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The branded arena: Ugandan 'traditional' dance in the marketing era.


Brand marketing in its latest global advances offers ideologies of public participation and the audience-'provider' relationship that many in the developing world are finding compelling, even when consumer capitalism fails to produce its promised rewards immediately. Strategies of 'branding' are being explored in combination with older performance strategies, with new syncretic branded arenas emerging as a result. In Africa, music and dance have always been important for establishing certain arenas and mediating transactions within them. In the era of post-independence nationalism, 'traditional' dances were itemized and made more disciplined and spectacular to give new states an aura of inclusiveness, rigour and historical depth. As the image of a powerful African state declines, these same dance traditions are being hitched to commercial brands, and to the globalized consumerist/entreprenurial dream. This article considers the Senator National Cultural Extravaganza, an annual traditional music-and-dance competition sponsored by East Africa Breweries Ltd, which requires participants to compose 'local' songs and dances in praise of Senator Extra Lager. It focuses on the spatial and temporal architectures of events and the way these channel, and are complicated by, the energies and significances of dance. The 'textbook' brand--consumer relationship does not, it is argued, survive wholly intact.


Dans ses dernieres evolutions mondiales, le marketing de la marque presente des ideologies de participation publique et la relation public-fournisseur que beaucoup dans les pays en developpement trouvent seduisante, meme lorsque le capitalisme de consommation ne produit pas immediatement les gratifications promises. L'article examine les strategies de marque en parallele avec des strategies de spectacle plus anciennes, un examen dont emerge de nouveaux champs de marque syncretiques. En Afrique, la musique et la danse ont toujours ete importantes pour la mise en place de certains champs et la mediation des transactions au sein de ces champs. A l'epoque du nationalisme postindependance, les danses << traditionnelles >> ont ete repertoriees et ont gagne en discipline et en spectaculaire pour donner aux nouveaux Etats un air d'ouverture, de rigueur et de richesse historique. Au fur et a mesure que decline l'image de l'Etat africain puissant, ces memes traditions de danse sont hissees au rang de marques commerciales, et de rove consumeriste/entrepreneurial globalist. Cet article examine un concours annuel de musiques et danses traditionnelles parraine par East Africa Breweries Ltd., intitule Senator National Cultural Extravaganza, qui demande aux participants de composer des chansons et des danses << locales >> louant les qualites de la biere Senator Extra Lager. II se concentre sur les architectures spatiales et temporelles des manifestations et sur la facon dont cellesci canalisent (et sont complexifiees par) les energies et les dimensions de la danse. La relation marque-consommateur << classique >> n'en ressort pas tout a fait indemne, selon l'auteur.

   It is danced in broad daylight
   In the open
   You cannot hide anything
   Bad stomachs that have swollen up
   Skin diseases on the buttocks....
   All parts of the body
   Are shown in the arena!
   Health and liveliness
   Are shown in the arena!

   When the daughter of the Bull
   Enters the arena
   She does not stand here
   Like stale beer that does not sell,
   She jumps here
   She jumps there.
   When you touch her
   She says 'Don't touch me!'

In Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino ([1966] 1984: 43), a sunlit Acholi dance arena is opposed to a dancehall, where 'They dance inside a house / And there is no light. / Shamelessly, they hold each other / Tightly, tightly, / They cannot breathe!' The dark interior of the dancehall echoes the 'forest of books' where the narrator, Lawino, fears her husband 'has lost his head'. Throughout the poem, the world of the colonial/African elite is described as an airless place. In traditional dance, Okot believed he had found a razor with which to cut through the dusty draperies of boarding school, church, sitting room and theatre. The Acholi arena, in his description, is cruelly honest--'you cannot hide anything'. It demands a warrior's sensuality, virility and (hetero-male) competitiveness: the 'daughter of the Bull' appears as nimble prey, jumping here and there. In the rejected 'touch' that ends the passage, we learn that the arena involves even 'you', the reader; any illusion of a 'fourth wall' separating spectators from actors is punctured.

