So, you need a new visa because your Kenyan visa expires in less than a two weeks. You have a taste for adventure, and it’s been over a year since your last music festival experience. So what do you do?
The obvious answer is to buy a tent, pack your bags and board a party bus to Nyege Nyege festival 2016 in Jinja, Uganda.
I was first clued in to Nyege Nyege festival by my friend Carolyn, who shares my thirst for travel, good friend, good music and good times. Nyege means “an urge to dance” in Luganda (side note: it does not mean this in Swahili. In Swahili it means something different, which I will not get into for the sake of my poor parents). Nyege Nyege is an international music festival that showcases the best underground talent Africa has to offer; North, East, West, and South Africa all come to mingle, and even flirt with the Middle East, America, Korea, Scandanavia. The crowd is even more diverse than the performances: Ghanaians, Ugandans, Kenyans, Dutchmen, Germans, Americans, Swedes, Brits. This melting pot of cultures and sounds come together for a weekend of music, rolexes, dancing, swimming, slip-and-sliding.
09.01 – 09.05
Nyege Nyege Nairobi style officially starts at Alchemist pub in Westlands (which I’ve blogged about before), where the partygoers gather to grab a bite, a beer, and maybe make a friend or two. I recommend grabbing a burger from Mama Rocks because, oh my goodness gracious, those burgers are to die for.
As I sat waiting for Carolyn and my burger, I was approached by a stranger, who extended her hand.
“Hi, I’m Sadia. You look like you’re all by yourself. Do you want to join us?
And that, my friends, is the spirit of Nyege Nyege. No one is alone, everyone is friendly, and all are welcome. It was the start of a beautiful friendship, and the beginnings of the formation of the Nyege Nyege weekend squad.
After the burger, you board the party bus, where you are immediately greeted by a new Nicaraguan friend and a bottle of tequilla, which makes it all the way around the bus.
Then begins the arduous, 13-hour long journey to Jinja, Uganda. This is not the fun part of the trip, guys. The bus is uncomfortable, sleep comes only in short bursts, and the wait at the border is never-ending.
Seriously. We reached the border at 4 am, and didn’t leave until 6 am. Two hours!! First, you get out of the bus. Then, you wait in a huge line with your passport, cash and yellow fever card, where men who are somehow still awake walk around selling snacks, passport covers and even exchanging Kenyan shillings for Ugandan shillings. After FINALLY reaching the front of the line, you are greeted by Kenyan immigration officials, who stamp your passport with an exit stamp. Then, you wait in line AGAIN until you reach Ugandan immigration officials, where if you’re a non-resident of East Africa like I am, you pay the clerk $50 USD and he hands you a handwritten receipt.
After all that, I didn’t even get the satisfaction of having my passport stamped. Uganda be kidding me.
From the border, Jinja is only another 2 hours or so by bus, but at this point I’m so awake and the sun is rising, so sleep escapes me. The scenery on the way to Jinja is entertaining, as you pass through a number of small towns and have children wave at you.
Finally (!) we arrive in Jinja, and have the chance to set up our tent. The festival is held at Nile Discovery centre, an abandoned hotel located right on the source of the River Nile. There is an area for camping, outfitted with composting toilets and jerry can showers. The only thing separating you from the rest of the festival-goers when you’re doing your business is a thin Kitenge (african fabric) that sways in the wind. If you’re lucky, you can set up your tent in the shade, because it eventually gets hot. Really really hot. There are two stages set up for the festival: a main stage which also hosts all the food stands, and a smaller forest stage which is mainly for DJ sets and electronic music.
After a short trip into town to pick up some supplies and a security sweep, we are finally allowed back into the festival, where the music starts and people start arriving.
The next three days are a blur.
My diet consisted almost exclusively of Rolexes and beer. (FYI – Rolex is a Ugandan street food made of an egg omelet rolled in a chapati with chopped tomatoes and sometimes cabbage and avocado. It is AMAZING. I still dream of them).
I had my face painted by the lovely and talented Lindsay, and also had the pleasure of painting my friends and fellow festival goers.
I met people from all over the world, and danced the night away with them. (Mouse over each photo to learn their nationality!)
I slid down a giant slip and slide, then washed off the mud by dancing and then hopping in the river Nile.
I watched the sun rise over the River Nile… not once, but twice.
And guys, the music… the music was amazing. For a much much MUCH better run down of the acts that played than I could ever provide, check out this post and this one… these people know their underground African artists so much better than I do.
Any kind of music you want to hear, you will find at this festival. Zouk, Afro house, folk, spoken word, Swahili trap, reggae. Everything mixes together and the result is three glorious days of getting lost in the moment.
The coolest thing about this festival is that the artists camp with you. They aren’t hidden in some hotel up the road, they are down in the trenches, dealing with the heat and eating as many Rolexes as you are. You can meet them, talk to them, tell them how much you enjoyed their show… and they are right along with you, enjoying the festival.
This festival was unlike anything I’d ever experienced… and I’m fairly sure many of the things that were condoned there would never fly in the Western world.
It was worth the 5 days without sleep, two 12+ hour overnight bus rides, jerry can showers and the ten pounds of glitter that I’m pretty sure I still haven’t managed to wash out of my hair.
It was worth the exhaustion that carried over for the next week (for real you guys… we got into Nairobi at 7 am on Tuesday morning. And I went to work. I WENT TO WORK).
This weekend was so much more than the simple visa run I’d originally envisioned. It was the end to my summer in Nairobi, and the kick-off of my travels through the rest of the continent. It was the adventure I so desperately craved, with people I didn’t even know I needed until they were right there in front of me.
See you next time, Uganda and Nyege Nyege. Until then, I will continue to #RespectTheUrge.