Ugandan dancehall and the Ghetto Republic of Uganja
This week's Scene and Heard for the Guardian music blog is on the Ugandan dancehall scene and the breakaway republic that dancehall collective Fire Base Crew has formed in a slum in the country's capital, Kampala. Below are some words regarding this topic by VBS.TV's Santiago Stelley, who recently filmed a documentary about Fire Base.
When we went to Uganda we weren’t really planning on looking into the music scene at all, but from the minute we landed in Kampala we started hearing dancehall everywhere we went. And we love dancehall – a little over a year ago we shot a ton of dancehall artists for the Vice Kills Jamaica series and we had also followed up in New York with Beenie Man and other artists who weren’t on the island during our visit. Anyway, I knew that dancehall was supposed to be pretty popular in sub-Saharan Africa, but I certainly didn’t expect anything on the scale we encountered.
Our first days in Kamapala we kept seeing and hearing these trucks blasting dancehall as they drove around the neighbourhoods selling CDs, so at some point we started asking our Ugandan fixer about the local artists. He was the first person to tell us about the Fire Base Crew, but he also told us about the complex politics of the local dancehall scene.
In Uganda, the dancehall world plays an interesting role in day-to-day politics and governance. At first, the idea of a dancehall crew having its own president, vice president, ministers etc seemed kind of silly to us, but in reality Fire Base do play an active role in local politics.