Review of Herbert Kinobe’s performance at Bayimba International Festival of the Arts

This is the full version of an article that appeared in the Sunday Edition of the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts Guide. The full guide has more brilliant reviews and can be downloaded here.

Location: National Theatre Main Stage
Event: Bayimba Festival of the Arts Day One. Friday 20 September 2013
Time Check: 11.00pm

It is really cold tonight and I am shivering worse than a leaf in a thunderstorm. Even my clothes are shivering. I forgot to carry any warm clothing so the only thing protecting me from the cold is a shirt and vest. My job here is to cover Herbert Kinobe’s performance. He is the closing act tonight which should explain the late hour. I would rather be in my bed but I am here because my curiosity is stirred.

The only thing I know about Kinobe right now is the brief I was given by the Bayimba staff and a quick glimpse of his website I managed to get earlier. It is enough to get me interested though. The little I could get all seems to point to one thing, Kinobe was destined for greatness from day one. The story goes that right before he was born, his uncle prophesied to his parents that they would give birth to an extraordinarily talented musician. Herbert Kinobe, was born on July 19th, 1983, and by the tender age of 5, he had started playing with traditional instruments. Among many other things, he is a xylophonist and long drum player. He also plays the Akogo (Thumb-piano), Adungu (Bow-harp), Endongo(lyre) and tube fiddle. Like I said, greatness.

I am trying to get some more information but the internet on my phone is not being cooperative. The crowd draws closer to the stage as the MC’s introduce Kinobe. They are really looking forward to the performance it seems. It is not a very big crowd. I figure it is because it is day one of the festival and also because it is really cold. The MC’s make the necessary introductions and wait for him to start.

He takes his time preparing his instruments. The fans start getting impatient, they want action. “Herbert!” they call out. But no, Herbert will not be rushed. When he finally starts, he makes no announcements. The music just builds slowly. Straight from the sound check to the actual performance. Kinobe is strumming the endongo, or African lyre. His ensemble is composed of Bukko Bright on acoustic, Ssembatya Abraham on the bass guitar, Muhindo Samuel on the drums and Bakkabulindi Samuel the percussionist . Bakkabulindi is playing four bougarabous, which are drums that originate from West Africa.

Bakkabulindi Samuel the percussionist and Bukko Bright (background) on acoustic.
Bakkabulindi Samuel the percussionist and Bukko Bright (background) on acoustic.

My internet is functional now. My phones small screen is unleashing information. Kinobe describes his music style as World Music, based on fusion. He borrows ideas from musicians he loves and respects and uses these ideas to create something with Ugandan instruments and modern instruments. His African traditional and contemporary world music is influenced by all kinds of rhythms like Folk, Latin, Samba, Jazz, Pop, Blues, Afro and much more.

A few members of the crowd are already swaying to the jazzy tunes drifting from the stage. Bakkabulindi has abandoned the bougarabous and is now shaking an egg shaker at the microphone. Its sound adds special effects to Muhindos drumming. Herbert is singing now, the swaying of the crowd increases to match the introduction of words. Bakkabulindi is back to rapidly beating the drums. Dude is in the zone. Swaying is no longer enough for the crowd. It’s officially a party here now. Faisal Kayiwa, the Bayimba Director does a forward moonwalk past me. He looks like he wants to start somersaulting to the music. I wouldn’t blame him. Kinobe’s music is the type you want to listen to at the end of a hard day at work. Just to soothe you and ease away the days stress. The crowd here doesn’t care and is determined to sweat.

Herbert picks up another instrument. It is an akogo which is a thumb piano from the Teso region of Uganda. The percussionist is now on the Embuutu, which is a big drum that is native of Buganda in central Uganda. He is doing wicked things with it. Song two begins. It is in English and the message has something to do with turning things around. Kinobe’s thumbs are flying all over the piano. He must be really good at texting. Ssembatya, the bassist, is now killing it. Muhindo is not sparing his drumset either. It’s getting really cold now. Couples in the crowd start cuddling. The music coming from the stage makes cuddling the natural thing to do. Bukko does an acoustic solo. It is musical heaven in here people. Where is a girl by your side when you need one?