Okot was himself a dancer and musician who toured with Heartbeat of Africa, a Ugandan independence-era troupe similar to Guinea's Les Ballets Africains. In a 1970 lecture on 'Africa's cultural revolution', he celebrated new 'open-air arenas' for dance and the dance troupes that had 'sprouted up like mushrooms' since Uganda's independence (p'Bitek 1973). His vision of a new political theatre that would revive pre-colonial African spaces, modes of interaction and subjectivities paralleled that of Issa Samb and the Laboratoire Agit-Art on the other side of the continent (Harney 2004: 106-9). The notion of an African post-colonial renaissance driven by the arts had been in the air for some time, particularly in the negritude cultivated by Leopold Senghor and others. Naturally, the question of what kind of art ought to drive a pan-African revolution was open to much debate, and became more so as negritude solidified into official government policy. What was the political potency of dance, and how did that potency change when dancing was moved indoors into theatres and state ceremonial arenas?

In the 1970s, Mobutu's programme of animation politique, which turned African dances into tools for totalitarian control and spectacle, offered disheartening answers to these questions (Kapalanga 1989). Other tyrants such as Idi Amin and Gnassingbe Eyadema surrounded themselves with folkloric dancers, whose performances became 'models of subservience' (Ranger 1983: 211). Mamady Keita, star of Les Ballets Africains, recalled members of that troupe becoming 'robots', 'drugged' with revolutionary fervour and filial admiration of their patron, President Sekou Toure (Chevallier 2006). Evidently, African dances and 'culture' could be used to extend the repressiveness of colonialism into the post-colonial era.

Africa is now in a new 'post-post-colonial' period, most commonly labelled 'neoliberal' (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001). Distinguishing features of this period include 'emphases on consumption, thoroughgoing individualism, rapid circulation of goods, services, and persons, and the tying together of capital and the control of information in the creation of new financial instruments' (Weiss 2009: 16). The power of the state in Africa has diminished considerably (Cooper 2002), and multinational corporations are asserting themselves with new force, especially in enclave-based projects of resource extraction (Ferguson 2006). In evangelical Christianity and brand consumerism, Africans are adopting and adapting forms of personhood that seem to them to be more compatible with the new world order.

How are the purposes and forms of dance changing in these conditions? What new kinds of arenas are being created for, and by means of, dance? This article looks at those generated within a contemporary commercialized African dance competition, the Senator National Cultural Extravaganza of Uganda. This six-month-long annual event, which in 2006 took place in over 80 towns and involved over 300 groups, was intended to build a public for a brand of beer, Senator Extra Lager. I speculate on the public-shaping effects, not only of the 'traditional'-style dancing highlighted in the Extravaganza, but also of surrounding activities, such as buying beer, drinking, winning prizes, disco dancing, and using electronic technology. How were the energies of dance stimulated, channelled, and framed? Does the Extravaganza fit into a globalized pattern of 'consuming subject'-oriented entertainment (Shipley 2003), or does it belong to some other category?

Studies which consider the evolution of African dance milieux under neoliberalism are emerging. Bob White has described the field of Congolese musique moderne as one still powerfully shaped by the memory of Mobutu's animation, and by an awareness of the possibilities and disparities of globalized capitalism (White 2008). Musique moderne displays, furthermore, political habits that are traceable back to pre-colonial times: networks of patronage, which accumulate around 'big men' but readily 'splinter', are given concrete form on the stage and dance floor. Louise Meintjes considers how muscular Zulu ngoma is being used to renew masculine identities threatened by AIDS and the loss of 'anticipated avenues towards state-assisted empowerment' (2004: 193). Laura Edmondson (2007) has noted among ngoma groups in 1990s Tanzania ah effort to revise the dance-based nationalism of the socialist post-colonial period into something nostalgic, cosmopolitan and fully compatible with globalization.

