IT was like a parallel universe of its own.
The venue was characterized by furnishings ranging from the sportive to the minimalist-classical with simulated grass unfurled across the floor to punctuate the overall mahogany feel of the bar. A number of conversations told in loud voices belonging to the bold and beautiful, all of them complimenting the sweet music that dominated the atmosphere.
Arena Sports Bar and Grill in Kisementi was like a middle-aged man smelling out sex, oh yes: it was ready for anything.
SLAM poetry and standup comedy were on the bill for the very first time, that’s why the night was called “Standup and Slam.”
These two are art-forms which rely on the audible fragrance of the spoken word. So if a performer’s words sound like crap, they are likely to smell like they sound.
In recent years, clubs have sprouted across Kampala that have packed their spaces with all sorts of performers and so poets (along with comedians) have multiplied, filling these stages. So now clubs are enmeshed in a Darwinian battle that is everything but funny or poetic: it’s war!
That’s why yet another club offering more performances was viewed with skepticism. Since poetry and comedy have been hit by an overpowering of quantity over quality. It is now increasingly difficult to differentiate the good from the bad (the fact that poets and comedians are everywhere means that bad poets and bad comedians are everywhere, too).
That said, last Friday blew like a contrary wind against this reality.
The incomparable Daniel Omara and irrepressible Timothy Nyanzi led a celebrity-studded cast of comedians into the belly of the audience and ended up busting every gut in sight. Dr. Hilary Okello could be the most underrated comedian in the country in view of his masterly wit and ironic turn of phrase.
The way he described how Ugandan match commentators only seem to know Cranes goalkeeper Denis Onyango when Uganda Cranes is playing was sheer comedy gold. The Good Doctor said these commentators are wont to describe every other player on the pitch as either Onyango’s friend or Onyango’s enemy, depending on whether that player is for or against The Uganda Cranes. His quasi-deadpan delivery left everyone rolling in the proverbial aisle with laughter.
Comedic up and comer Emmanuel Ekeesit piled on the fun with a spot-on Donald Trump impression. And, as usual, poets like Jason Ntaro, Gideon Mugay and Mickey Mouse didn’t disappoint. Jason might not be the best poet in Uganda (if such a thing even exists), but he sure is the most charismatic. People love this guy!
Gideon Mugay is a master poet, the full range and depth of his vocal craftsmanship turns poetry into the most romantic song ever sang.
The shy poet, Mercy Geno, didn’t shy away from the titillating innuendo as she described the sort of ‘pen’ she would like to see dipped in her “ink.” And, as the audience’s blood was still hot, Zenah Nakanwagi put even more lead in men’s ‘pencils’ by describing an amatory love affair she once had.
The night’s best performer, however, was Haile Shamar. She is a pop-soul songstress who possesses a smooth, velvety voice with a sureness of pitch that has near operatic range. If you think Juliana Kanyomozi is good, then you will be left speechless by Shamar. Her vocals were the icing atop a perfect night.
Over the roar of laughter and applause, a distant, hazy chatter could be heard. I couldn’t make out its exact words, but I did hear many saying the weekly “Standup and Slam” show has now become their new Friday night entertainment go-to.