In the wake of a year rife with a near-global banning of live music events, mass gig cancellations, frequent club closures, and predatory streaming service policies, music industry members and performing artists have found themselves in increasingly vulnerable circumstances. In times like these, unity and the need to support the artists and musicians who have been deprived and essential source of income is more important than ever.

Amidst a sea of cancellations and a seemingly never ending cycle of bad news for musicians worldwide, one of the most pleasant surprises of the year has come in the form of Nyege Nyege 2020, a yearly music festival hosted in Uganda that — despite overwhelming challenges — recently announced their monolithic 96-hour lineup, much to the joy of music fans worldwide. Running from December 3rd-6th, the massive lineup is set to feature over 300 artists, from across all musical genres, chosen by 45 African and Afro-centric collectives spanning 27 different countries throughout the continent and beyond.

Nyege Nyege founders Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru first laid the foundations for the festival following the duo’s early Boutiq Electroniq parties in Kampala, Uganda, which brought DJs, percussions, and rappers from around the region, later serving as an essential hub for the underground arts scene scene, and hosting foreign expats and visiting artists from all over Africa. Alongside the opening of their Kampala-based recording studio, Boutiq Studio, Dilsizian and Debru kicked off the first edition of the festival in 2015, and by 2016 the duo would launch Nyege Nyege Tapes, a record label host to a an excellent curated array of Africa’s best contemporary electronic musicians like Duma, Sisso, Nihiloxia and more.

Channelling a desire to host a multi-day event showcasing the range of unique African electronic music, the festival soon expanded to incorporate artists from across the continent, the Middle East, and as far as South East Asia and China.  Hosted in an abandoned tourist resort near the source of The Nile in near the town of Njeru, Uganda, Nyege Nyege Festival has expanded from an intimate musical experience, to thriving musical city hosting nearly 11,000 people over it’s non-stop three-day runtime.

Photo Credit: @kanchuwithacamera

Drawing the inspiration from the Luganda (one of Uganda’s 43 languages) concept of ‘Nyege Nyege’ — an uncontrollable urge to dance, shake, and move (and also meaning ‘horny, horny’ in Swahili) — Nyege Nyege have defied colonial-era governments laws and religious critics, legitimizing themselves over recent years and standing a an essential hub for Africa’s growing electronic music scene.

Aiming to not simply be content as another online festival, Nyege Nyege Festival 2020 seeks to use the internet as a tool to allow for connections and collaborations to be born remotely, bringing about a sensation of togetherness and unity across borders through special performances from live musicians, DJs, dancers, hypnotists, filmmakers, digital artists, and many more across a range of different artistic schools and disciplines.

Among the extensive list of collaborating collectives are AS AA S and Radio Al Hara from Palestine, Le Boultek x L’Boulvard Festival from Morocco, Germany’s Dis Fig and Yoshihiro Shomomura, South Africa’s Mzansi Gqom Sho’case, Radio Benkakan from Mali, and Modaperf Festival from Cameroon, Nyege Nyege 2020 includes a massive Egyptian delegation in the form of Nadah El Shazly-curated collective the ‘Egyptian Leather Pavilion,’ which includes 1127, Mostafa El Baroody, 3Phaz, A7ba-L-Jelly, El Kontessa, Gahallah, Ibrahim X & Yunis (of Kafr El Dauwar Records), KZLK, MSYLMA, Ismael, Omar El-Sadek, Rama, Sidy, Tyor Iganna, and ZULI.

Though the entirety of Nyege Nyege 2020’s 96 hours of digital programming will be completely free to stream online via their website and a selection of collaborating platforms such as Radio Al Hara, the festival is also slated to be filled to the brim with surprises such as hidden rooms, and even takes a step into the real world through secret parties spread throughout participating countries. Earlier this week, I spoke with Nyege Nyege co-founder Derek Debru on the challenges, ideals, and ambitions behind this year’s festival...challenges, ideals, and ambitions behind this year’s festival...

We noticed that you had been teasing the extensive Nyege Nyege Festival lineup on your instagram for some time. Now that you’ve made the full announcement, how does it feel?

It feels good, and people are still reaching out to join the line up. We gave a lot of curators total freedom to present the artists they’d like, and now for everyone to see what we’ve done together is very exciting.

2020 has been an extremely difficult year for musicians all over the world, how has it been for Nyege Nyege and Uganda’s music scene? 