Akogo (thumb piano from the Teso region of Uganda)

I try to chat up the girl next to me. Maybe I can coax a cuddle or two out of her. She seems much focused on recording the entire performance on an iPad. A minute into our conversation, I find out her name is Hadija and she is actually part of Kinobe’s crew. She goes with the band on most of the tours in Uganda and abroad. Hadija seems to really be enjoying herself. It seems Kinobe’s music falls in the timeless category. I can imagine how many times she has seen him perform but there is no sign of boredom on her face. I abandon my cuddling plans. The song ends, claps from the audience are much louder than the previous time. Kinobe finally makes a speech, albeit a brief one. It’s all about the music tonight.

We are into the third song now. It starts off with Kinobe on the akogo combining with Ssembatya on the bass to make our ears do happy vibrations. A white couple joins the hard core fans in front of the stage. White lady unleashes salsa. White guy tries to get his legs to coordinate but they are not in the mood today. Kinobe is singing in a language I don’t know now. It probably isn’t a language at all. He sounds like Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book. The akogo and bass combo is deadly. The crowd is now at the stage itself now. Herbert and crew have passed the test. They can legitimately be referred to as crowd pullers now. Acoustic has introduced some reggae vibes to the set. The smoke machine shoots out a burst. Things are heating up here. White girl dancing Salsa really knows her stuff.

Here is another interesting to bit of information about Kinobe; he has been invited to perform at very many festivals. Kinobe’s first international performance was at the age of ten. By 21, he had visited nearly every country in Africa studying and playing with celebrated musicians including Toumani Diabate, Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Oliver Mtukudzi and Baaba Maal. The amazing bit is that a big percentage of the countries he performed at, he just went by himself. No invitation whatsoever.  Kinobe, who is a World Ambassador for the Harmony Foundation in Canada does this because he is interested in tracing his roots and discovering more of the cultures there. Kinobe, who also dabbles in the theatre world, with special focus on the African traditional context, voluntarily teaches music, dance, storytelling and poetry in various schools in Uganda. Small wonder he is so versatile.

Tama from West Africa

Kinobe has now switched to a shoulder drum arrangement. I later find out it is called the Tama and it is from West Africa. Kinobe also constructs all the traditional instruments he plays. He beats the tama with a hand and a stick simultaneously. This drum makes very pleasing noises. The kind of noises that signal something epic is about to happen. Kinobe beat-boxes, if you can call it that first, and then reproduces the beat-boxing tune with the drum. Skill levels, legendary. The crowd is impressed. I am very impressed. The rest of the band joins and the tune becomes really catchy. Ringtone material.

I turn to a tall white girl in the crowd and ask her what she thinks about the performance. Her names are Nina Kortekaas and she is from the Netherlands and is in town for a friend’s wedding. As it turns out, this is not the first time she has seen him perform. He was in Holland performing at a Festival back in 2005. He had travelled without his band that time so he ended up performing with another artist from there. Nina was impressed at the time. She managed to say hi after his performance and they became fast friends. She seems really happy that fate gave her the chance to see him performing live again. Nina thinks Herbert has become better since the last time she saw him perform. I nod in agreement even though this is my first time to see him perform.

Endongo (African lyre)

Kinobe is playing his last song now. This one is high tempo and he is back to using the Endongo. The cuddling is abandoned for more vigorous dance strokes. A gentleman upfront is marching army style. There is rasta a few feet away swinging his dreads with reckless abandon.  A middle-aged woman to my left is on the Lakaraka, the mating dance of the Acholi people. I turn to look behind me and a reveller seems to be floating mid-air. He is dancing the kitaguliro, the Kikiga traditional dance. A voluptuous girl near the stage is now twerking. The song is now sounding like the start of Michael Jacksons Billy Jean. A jungle version of it. Jungle version, I am not sure if that is an actual musical term. But it should be. The song has now switched to a zouk feel. The crowd can feel the performance coming to an end and they are making the most of it. Kinobe and crew end on a high. He gives thanks to various people and starts packing up. The crowd is handling it with brave faces and loud claps. I am sad to see it end too, mainly because it was such a good performance, but also because voluptuous has stopped twerking. I realise I am nolonger feeling cold. Well done Kinobe and crew.

This was definitely is a fitting ending to day one of the festival.


p style=”text-align: justify;”>Photography by Bwette and Masoud Khamis.

This review was written after the writer underwent a week-long Arts Journalism Training Workshop organised by the Bayimba Foundation. The Team at Muwado would like to extend their gratitude to Bayimba for the opportunity and for the great work they are doing in promoting the Arts.


Written by Byagaba Roland

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