Nyege Nyege Festival: Inside One Of The World’s Wildest Music Festivals

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Nyege Nyege Festival: Inside One Of The World's Wildest Music Festivals
File image of revellers at the Nyege Nyege festival in Kampala, Uganda. |Courtesy| Pulse Uganda|

Nyege Nyege is an entertainment collective based in Kampala Uganda, aiming to promote electronic music by African artists. It was founded by promoters Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru in 2013.

The collective organises ongoing parties and an artist residency. It also runs two record labels and a multi-day annual festival. Nyege Nyege’ is Luganda for  “a sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance.” Another definition of the word is “an intensive feeling for the urgency in need for intimacy, closure and physical exploration”. However, in the Kiswahili language of the larger East Africa region, “nyege nyege” is slang for “horny, horny” and is used in relation to [email protected] urges.

According to Ugandan Tourism lecturer Alex Ochieng who has studied the festival, Nyege Nyege is intended “create intense and affective aesthetic experiences for its participants”.

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Nyege Nyege festival attracts lovers of electronic dance music from across the world. The four-day event is a significant tourist attraction for Uganda.

Nyege Nyege Festival: Inside One Of The World's Wildest Music Festivals
File image of revellers at the Nyege Nyege festival in Kampala, Uganda. |Courtesy| Daily Nation|

The event which was first staged in 2015 will resume from September 15 to September 18, 2022, following a three-year absence occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports by media outlets in Uganda indicate that the event will feature over 300 deejays and artists with over 10,000 revellers expected to attend.

However, the 2022 edition nearly didn’t happen after it was banned by parliament on grounds of allegedly promoting ‘[email protected] immorality ‘. Parliamentarians, religious leaders, scholars, and human rights activists protested the event.

However, it was later given a green light by the prime minister in less than 24 hours of banning by parliament. This came after she had chaired a high-stakes meeting which deliberated on the event. She stated that the event if cancelled would result in massive financial losses since tourists had already begun to arrive. She, however, assured that the event would proceed under strict guidelines which include no underage revellers and no nudity. 

History

Debru was born in Burundi but grew up in Belgium before moving to Uganda in 2010 to teach at the Kampala Film School. Nyege Nyege co-founder Dilsizian is Greco-Armenian and studied ethnomusicology before relocating to Kampala, also in 2010.

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The duo began throwing a party called Boutiq Electronique at late-night club Tilapia in 2013. Unlike other local parties which played all sorts of music genres, Boutiq was focused on African genres like Kuduro and coupé-décalé.

As the party’s audience and reach grew, Debru and Dilsizian opened a recording studio in 2015 and began an artist residency to foster producers throughout Africa.

Artists affiliated with Nyege Nyege have toured throughout Europe and Asia, playing festivals including CTM and Unsound. The 2019 edition of Red Bull Music Festival in New York featured a night dedicated to the Nyege Nyege record label, however, the two Nyege Nyege artists who were slated to perform, MCZO and Duke, were forced to cancel after customs agents denied them entry into the U.S.

The inaugural event in 2015 was held at an abandoned riverfront resort in Jinja. South African telecom company MTN has sponsored the festival since 2017, changing the name officially to MTN Nyege Nyege. With over 9,000 attendees, it is the biggest electronic music festival in East Africa.

In 2018, Uganda’s main tourism trade group named the festival the best overall tourism event of the year. It again won the award in 2019. Nyege Nyege festival has been described as one of the world’s best electronic festivals by Resident Advisor and FACT.

The lineup focuses on East African artists, a majority signed with Nyege Nyege Tapes. It also includes performers and DJs from outside the continent, including Juan Atkins, Suzi Analogue, and DJ Scotch Egg, whose music is influenced by African sounds. The 2017 festival featured a number of DJs brought by British online radio station NTS.

Streaming platform Boiler Room has hosted a stage since 2018.

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