All of these studies are concerned with what dance, as a body-intensive and discursively charged activity, can contribute to the politics of an event and, by extension, those of a society. Dance's meanings are historically constructed; a folkloric performance in today's Congo has resonances of animation politique, of pan-African negritude, and so on. These histories are experienced with special intensity because of dance's unique involvement of both dancers and watchers on a fundamental, visceral level. Dance frames the 'motor intentionality' (Merleau-Ponty [1962] 2002:127) that comprises our basic corporeal being-in-the-world. In dancing, or watching dance, we are reminded of what it is to both 'be' and 'have' a body, and of the capacity of an individual body/person to affirm her/his being, or not. 'All that is heavy and grave should become light; all that is body, dancer', vowed Nietzsche's Zarathustra (Nietzsche 1954: 342; see also Mooney 1970; Badiou 2005). To 'become dancer', it seems to me, is not just to wave the limbs in a certain way, but to declare one's independence if only momentarily and on a limited bodily level. The momentary affirmation of individual being may be what is so magnetic and potent about dance, even when it occurs in displays that seem overall to negate individual liberty. By 'dance' I mean to include a broad range of aesthetic uses of the body--playing musical instruments, acting, and so on.

The question of what dancing means or does in particular social situations is at the centre of a number of seminal writings in the anthropology of Africa. Evans-Pritchard's observations of a Zande beer dance (1928) led him to reconsider Radcliffe-Brown's thesis that social dance served mainly to subsume the individual peaceably within the community. Evans-Pritchard noted to the contrary that many Azande remained stubbornly unsubsumed at dances: they 'wander[ed] around independently', competed with one another, got drunk and started fights. Clyde Mitchell (1956) questioned what dancers were saying about colonialism with their representations of colonial ways in the kalela dance: was this wishful emulation of the oppressor, or did the fact that this was a dance add a touch of rebellious satire? He decided on the former. Terence Ranger (1975), revisiting Mitchell's theory, rejected the idea of emulation and posited that European colonials, while referenced in the beni dance, were not its main topic. Beni was primarily concerned, rather, with issues in the local community--danced to instil discipline, poke fun at opposing teams, establish and challenge hierarchies, and display the latest fashions.


Colonialism introduced into Africa new venues and values for dance and theatre. Karin Barber has discussed how new arenas imported from Europe engendered 'new kinds of crowd' (Barber 1997). The proscenium stage configuration established as the polite norm in school, sports, church and politics encouraged the audience to experience itself as an 'anonymous, undifferentiated "public" stretched out in all directions'. This was a different kind of crowd from that experienced in older African arenas, which tended to be 'constituted in the act of performance itself' by a gathering of onlookers. In this older theatrical mode, audience members were visible participants, treated differently by the performers according to their social status. The new kind of crowd introduced with colonialism-a public to be addressed with a spectacle-proved useful to revolutionary movements against colonialism, and then to post-colonial African regimes. The pre-colonial African theatrical conventions did not vanish, but merged and coexisted with the new colonial ones.

The past two decades have seen the rapid development of new kinds of public in Africa, which overlap with, and are shaped by, established ones from colonial and pre-colonial times. Perhaps the most obvious changes in audience subjectivities are occurring around new, or newly available, media, such as the internet, cell phones, radio, video cassettes, and satellite television (see, for example, D. Smith 2008; Meyer 2009; Wasserman 2011). Each of these technologies has enabled the formation of new arenas (virtual and proximal), the qualities of which are still being discovered. The public sphere developments of recent years should not be attributed solely to new technologies, however. Just as important have been global developments in brand marketing ideology and strategy, which have been conveyed by these new technologies--and, as we shall see, some much older ones--into all parts of Africa.

