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Shake your kabina! A musical, dancing tour of Uganda

Jan 25 • 12485 views • 13 Comments on Shake your kabina! A musical, dancing tour of Uganda Africa, Kampala, Society and culture, tourism experience

The Culture of Uganda – in rhythm and dance

Tick-tick-tick goes the bamboo on the calabash.

Sh-sh-sh-shake the seeds in the gourd.

Thump-thump-thump thuds the stick on the taut hide of the drum.

The early evening air in the Ndere Centre’s ampitheatre fills with the rich, bass sound of the harp-like adungu.

Men beat the surface of the drum hard with the flat of their hands. The drumming rises to a crescendo as the women dancers elegantly descend the stairs into the open air Amphitheatre, all brilliant smiles and waving arms. And then it starts!

A group of twelve women shake their hips, moving to a joyful, seductive rhythm. They throw back their heads as they circle the floor to the sound of the dexterous plucking of the adungu. To one side of the stage, five men play a giant wooden xylophone.

Ndere Troupe traditional dancing Kampala Uganda

Shake your kabina! The Culture of Uganda – in rhythm and dance. Photo courtesy of Stephen Legg

Ten drummers and acrobats in bark cloth tunics fly onto the stage, doing press ups and mock fighting and doing press-ups. They SLAP the sides of the drum with sticks. With big grins on their faces, the acrobats race towards the audience, arms flailing and legs akimbo, kicking left and right. Round and round they go. The energy of the Maggunju, the Royal welcome dance of the Baganda, holds the audience captive, ready for our musical and cultural tour of Uganda.

As our host – and cultural ambassador – Stephen Rwangyezi walks down through the audience to welcome us, a little white boy runs up to him and starts playing Stephen’s drum.

“Forget your problems – we are going to take you to the different parts of the country.” Stephen tells us. “Now WE are the donors” – he tells the predominantly Muzungu audience – as we have something in abundance to offer YOU!”

Stephen Rwangyezi. The Culture of Uganda - in rhythm and dance. A musical, dancing tour of Uganda at the Ndere Cultural Centre.

The Culture of Uganda – in rhythm and dance. Stephen Rwangyezi takes the audience on a musical, dancing tour of Uganda at the Ndere Cultural Centre. Photo Ndere.

In Western Uganda, it’s all about the cows.

We listen to the music played to relax the cows. “After walking 20 kilometres each way to drink water, wouldn’t you be stressed?” He asks. Even the okujumeera – the sound of cow mowing is developed into the singing while the thudding of their hooves – is reflected in the dance steps of Western Uganda.

Boys herding Ankole cattle

Boys herding Ankole cattle

Through his anecdotes, Stephen reminds us of the continent’s enormous contribution to global culture. He illustrates how the traditional sounds of Africa can be heard in modern American rap music.

“Who is President Obama?” He asks, but “the Original Black African Managing America.”

We pass through Bunyoro and Toro “where love was first invented.”

We hear a haunting song from Ankole and then we move on to the upbeat sound of the West Nile and the adungu.

The Amphitheatre is filled with a frenetic whirl of colour and a flash of white teeth. KABINARIFIC! The women dancers whip up a storm on the dance floor. Fast and furious, how do the men play those drums so speedily? (I can’t even tap my fingers that fast).

Ndere Troupe Stephen Rwangyezi

Ndere Troupe Stephen Rwangyezi. The Culture of Uganda – in rhythm and dance. A musical, dancing tour of Uganda at the Ndere Cultural Centre. Photo Ndere.

We can’t pass through West Nile without a historical anecdote, of which there are many interweaved throughout the evening. Of Idi Amin, Stephen says “when he was in the country, people were scared. When he was out of the country, people were embarrassed.” He recounts how, time and again, cultural and language blunders rolled out of the then president’s mouth.

Later in the show, children are invited onto the open stage. 27 kids of all ages listen attentively to Stephen’s every word. It’s an unexpected highlight of the evening to see him invite each child to do their turn in the circle. I find it extraordinary to think that not so long ago this dancing was banned. (Even now colonial legislation still exists in Uganda that in theory makes traditional dancing illegal).

As the show draws to an end I recognise the unmistakable whistles of the music that made me first fall in love with Uganda.

The male dancers wear bright green beads around their waists over imitation (I hope) leopard skin tunics. Long colourful beads drape over their shoulders, criss-crossing at the waist. Their headdresses have white tuft-like tails. The women wear thin strings of beads around their foreheads.

“If you dance together you can never be at war.”

