If you visit Uganda, you may be chanced to witness the performance of one of the multiple cultural dances the pearl has to offer. These are intriguing from costume to choreography, instrument and song. We shall try to paint the picture for so that you know what to expect when your turn to see it finally comes and we shall start with the Buganda cultural dances.
The Baganda have a number of cultural dances, but the most common dance performances are a blend of three different dances; Nankasa, Bakisimba, and Muwoggola.
Like many names of the Ganda and indeed African culture, the names have a story to them. Baakisimba for example alludes to a moment of royal happiness, According to folklore, a Kabaka was making merry with his subjects after a harvest, drinking tonto, the banana beer. Impressed by the taste of the brew, the king remarked that the farmers who grew the bananas did a better job than the brewers themselves. Had they grown poor-quality bananas, the brew wouldn’t have been as fine. Hence the core of the dance rhythm being “Abakisimba, bebakiwoomya” literally meaning that “Those who planted/grew it are the ones who made it sweet”
The setup for these dances is quite the intricate process. First, the instrumentalists take position. Amongst them are 4 to 5 drummers, abagoma, each with a drum to attend to. The drums are Namunjoloba, a small drum beaten with sticks to produce a high-pitched sound. Then there is empuunyi, a large round drum that sets the pace of the dance. The mbuutu has a more rounded sound to produce the rhythm. Usually there can be two of these.
Finally, the ngalabi, a long cylindrical drum usually made of python hide that also produces a high pitch. Other instruments are amadinda (xylophone), ensaasi (shakers) and in some cases, omulere (a flute) and endigidi (a type of violin). Depending on the availability, more instruments can be fused into the dance.
After the instrumentalists is the choir. This group is led by a soloist always has a loud, rounded, shaky and very musical voice which is called eggono. It is usually a small number of people whose music compliments the instruments. The songs revolve around folklore, work, community, war, the Kabaka, alcohol and similar themes. In another universe, say in American sport, the choir serves as the cheerleaders for the dancers.
Finally, there are the dancers. The Ganda dance is very particular about the combination of footwork and waist wriggling. Trainers always emphasize that while you dance, those are the only parts of you that should move. The costume consists of a shawl called ekitambi and a goat hide. These are held together by folding and strapping around the waist. Then there is endege, an anklet of bells that produce a jingling sound when the dancer moves their feet. The men can remain shirtless or wear a vest, while the women have a top with a tight satin cloth that outlines the tummy to put emphasis on the movement of the waist.
The soloist is like a moderator on a panel. They control everything about the dance. With their melodic voice, they break into song, eliciting a response from the choir. Then they ask the choir to join them in clapping and start calling on the instrumentalists one by one. This is supposed to create a hype within the dancers; the more frenzied they are, the better they’ll dance. At the soloist’s cue, the jumpers spring forward and the dance begins.
Nankasa usually comes first. It is a medium paced dance that the dancers take to when they are still fresh onto the stage. As with all the other Ganda dances, their arms are bent forward at the waist with the palms stretched out.
The long drum “cuts” the dance with a characteristic rapped sound that signifies the time from transition. It is time for Bakisimba, a slower dance that helps the dancers catch their breath. The moves and formations of this dance are clearly for the dancers to catch a rest. After another cut from the long drum, the dance transitions to Muwoggola.
Muwoggola is like reggaeton. A super-fast rhythm. Its so fast that the footwork rarely allows the dancers’ feet to fully touch the ground and they dart around the stage on their toes. This dance is so energetic it throws some dancers into a trance. Everyone from instrumentalists, soloist, choir and dancers is super hyper. The whole ensemble reaches the climax with the loudest display from the instruments, rapid movement from the dancers and loud singing from the choir. When the long drum cuts this time, everyone falls silent. The dance is done!