Kalman Applbaum's (2004) labelling of our present period as the 'marketing era' directs our attention to the growing global importance of a specific discourse, formulated largely by a community of marketers centered in Ivy League universities of the United States. The new marketing worldview is comparable in its present infectiousness in Africa to the Pentecostal Christian one, and the two reinforce one another-both entailing personal transformation through sincere belief in entrepreneurialism as a moral and spiritual activity, an understanding that everything and everybody is ripe for conversion, and a sense that we are living in end-times (the Resurrection, or a globalized capitalist Utopia). In Uganda, the word 'development' is now less associated with top-down government projects, and more with words such as 'mobilizing', 'promoting', and 'exposure'--words that suggest an individual or group getting itself moving in order to make itself visible to a world of potential investors (Bornstein 2003; Karlstrom 2004; Ferguson 2006; J. Smith 2008). Deborah Kyobula, leader of the women's mutual-assistance and performance group Tugezeku (Lusoga: 'We Should Try') told me,
   People want to expose their talents more. And, by exposing your
   talents, you can get something good out of it, you can have a
   better future now, because me I came up. I'm now exposed--people
   are now telling me to go and advertise for some other companies. So
   I might get better opportunities maybe in the future.

The word 'brand' is now commonly used in Uganda to discuss not just advertising, but many forms of personal and social 'promotion'. I've heard performance groups and church representatives talk about developing their 'brands', and there has been a much-discussed project to 'brand Uganda' as a whole. These discussions sometimes turn to how the person, organization or nation is more than 'just a brand'. But even when 'brand' is rejected as too simplistic a representation of an entity, the notion of 'branding' has entered the conversation.

In the voluminous literature on branding written by marketers for marketers, an ideal relationship between performers (brands) and audiences (consumers) is articulated. Applbaum summarizes this relationship as one of provisioning, ideally 'total provisioning' (Applbaum 2004: 216). It is not the marketer's job merely to sell products; rather, it is to learn and anticipate the needs and desires of consumers; or, better yet, set up systems that will do this automatically. Marketers think of themselves as participating in a 'shared, even cooperative project ... to satisfy needs' (Applbaum 2004: 5). The internet is full of highly efficient 'provisioning systems'. Increasingly, what an individual 'surfer' sees on the screen is tailor-made for her/him according to an automatic, accumulating evaluation of her/his past choices. Desires are expressed and responded to in a near instantaneous feedback loop, so subtle that an algorithm's occasional miscalculation now comes as a shock. When an individual consumer's deepest desires are constantly fielded and stimulated even before she becomes conscious of them, the ideal of 'total provisioning' is achieved.

The web surfing example highlights the importance of participation in today's marketing, as in neoliberalism generally (Paley 2001; Bornstein 2003; Englund 2006). Whereas earlier brand campaigns, like earlier efforts at development, sought to instil values in people who were assumed to lack them ('Use this soap if you hope to be civilized!'), new-style campaigns attempt to enrol participants in shared projects of 'progress of, and through, pleasure' (Mazzarella 2003:115; see Burke 1996 for discussion of the older, 'civilizing' style of advertising in Africa). Notably, a consumer's sense of free participation need not be absolute or constant; what is most important is that s/he feel free at precisely the right time and in the right context. Today's brand marketing, much more than the marketing of fifty years ago, incorporates the attitude of governmentality (Foucault 2007); that is, it does not try to force changes in people's buying habits directly, but rather concentrates on problems of circulation. Are brands reaching the right people? Are those people able to negotiate their way with a sense of freedom through the branded experience?

The functionality of dance in generating a (branded) sense of free-spirited participation is evident. As discussed above, dance may exude free will better than any other activity. Additionally, dance in Uganda has been historically attached to a separate notion of civic participation: dance in certain genres is understood as a way of 'participating', not just as a body in the world, but as a citizen of the country and of one's 'tribe'. Both of these kinds of participation, as a basic corporeal subject, and as a patriotic subject of a nation or nations, are being structured in distinctive ways around a commercial brand in the Senator National Cultural Extravaganza of Uganda.


