employment opportunities and significantly contribute to the sustainable development of economies. 

After this year’s edition of Nyege Nyege, the Nakibembe Troupe has been invited to perform in Japan in August 2024 – continuing on their path of taking Ugandan culture to the world.