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Milege band brings world class festival to Uganda

When Francis Wanana Birabi used to look at the lineup of top and internationally-renowned music festivals like Womex, he was bothered by why East Africa had no representation.

“Out of 10 slots for Africa, nine are allocated to South and West Africa and very rarely, if any, do you find musicians from East Africa,” Manana says.

This is when the bitter truth sank in; East African music was wanting on many fronts. It is largely a copy and paste of Jamaican and American music.

That burning desire to have East Africa and more especially Uganda on the international scene got him thinking about what makes good music. He realized that good music must be authentic; the instrumentation and vocals must have the underlying message: Ugandan.

That is when he decided to start his own band, Milege afro jazz, in 2009 with the intention of creating hybrid music representative of Uganda and the rest of the world.

Inspired by Qwela band and musicians including Harry Lwanga and the Ssekebenjes (couple Tony and Rachael), Milege rolled out doing traditional Ugandan music flavoured with modern genres such as jazz, blues, funk, the occasional rock, poetry, storytelling and dance, among others.

Today, the band is a household name, and having built a solid foundation, it is extending its footprint into organizing a music festival. Repainting Uganda World Music Festival 2013 is slated for this Saturday at the Lake Victoria Serena hotel.

This year’s festival brings together a careful selection of Uganda’s finest world music acts, as well as visiting acts that include Kenya’s Winyo, Sudan’s The Ashraf Brothers, Eritrea’s Biniam Tekle and Senegal’s Mame N’Diack & Sabar Percussions.

These will team up with Uganda’s Qwela band, Herbert Kinobe, Nawany, and West Nile Fusion band.

Manana said: “This is a world music festival. Also, we are creating a whole day’s family experience; activities for both children and adults. For children, we will have bouncy castles, face painting and an assortment of games. Also with special offers on accommodation from the resort for that weekend, one can enjoy the services at the resort including swimming, spa treatments and boat rides, among others.”

Children will enjoy all the fun for Shs 10,000 while adults will part with Shs 50,000. Milege means ankle bell; the ankle bell in Adhola culture was worn for traditional dances, but more importantly by the king’s convoy.

Whoever heard the sound of the milege made way for the king. Similarly, Milege band believes they can change the music scene in Uganda with their ideology.

The band consists of Gloria Akugizibwe (lead vocals), Joanita Katushabe (vocals), Awor Sonia (vocals), David Nalwebe (rhythm guitars), David Mugumya (bass guitars), Peter Nkalubo (drums), Manana (lead guitar) and Daniel Mutmbesa the managing director.

The band performs every Sunday at Lake Victoria Serena resort but also runs an acoustic night every Thursday for the dons and university students at the Makerere University guest house. Manana was born to Allan Birabi, a doctor of architecture and lecturer at Makerere University, and Olive Birabi, an Information Technology specialist.

A graduate of Sports Science, Manana complements his music prowess with a career in fitness training and sports therapy.


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