Since 2005, the Senator National Cultural Extravaganza has provided annual opportunities for thousands of adult amateur Ugandan singers and dancers of 'traditional music, dance, and drama' (MDD) to perform on stage for cash prizes. In exchange for these opportunities, participants are required to compose and perform song-and-dance odes to Senator Extra Lager, a cheap, strong beer designed for an as-yet-untapped market of poor rural consumers. This was not a festival marketed to tourists--at the 22 events I attended, I was usually the only obviously foreign spectator. Rather, it was pitched at Ugandan audiences in small towns, trading centres and villages. The capital city, Kampala, was skipped altogether. A brief given to me by an East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) brand manager visualized the 'target consumer' for Senator as
   Male 25-34 C2D peri-urban (including informal settings)/deep rural,
   usually employed in the informal sector, for instance as a
   boda-boda rider, market vendor, mason, taxi tout, etc. Works hard
   to support himself and family. Leads a highly demanding life,
   having to cope with a lot of needs from a meager income. Mature,
   hardworking and aspiring to be respected in life. Greatest dream is
   to progress in life, be wealthy, own land, a shop and build a
   house. Has a lot of pride in his roots and society is important to
   him. Active participant in communal activities like weddings,
   funerals, parties and political party activities. He has a good
   number of friends whom he meets on a regular basis to drink or
   otherwise catch up. Likes to reward himself after a hard days work
   especially at the bar. However he lives within his means as much as
   may drink local brew daily and only up-scaling to lagers
   occasionally. (1)

The concept behind the Senator Extravaganza is that this target consumer, with his 'pride in his roots', will respond best to advertisements sung by his neighbours, in his vernacular language and the 'traditional' music-and-dance styles of his region. The issue of 'local brew' mentioned at the end of this description is one that has troubled breweries in East Africa for years. Beer made of corn, millet or bananas by local women and ladled out of a bucket into a shared drinking gourd, is cheap, nutritious and palatable. Moreover, it has a wealth of associations with the power of elder males and their diplomacy within the community (Heald 1986; Willis 2002). For those who want a nip of something stronger but still cheap, there is 'crude' waragi, a moonshine made in slums and villages specializing in its distillation and smuggled by bus and car all over Uganda and even into Congo. Bottled beer, considerably more expensive than either of these drinks, has not yet taken off in rural Uganda, despite the competitive efforts of two rival multinationals, EABL and South African Breweries Ltd (SABL). (2)

The engagement of musicians and dancers in commercial brand promotion is not rare or novel in Africa. Stages for pop music concerts in Uganda, as in other African countries, are plastered with sponsor brand insignias. What is striking about the Senator Extravaganza is its intensive targeting of the 'peri-urban/deep rural' sector of society, relying on large numbers of unknown, unpaid performers mostly from that same sector, and focusing on 'traditional' music and dance. The 'traditional' has been constructed in Uganda as a sphere separate from the 'commercial'. On the one hand, 'tradition' is strongly associated with 'the village', a space sometimes reductively imagined by Ugandans to be frozen in pre-colonial time and blessedly isolated from consumerist culture (Piot 1999). On the other hand, 'tradition' has associations with the early days of independence nationalism, when 'cultures' were rounded up and encouraged by ah ambitious government. The Senator Extravaganza, with its focus on tradition, marks ah experimental incursion of marketing into a new area, one densely packed with non-commercial ethnic nationalist, Ugandan nationalist, and rustic meanings. It is not the only marketing campaign with a focus on 'tradition' in Africa: Jesse Shipley has documented a Concert Party competition sponsored by Unilever in Ghana that similarly claims to promote 'tradition' (Shipley 2003).


Deborah Kyobula, whom I have already quoted, explained the conventional category 'traditional folk songs' (a sub-genre of traditional MDD) to me as follows:
   You have to go deep in those old days. You can have new words, but
   the meaning out of it takes you back traditionally. There could be
   new words. But what you do, in your actions and in the way you play
   on stage, takes you back to the old days.

As Kyobula suggests, there is room for innovation in traditional MDD, but the overall representation of the regional past should strike the audience as authentic. Traditional MDD provides the most visible signifiers of ethnic difference in Uganda. After languages, 'staple food' preferences, and in some cases supposed 'racial' features, music and dance styles may be the attributes that Ugandans use most to distinguish 'tribes' or 'cultures' from one another.

