Organising an event, any event in Uganda is not easy. Organising a Hip-Hop event is, presumably, even harder. However, Navio, and his team and partners of course, have, successfully, used the Njogereza Concert to prove to us that that was just a well perpetuated myth.
My personal expectations for this one were high, really high. Navio is a veteran who has been in the game for a minute now. I remember him from the early days of Klear Kut. I have admired is resilience and growth in an industry so obscure that it previously did not promise much. I am in admiration of his recent transformation – the adoption of traditional and/or functional music and broken, sparsely distributed Luganda into his innate hardcore ways.
Having missed his do in Nairobi in the first half of the year, there was no way I was not being a part of this one. He had done well in inviting us when he shared the same stage with the visiting Sauti Sol boy band at the recently held Mega Fest and in leaving Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and entertainment leaning radio stations awash with more necessary invitations. I could not help but wait to listen to all the artists he has worked with in the past; the Kora Awards nominated Klear Kut, Michael Ross, Peter Miles, Toniks, Keko, Enygma, Cindy and Jackie, both formerly with Blu 3, Fidempa, Young Mulo, and Madtraxx.
Even before it started, the first impression that the concert left was that it was well organised. You could ably tell that they had thought it all out. There was no fuss at the entry (and this is not to do with the few numbers you are probably thinking there were), the security was, thankfully, polite and unimposing, Policemen too were visibly present, places of convenience were evenly distributed in all corners, and Aly, of Talent Africa, went about to check and confirm that everything was as they hoped to be. By 6PM, an hour before the scheduled start, everything was ready and set to go. Extras like a BBQ and the bars were functioning already.
The only downside was that the sound was rather quite poor, inaudible, but that lasted until St. Nelly-Sade performed and got even better when Navio was revealed. The screens too were wanting. The stage was crowded – as if; too many people about a small stage. Too many performers, all wanting a piece of the action kept us waiting. Some of them were honest enough to confess that they were not hip-hop artists, but good friends of Navio who came through to support their brother. The best acts, at least for me, were St. Nelly-sade’s, and a young Luga-flow artist, unknown to me, who rhymes somewhat like GNL Zamba used to.
In the future, it is advisable to limit or entirely do away with the opening acts. It was a Navio concert, and not an “everybody and Navio concert”. He would have, as they say, killed it alone. He has it in him. You can feel it in the way he raps and the way he motions. It flows in his spirit. He believes in himself as much as we believe in him.
All that changed, much for the better, when Navio finally took stage. His revelation, done by “singing him onto stage”, by a gentleman who introduced himself as “the preacher” was, simply, beautiful. He warned us that what was to follow would change the game, and we, certainly, could feel the world changing.
The best part of the entire show, was that his performance was done live. All his songs were played off well strum instruments. He endearingly incorporated elements of jazz, funk, lingala (…lets take them to Congo…), afro-beat or kidandali and dance to create a hip-hop masterpiece.
Miles Davis once said that; sometimes, you have to play along time to play like yourself. For a long time, I had viewed and listened to Navio as hip-hop artist, but for the first time, I viewed and listened to him as a musician, a complete one, a good one. He made music like not so many can. He danced like an ebullient Awilo Longoma and shook his hair like an irie Lucky Dube. Navio enjoyed himself. He spoke for himself as only he possibly can. His performance was or is or will be a vivid re-introduction of his to those like that Nairobi lady who texted me saying they know him but are not fans of his when they finally watch it.
One of the best things that Navio did for both his career and audience was ably fusing traditional Ugandan music with hip-hop. Save for the only distinction, which is that you can rap in Luganda or any other local language, Ugandan hip-hop is largely based on American hip-hop. He might have started with sampling 1960’s music, like Charles & Frida Ssonko’s Nawuliranga and Omutwa Gwa’Maka (which inspired Navio’s Nawuliranga and One And Only respectively), but when he mastered, and had the hang of it, he was good to go. He has, in 2016, produced songs like the immensely popular Njogereza and the catchy tune that is Embukuuli, his most recent.
For his first half of the night, Navio serenaded us with the range of his work; Ngalo, Bugumu, One and Only, Kata, Kigozi (Tell You Why), Nawuliranga and more. His invited acts, who included the soothing Maurice Kirya, the legendary (and, apparently, forgotten) Saba Saba of the Bataka Squad, and Gravity Omuttufu were electric. The break was effectively used by Keko, Mun*G, and Maro. I think it was Bebe Cool that I heard performing his Kabulengane hit as I left. His introduction onto stage, was, for emphasis, epical.
As I walked away, I thought that beyond Navio, future music events organisers might need to consider availing their products at the gates. True, they do already, but they could do better. For example, they could prepare a package of UGX 30,000. By that package, a fan could pay UGX 10,000 for the concert; get themselves the most recent, or their favourite album at UGX 10,000, and two others, of the same artist or any other hip-hop artists at the remaining UGX 10,000.
In an industry where the most viable way for artists to make money is to hold an event, the highlighted artists could provide a platform for fellow artists to trade their products (re albums), and be present to autograph and interact with their fans before the concert starts – preferably two hours earlier. That would be an ingenious way to motivate their fans to turn up much earlier. It is not every other day that fans get to interact with their icons.
Moving forward, it would also be nice for management companies to find partnerships with cross-border sponsors which can take their artists beyond their own cities. Imagine a concert, as brimming as Njogereza was being blessed with the presence of artists that Navio has worked with like Sarkodie, Ali Kiba, Amani, Madtraxx, and those he could possibly work with like M.I, Rabbit, Octopizzo, Fuse ODG, French Montana, and Tinie Tempah? I am hopeful we will get there.
As far as last night is concerned, Navio did extremely well. If his mission was adoption into society, then it has been successfully accomplished. I could tell it when I saw a crowd made up of a conflation of people from different walks of life. I knew it when, on the way back home, I heard my driver, who had not been at the concert, singing only a word; njogereza.