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Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Festival Offers an Afro-Centric Alternative to Burning Man

By Danielle Dorsey

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The music industry is fully immersed in festival season, which in my mind begins with Coachella in April and extends through the end of September. Festivals are, at their core, an invitation to celebrate and open your mind to discovering new music, art, and friends. It’s when we’re encouraged to show off our most eclectic, glitter-splashed fashions and unleash the most flamboyant version of ourselves.

But for Black folks, festivals can often be an isolating experience. As we cozy up to outdoor stages, we’re inevitably faced with all too common racial microaggressions like Native American headdresses and box braids being sported by clueless Caucasians.

Held from September 5-8 in Jinja, Uganda, Nyege Nyege Fest offers a remix on the typical festival experience by providing a jungle setting off the Nile River where African beats and cultures reign supreme. “Nyege” is a Swahili word that stands for peace, respect, and abundant joy, which serve as the main tenants for the 4-day festival.

Nyege Nyege’s first festival was a spontaneous event held during the rainy season of 2015, and within four years they’ve managed to establish themselves as the most important international music festival in East Africa. They’re known for their unique lineups and “afropolitan” vibe. Although the festival attracts an international audience, its creators are intentional about centering Ugandan culture and African music as their primary inspiration. In 2017, Nyege Nyege was voted Uganda’s event of the year. In 2018, the festival welcomed Africa’s number 1 telecom brand and became MTN Nyege Nyege, a step towards financial sustainability that organizers are hopeful will help them remain independent going forward.

The festival is also part of a Kampala-based arts incubator that includes an arts residency, community studios, a record label, and artist management agency called Nyege Nyege Tapes, and a party crew called Boutiq Electroniq. The art collective is building up to the festival with a European summer tour featuring this year’s headliners, including Kenya’s electro-dance sensation Slikback, Congolese mutant pop band POKO POKO, Tanzanian duo MCZO & Duke (who were recently denied entry into the US for Red Bull Music Festival in New York), and many more.

Nyege Nyege welcomes everyone, but the festival is first and foremost about dancing and letting yourself be moved by music. Come prepared to have a good time and leave all your worries on the dancefloor. For more information and to attend Nyege Nyege Festival, click here.

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Danielle Dorsey

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