Much of traditional MDD is distant in both style and function from the social songs and dances that dominated Uganda at the outset of colonial encounter. It is largely a spectacular genre meant to be seen on a proscenium stage or the best available approximation. Dancers move in 'formations' shaped like letters of the alphabet and act out scenes of traditional life. Attention is paid to costumes and props, and virtuosity in dancing and musicianship is prized. The professionalism of much traditional MDD does not mean that people have stopped dancing in 'traditional' styles for non-spectacular social or religious reasons. It does mean, however, that spectacular traditional MDD is always a point of reference: if someone is dancing for fun or ritual and shows some aptitude, s/he might be prodded by her friends to join a troupe and participate in a stage competition. Traditional MDD is often performed for politicians who visit villages in search of votes. After the performance, the guest is expected to pay the band in goods or cash; the bigger and more professional the spectacle, the more s/he is obligated to give (cf. Karlstrom 2003).

The main workshop for traditional MDD has been the Uganda Schools National Music Competition, recently featured in the film documentary War Dance (Fine and Nix 2007), and described in detail by the musicologist Sylvia Nannyonga-Tamusuza (2003; 2005). Each year, primary- and secondary-school groups from all over the country convene to perform in styles iconic of their respective regions. Each year, there is a nationalistic 'theme' which must be addressed in the students' songs, dances and plays; in 2010, the theme was 'The Benefits of Freedom of Movements in East Africa', in keeping with the government's recent advocacy of relaxed trade barriers.

While there have been Ugandan school music competitions since the 1910s, it was in the 1960s, under Milton Obote's administration, that the Schools competition began to foreground the representation of Ugandan 'cultures'. Before this period, traditional music was generally shunned in polite urban society as 'primitive' and 'heathen'-attitudes that persist residually to this day. Obote, coming from the historically marginalized Langi ethnic group, and presiding over a newly independent country on the verge of tearing apart along ethno-regional seams, saw the value of introducing the songs and dances of all the 'tribes' into the primary school curriculum. In music and dance, at least, Uganda's cultures could seem to coexist on equal footing. Those cultures whose music and dance styles fell short of the others in terms of spectacle were strongly encouraged to improve upon them. The reification and symbolic management of ethnic differences in national folkloric projects (and simultaneous sweeping under the rug of nonethnic political differences) occurred all over Africa during the post-colonial period (Steiner 1994; van Binsbergen 1994; Coe 2005).

Traditional MDD has an aura of civic participation that stems from its origins in Independence-era multiculturalism, from its practice in the schools, and from its instrumentalization in newer NGO projects of 'grassroots development' and 'sensitization'. The Schools competition convention of composing around an exhortatory 'theme' has become characteristic of the traditional MDD genre as a whole, and this has made the gente useful to many government and NGO initiatives. By associating with traditional MDD, the Senator brand is able to immerse itself in two potent atmospheres of participation: one arising from the bodily involvement of dance (experienced as a dancer or vicariously), the other from developmental discourses associated with school and the nation. In summary, traditional MDD is a public performance genre, open to amateurs, that conjures an idyllic past, indexes ethnicity, focuses on 'themes', and displays a group's ambition and ability to participate in Uganda's 'developmental eutopianism' (Karlstrom 2004).


The Senator Extravanganza, in most of its aspects, has been designed and administrated by two musician/scholars on temporary contract with EABL. Haruna Walusimbi and James Isabirye both grew up performing in the Schools competition, and borrowed many of its forms and procedures for the Extravaganza. Their hope, which had to be balanced against their employer's demands for immediate marketing results, was to conduct a thorough folkloric survey of Uganda, holding events in as many ethnic regions as possible. The Extravaganza, with its cash prize incentives, could be used to draw older village musicians--masters of forgotten styles-out of retirement. The 2006 competition's slogan, 'Discover Our Land, Our Cultures,' reflected their sense of the project.

