Melting pot: Radio and Weasel at Bayimba 2015, an East African Community festival showcasing up to 1,700 performing artists. Igoda, a network for southern African performing artists, is forging ties with its fellow East African performing artists. Picture: ESTHER MBABAZI
Melting pot: Radio and Weasel at Bayimba 2015, an East African Community festival showcasing up to 1,700 performing artists. Igoda, a network for southern African performing artists, is forging ties with its fellow East African performing artists. Picture: ESTHER MBABAZI

Igoda, from the isiZulu word for "knot", is a practical network for cultural exchange and opportunity that has expanded and improved substantially since its formation in 2014. Its members include Sakifo (Reunion Island), Zakifo (Durban), Bushfire (Swaziland), Bassline (Johannesburg) — and now Doadoa (Uganda).

The Doadoa East African Performing Arts Market was established in 2012 and takes its name from a Swahili word meaning "spot". Doadoa creates a space for networking and music mobility.

The "market" entails a full week of meetings, networking and discussions with the intention of distributing East African music more effectively within the region and beyond. In the previous edition 1,700 artists, event organisers, festival directors, venue owners, studios and distribution companies — mainly from the continent but also from Europe, the US and Asia — attended. The event has had tangible benefits for more than 15,000 artists and professionals.

Doadoa was founded by the Ugandan-based Bayimba cultural organisation, which was started by Faisel Kiwewa in 2007. As an orphan adopted into a royal home in Uganda, he transferred his successful search for his parents and his own identity and meaning in life into an arts career.

THE EAST AFRICANS GET TO PERFORM AROUND SOUTHERN AFRICA DURING THE IGODA FESTIVAL AND VICE VERSA.

"As an artist, I was looking for a platform that would help others in the arts business to learn, practise and present their work in the most conducive and appropriate environment," he says. "The founding of Bayimba was to bridge this gap and create the vibrancy that we enjoy in the industry today."

Bayimba hosts four annual festivals — the three-day Bay-imba International Music festival, the Kampala International Theatre Festival, Amakula International Film Festival and Dance Week Uganda — as well as a variety of events and artistic skills training workshops.

Bayimba has recently bought a new site, 40km out of Kampala on Lunkulu Island, on the shores of Lake Victoria. It will be inaugurated in August 2018 with the centrepiece Bayimba International Music Festival.

"Our idea was to create a vibrant arts scene in the city. We have done that. For the future of the festival we have needed to create a new path, vision and excitement," says Kiwewa.

In its 11 years of operation, Bayimba has become an advocate of arts and culture and a driving force in the Ugandan creative industry. More than 3,000 artists and arts professionals have benefited from arts education, skills development, artistic exchanges and collaborations. Bayimba has triggered the emergence of new arts initiatives, artists and careers.

"The varied programme of activities has been crucial in raising awareness and appreciation of the benefits of arts and culture to development, ensuring greater access to a variety of artistic and cultural expressions, providing artists with platforms for exposure and networking, promoting creativity and artistic and entrepreneurial skills among professionals within the sector," says Kiwewa.

The East African Community, comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, has 156-million citizens with an established common market for goods and services. Various declarations and action plans, such as the East African Community Culture and Creative Industries Bill in 2015, have acknowledged that the creative industry is a dynamic and growing sector. Bayimba strives to strengthen access to the cities within the bloc.

The DoaDoa "Caravan" is one such innovative regional networking platform and aims to open up new routes for the exposure and mobility of performing artists.

A strong connection between Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali has been created and it is being strengthened each year.

"And that is not yet including the islands, Comoros and Zanzibar," says Kiwewa.

"We want to first strengthen the mobility within and access to the cities. And then from there we will start opening it up," he says.

In 2017 Kiwewa met Jerome Galabert, the founder of Indian Ocean Music Market (IOMMA) and Sakifo on Reunion Island. IOMMA enables people from the regions can exchange and create partnerships.

Kiwewa was invited to become a member of the Igoda network. "Our vision of the Ind-ian Ocean is the vision of a big Indian Ocean and all the countries of East Africa are concerned. In the future Tanzania and Kenya can also inspire themselves with the dynamic opportunities we have created with Igoda," says Galabert.

The partnership is a good formula. Members may propose four artists to the network, of whom three are guaranteed a performance. The East African artists get to perform around southern Africa during the Igoda festival and vice versa.

"This will open up new horizons for cultural exchange and mobility for artists across the southern and East African regions," says Kiwewa.

Improving the quality of local performances for export to international stages has been a long-term strategy for Galabert. The Igoda platform has now become a good opportunity for musicians to experience the diverse audiences of those regions as a preparation for the international stage. The success of Swaziland’s Bholoja and the Black Major music management stable indicates an Igoda tour can nurture a performer for an international tour.

"When you have a south-south network, it is an extraordinary experience for artists to perform in front of people from Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa before targeting an international audience. It is about giving them the tools," says Galabert.

Igoda has two or three ann-ual meetings where decisions are taken to improve and grow their network. In 2017 members met in Botswana with a potential partner from that country. Galabert also points out that Reunion Island has cultural exchange and training links with Mauritius and Madagascar.

The Igoda festival network takes place throughout Africa Month in May.

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