It’s been really tough, here in Uganda the night has been shut since the pandemic. Especially for some of the artists having major breakthroughs this year and were set to tour extensively, like MC Yallah, Duma, DJ Diaki, combined we lost about 120 shows. We are blessed to have our own space that accommodates about 15 artists at a time and more who come during the day, that has allowed us to keep making music and create content for other festivals, and luckily music sales also picked up so we’ve been able to keep everyone afloat.
What was your approach to curating this year’s lineup?

This year we really wanted to create new connections throughout the continent and the world with collectives and artists we really wanted to engage with, in the hope that the momentum of the festival will carry these relationships towards new projects and collaborations. We wanted to give people an immersive experience that makes them travel across the continent and discover many different scenes. We really wanted to invite other artistic disciplines, especially with regards to dance and performance art and film. We also tried to cook up something special for our Ugandan audience, and invited the biggest stars to share the stage on national television NBS, reaching over ten million people. So, like always we tried to keep a balance between the weird and the known.

We’re sure there were many logistical challenges bringing together so many musicians and collectives from all over Africa and the world. Could you tell us about this process?

The challenges are many, depending on the country, from nationwide internet shutdowns to political revolutions, the spread of COVID-19 and the logistics of film production, all these things made it very difficult for some to put the content together. On our end, the fact that we have very little sponsorship made us all need to work so much harder.

Relations between Egypt and the rest of Africa have been strained for some time now (to say the least). Is there a place for Egypt (and perhaps by extension, the Middle East) within the African music scene? 

For sure, I think everyone on the continent is in deep need of talking to one another and getting to know one another, and for Uganda to be at the source of the Nile, connecting in such a way with Egypt is a strong symbol and the beginning of more collaborations.

Can you tell us about the inclusion of the Egyptian Leather Pavillion (curated by Nadah El Shazly) in this year’s festival?

We’ve been big fans of Nadah El Shazly for some time, and when we asked her to suggest artists for Nyege Nyege she offered to curate the showcase, and in the end did the most amazing work, not only an insane line up but also considering how complicated the environment is right now, some artists even had to leave the country due to persecutions, big love and respect to Nadah! She will also join a residency at our studios with Egyptian artists in February next year.

What was the incentive behind choosing to broadcast part of this year’s festival with Palestine’s Radio Al Hara? 

Radio Al Hara invited us for a residency that gave a lot of exposure to the artists on our roster, it creates the sort kinship that weaves the global underground together and something that’s critical for us, that they launched the radio during such hard times shows a spirit of resilience and love for music that we really relate to. Rojeh Khleif has been working on the curation of the Al hara x AS AA S showcase.

Are there any messages or themes you hope to communicate through this year’s Festival?

I think our main message is “don’t give up.” It’s been really hard for us this year, and through working with all these artists we’ve realised how hard it was for them, not just because of Corona but a myriad of other reasons. Yet artists always stretch the boundaries of reality, they bring us joy and inspiration, and today they are being relegated as entertainers, but for us they are much more than that. The second message is about African Unity. We can be much stronger when we work together in good spirit, which is also why we extended the invitation to collectives around the world and why Nyege Nyege wants to continue to nurture pan African relationships.

Are there any surprises in store this year?  

Yes, there will be many, but I guess the main one will be a secret room for people to discover during the weekend which will feature special performances. For people in Kampala there will be more surprises including DJs coming to play in people’s homes.

Could you go into a bit of detail about the Nyege Nyege team who made this happen? We’d love to credit everyone involved in putting this year’s festival together.

 Yes, this year was really a collective endeavor, so many people to credit, but I think most especially some of the curators at large who have worked so hard to bring this program together, notably Violaine LE Fur from Cameroon who curated the dance/performance art mostly from West and Central Africa; Nadah El Shazly who worked so hard on bringing the Egyptian Leather Pavillion to life; Suzi Analogue who put together a whole US line up that promises to be wired; Amilcar Patel and Chris Kets who oversaw the Durban Showcase which is also massive; and Musau from Kenya and Abbas Jazza from Tanzania also went all out with their showcases. For the website, Jepchumba, the founder of African Digital Art has created the platform all by herself on top of all her other projects, a platform that will live on post festival. In Uganda, our whole crew got busy putting this together, Chrisman on video, Lola on artist relations, Paul on social media and more…

Head over to Nyege Nyege Festival’s website in order to sign up for the event, and make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for more updates and announcements.