Groups in the Senator Extravaganza were required to perform four 'items', whose parameters were well established in Schools competition practice. These were (1) a traditional folk song; (2) a traditional folk dance; (3) a creative item; and (4) either a solo item or a traditional instrumental ensemble. Each of these items was supposed to demonstrate a different set of each group's abilities. For the 'traditional' items, groups were supposed to demonstrate their ability to perform 'authentically' with regard to vocal quality, instrumental techniques and dance moves. The overall depiction of the world of 'tradition' also was supposed to be 'authentic' and 'local'. The Senator brand could not be referenced in these pieces, as this would be a breach of 'tradition'.

Groups that had a virtuoso musician or dancer could feature her/him in a solo item. Groups that knew how to assemble 'orchestras' of 'traditional' instruments (an invention of the 1950s, with lamellophones, harps, fiddles, panpipes, et cetera, grouped in sections like those of a symphony orchestra), could choose the traditional instrumental ensemble option instead. Knowledge of the performance conventions of 'items', acquired through participation in the Schools competition, was obviously an asset to groups. Some groups, whose members had not participated in the Schools competition as children and so did not know the conventional differences between traditional folk songs and traditional folk dances, tended to receive low scores. An email from James Isabirye gives a sense of the gaps that sometimes existed between groups' and judges' understandings of traditional MDD:
   Now, I remember the Baluli people who came to Luweero one time in
   2005, when I tried to adjudicate at the district level. For the
   folk song item, they sang a few words and hell broke loose--all of
   them started dancing as if we had told them that the most energetic
   of them would win a prize. Old men and women they were. Then I
   asked their leader at the end, whether it was a dance or a song.
   She assured me it was a song. They had sung less than five
   sentences and danced to the end. No variation in the music or dance
   motifs. When time for the folk dance came, they did exactly the
   same thing. Then again I asked the leader 'Was that a dance or a
   song?' and she assured me it was a Dance. We were amused and
   amazed. Interesting discoveries. I found out that I did not know
   much about the Ugandan music traditions.

One of the notable effects of the Senator Extravaganza has been its introduction of current Schools competition conventions to many adult performers who were previously unaware of them. The Extravaganza was distinct in that, because of its beer focus, it was legally required to be a competition for adults only. This meant that adult groups were not crowded out by well-practised school ensembles.

The 'creative item' was the required song and/or dance about Senator Extra Lager. As in the Schools competition, a 'theme' was assigned: 'The Taste of Our Land'. Instructions, given in a 'syllabus', explained that groups should 'interpret how Senator can substitute local gins and put it in their place', and 'attach this to the culture of Uganda' [sic]. They were also supposed to convey that 'Senator is a beverage brand of Uganda breweries that is produced using Ugandan local materials; Rice, barley, water and sugar unlike the other Beers.' The lyrics of one creative item, composed by the group Twekembe, are given in Table 1.

In Twekembe's song, the world of tradition or 'culture' is established with the opening call to the abataka, the village elders. The musical instruments (xylophone, panpipes, end-blown flute, fiddle, rattles and drums), the style in which they were played, and the vocal quality, were all firmly within a traditional style characteristic of Buganda/Busoga, with subtle qualities iconic of Busoga in particular (see Kubik 1992). The lyrics were grafted onto an old melody common in this region, known as 'Ompeku omwana ndereku' (Lusoga: 'Give me the baby, so I also carry'). I heard the same tune performed by other groups not in their Senator songs, but in other 'traditional' pieces they performed. While the music style, melody and instruments were 'traditional', the costumes for this piece were t-shirts and skirts (trousers for the men), a 'modern' look suitable for an item that was supposed to be 'creative', not purely 'traditional'. For its traditional pieces, Twekembe women changed into the colourful sari-derived dresses known as busuti; the men into the white Arabian robes called kanzu.

