Stephen Rwangyezi is an arts, heritage and culture champion. He founded the Ndere Troupe in 1984 and over the years, the troupe has metamorphosed into the Ndere Cultural Centre, a must visit place whenever you are in Kampala, Uganda, particularly if you love wholesome cultural entertainment. Here, we bring you the concluding part of our chat with Mr. Rwangyezi…
I think we need to emphasize what does not exist elsewhere. The piano, the guitar, they do exist where they were made and probably those people play them a million times better. The reason why a tourist comes to Uganda is because he wants to see what he could not see in his home in America, in Zürich, in Iceland. So, we need to do more research because the cultural arts are only in the heads and memories of the old men and old women who are fast dying off. We need to do proper research. We need to be true to these arts, to learn them correctly – not just superficially putting them there for tourist impression. But to be honest to these arts to be authentic, but also to bear in mind that Africa is not frozen in a historical museum!
Africa is growing and therefore to allow the young and creative minds of the contemporary times to develop new arts, but develop upright. Let them know the rhythm patterns, the melodic structures, the scales that the different peoples of Uganda use. And from there, once they have learnt it correctly, apply their own creativity and develop new arts but which have the DNA of Uganda’s culture. At the moment, if you hear the music and dance of the young men, if you don’t know the language they’re singing or rapping, you wouldn’t tell if that music is from Australia, or somewhere in Brooklyn in America, or in any other country – because the beat, the rhythms, the melodic structures are not based on the indigenous arts. So my wish would be: Get the correct research. Do the correct teaching, so that those who develop will use that vocabulary, that alphabet, that vernacular and create new arts.
PEARL OF AFRICA TOURISM EXPO (POATE)
First of all, the fact that this expo came here is in itself a success, because Uganda has been through hell. There was a time when no one dared come to Uganda. Up to now, if you go to some places, they will ask you about Idi Amin. They think Idi Amin is still here. When I was asked to act in the Idi Amin film, The Last King of Scotland, the people that we’re acting with – Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, etc., – when they were coming, they were really scared. They thought Idi Amin was still here – and they were also scared thinking that we as Ugandans would not be able to enact that story because they thought it has impacted on us so badly and they didn’t want to disturb our raw wounds. So the fact that this expo was held here is a plus. It’s an indication that Uganda has moved on from the unfortunate history, and we are actually making good use of that history.
Secondly, like again, in one of the scenes I liked in that movie, The Last King of Scotland, was at the very beginning when Doctor Garrigan, a new graduate from medical school turns the globe and then points a finger and says “Wherever I touch is where I’ll go.” The first time, he touches Canada and says, “Canada? Hmm… No.” And then spins again and – Uganda. “Uganda? I’ll go.” That pointer of Dr. Garrigan to Uganda is like beaming a light on Uganda. Now, this particular expo is another beaming of light on Uganda. So I think those two are a sign of success. But rather than praising ourselves about the success, I think we should be looking at what should be the lesson from this. The world has trusted us. People have come from all over the world, held the expo here and have gone back to talk about Uganda, to market Uganda.
The challenge for us is when these people go and market, the participants of the expo go and market Uganda, and say “This is a beautiful destination” when guests come, what are they going to find in Uganda that they cannot find elsewhere? Why should people come here? That’s where the cultural aspect of our lives becomes very crucial – because you can see a mountain in Switzerland. You can see gorillas in Congo, or you can take a gorilla in a zoo in the United States. Why should someone come to Uganda, to see the gorilla in Uganda? It should be the life of the people and that’s where for me, I feel humbled that this expo came here to Ndere Centre to watch the performance, and that we are the leading body that promotes this Ugandan identity of culture. The challenge therefore is to make it better, to stay true to it, to make sure that the visitors that are going to come to Uganda – I’m pretty sure that with the success of this expo, numbers will grow up – and I’ll love that when they come they find even better facilities, better explanation, more unique Ugandan characteristics that they will not be able to find elsewhere. So for me, the expo was a beamer on Uganda. We have to ensure that we don’t disappoint those who participated and those who will promote Uganda.
Uganda Tourism Board is an arm of government. Government is the super-structure that is entrusted with the custody of everything Ugandan. My request to them is what makes us Ugandan? What are those things that make us Uniquely Ugandan? Let’s put our resources, our efforts, to the development of those aspects of Uganda that make us uniquely Ugandan. As far as I’m concerned, it’s those cultural inheritance that we did not inherit from our parents, but borrowed from our children. Our children have a right – and the children of our children have a right – to find what Uganda was endowed with. Let’s first forget about tourism. Let’s look inward – that the children of my children have a right to find what my ancestor left – and find it in better condition. Because, if you borrow money from a person, you have two duties: one, return it; but also put interest. So, if we take the concept that we borrowed this from our children, then we have a duty to preserve it and an obligation to make it better – that’s the interest. So government must invest in the preservation of our cultural heritage. It’s not right to leave it to private entrepreneurs like us, because at the moment I am committed to it, but other people will be committed to profits, and if prostituting the culture is what will pay, they will prostitute it. So, it’s the duty of government to invest in the preservation and development of our culture. So that those of us who are practising it can be cushioned by government investment, and therefore be able to continue doing the authentic things and not prostituting it, because we are looking for what sells quickly in order to earn money that we should survive on. There must be investment in the preservation. There must be embedment of cultural values in the education systems.