Culture of Uganda

Shake your kabina! The Culture of Uganda – in rhythm and dance. Photo courtesy of Stephen Legg

The dancers genuinely seem to love what they do. There’s a great camaraderie and joking around between the dancers and Stephen. Their passion and playfulness is contagious.

How many shows are there in Uganda that you would rush to see more than three times?

“When people in our culture dance, you don’t let them suffer alone – you join in!” So just remember, next time you feel stressed, do as Stephen suggests: “shake your seating facilities.”

The Muzungu recommends:

Watching the Ndere Troupe perform takes me back to my first Kampala night out, courtesy of VSO. The show is a fantastic introduction to Uganda. It’s a real celebration of Africa and everyone should see it. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat thinking, “I’m finally here. I’m in Africa!”

The colour, the energy, the smiles and the humour, the stories… the whole experience was everything I’d imagined Africa to be and more.

Ndere Cultural Center entrance fees

Last published entrance fees below. Please check with the booking office first. Buffet dinner, snacks and drinks are available.

  • Adult Ugandans 30,000/-
  • Adult Non Ugandans 50,000/- or $ 15
  • Children Aged 2 to 15 – 15,000/-
    **Note: These prices do not include buffet

How to book to see the Ndere Show

Ndere Cultural Centre is on Plot 4505, Kira Road, Ntinda – Kisaasi Stretch

This article was originally commissioned by the Empazi Magazine, the brainchild of Ugandan creative Arnie Petit.

Have you visited Kampala’s Ndere Center yet? What was your favourite part of the show?

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13 Responses to Shake your kabina! A musical, dancing tour of Uganda

  1. […] Jan 25 › Shake your kabina! A musical, dancing tour of Uganda » […]

  2. Simon Kaheru says:

    Another great read about a superb experience in Uganda! I am taking the children there a couple of times during the Christmas holidays – and they will certainly enjoy it!

    • the muzungu says:

      Thanks Simon – you know I find Uganda endlessly inspiring 🙂 As for the kids, did you know that they can learn to play the Udungu and other traditional instruments at Ndere? It’s a really fantastic setup from start to finish.

  3. […] Lake Victoria or Murchison Falls and attempt to land a 150 kg Nile Perch, or watch (join in?) an African dance display. Volunteering and church projects are popular reasons why people come to Uganda […]

  4. […] The Ndere Centre is a highly recommended attraction to experience the country’s traditional dance and music. A few days of the week, you can enjoy a dinner and theater performance at the center to see a high energy show of Ugandan culture. The dances are from a variety of Uganda’s different tribes and the show takes place in a 700-seat amphitheater on Sundays at 6pm, Wednesday at 7pm and Fridays from 7pm. The name itself is from the word for flute, which is the symbol of the troupe because of its diverse and beautiful sound, but also as it’s one of the only musical instruments found across all cultures and is a metaphor for unity. The mission of the center and its dancers and musicians is to help rekindle a sense of pride for Ugandan culture while promoting it to the world. A team of dedicated Ugandans carefully research and respectfully present parts of all the cultures that make up the Ugandan people constantly updating the performances. It is a repeated theme across sub-Saharan Africa where information was not written down as language didn’t exist in written form, instead the information was passed between generations through performances, such as dance, storytelling, poetry, and music. The Ndere Troupe are a definite must-see attraction in Uganda and the award-winning performers have been practicing their art for nearly 25 years spreading the fascinating and enjoyable performances. A travel blogger who visited the Ndere Centre is Charlotte from Diary of a Muzungu […]

  5. […] Embracing diversity of faith, tribe, and culture […]

  6. […] A travel blogger who visited the Ndere Centre is Charlotte from […]

  7. […] Kampala for their Insider Guide. We agreed that Danish culture and cafe buffs would appreciate the Ndere Cultural Centre, Gaddafi National Mosque in Old Kampala, Kampala Art Biennale, the Bahai Temple and Acacia Mall in […]

  8. Martin says:

    Pretty accurate and very captivating.
    🙂 You want to know who plays music to near superficial tempos? head to the East. The so called ‘kadodi’ (pronounced ka ‘do di)has it’s place in every Ugandan’s heart. It’s super fast and will have you filled with chills and wonder.

  9. Lukasz says:

    Good moring muzungu I am asking a question about Can I get a visa at the airport in Entebbe I will travel to Uganda applied visa on the website I received the order code I did not pay because the page went out Will I be able to pay at the airport please contact me thanks greetings Lukasz

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