The ingredients of Senator are duly noted in Twekembe's song ('rice and sugarcane are the ones that will help us'), as is the land and farming. The group who won in 2006, the Mbale Cultural Fires of Hope, performed not a song, but a dance depicting the complete production of Senator, from the sowing of seeds (played by dancers), to their ripening and harvest, to the final bottling and enjoyment of the beer. As that group chanted 'We want the Senator!' in English, a giant papier-mache beer bottle with protruding arms and feet lumbered out onto the stage. This was the only time I heard English used in the Senator Extravaganza; the syllabus explicitly called for 'local' languages. Twekembe's staging was less spectacular and depended more on the quality of the musicianship. Two lead singers stood at the front of the stage and addressed the audience imploringly, while the chorus and instrumentalists stood in a line behind them, singing the refrains and performing restrained, tightly coordinated gestures.

The syllabus gave no instruction to praise the health benefits of Senator Extra Lager. EABL, which has to report to the multinational liquor giant Diageo, is wary about such matters. But many groups decided that it was good strategy to do so (Twekembe: 'you drink, you feel better, your health improves'). A number of groups performed skits about the destructive effects of waragi on the community. In a typical play a man takes to drink and beats his wife. She runs to her parents for help. The village elders are called in to mediate, and, after negotiations, the woman returns to her husband, who pledges to switch from gin to Senator. Complications are sometimes added to this basic template: the man or the woman can contract a disease requiring a comical traditional healer to come with his rattles and herbs; the elders may convene around a gourd of beer made the old-fashioned way; and so on. Groups like Twekembe are called upon to perform in 'sensitizations' about AIDS, childcare, gender equality, and the like, and have developed a flexible repertoire of dramatic motifs about health and communal responsibility.


Space permits only a perfunctory discussion of the groups in their internal politics, artistry and attitudes toward the Extravaganza. The majority of the groups were assembled specifically for the Senator Extravaganza, generally around a core group of women leaders. Women's associations, which provide rotating credit to members, do collective chores and crafts, and solicit the attentions of visiting NGOs and politicians, are common in Uganda (Tripp 2000). They attempt to ensure democratic political stability with printed sets of by-laws and assiduous record keeping. While the core female leadership of a group generally stays the same, its lower ranks may change significantly according to the various opportunities that present themselves. For the Senator Extravaganza, many members, particularly virtuoso male performers, joined up with or were hired by their local women's groups, swelling them to more than twice their former size. Depending on how well the group did in competition, the group might expand further (often absorbing the talented members of vanquished groups), or deflate back to its original core.

Managing this flexible membership was a major concern for many groups. Kyobula's group Tugezeku seemed particularly stable. It had a connection to the administrator James Isabirye: his wife Victoria was a member, and later a leader. Perhaps more importantly, the grandmother in charge was a respected landowner in her community, and her daughters, also involved in the group, were successful, educated and politically skilled. The male musicians brought into the group seemed to regard the women's leadership as legitimate, with just a few gripes. By contrast, the group Twekembe, while more successful in the Extravaganza, seemed to suffer from political instability. Irene Nabirye, the leader, was James Isabirye's sister, but aside from this advantage she seemed to lack the political standing in her community to command respect from the male members of the group. Owning no land, and having only primary-school education, she spent her time partly in Kampala, where she sold used clothes in the market, and partly in her home village in Busoga, where she helped her mother care for an ailing grandmother and the family's children. In 2006, her hope was to lead Twekembe to victory in the Extravaganza and then use the prize money to buy a corn grinder that would generate a long-term income for the group and her mother. In 2009, Twekembe actually did win, but the male members of the group beat Irene up and took the prize money away before she could invest or distribute it. The tensions within and among groups were a constant topic of conversation among Extravaganza participants. For many group members I talked to, these politics seemed to be very much what the Extravaganza was 'about'--not so much the Senator brand, or even 'tradition'. Group leaders saw the Extravaganza as an opportunity to 'promote' themselves and grow their organizations.


In writing the following description of a typical 2006 Extravaganza event (based on my attendance at 22 of them), I have faced the difficulty of representing their affective aspect. Given my concerns with the special potencies of dance, and how these might be used to boost a brand, it is important to try to convey how events may have worked to produce different sorts of affect at different times. I cannot know, however, how individuals in the audience actually felt. No doubt their readings and reactions were as diverse as their personal histories (see McNaughton 2008: 3). Even if I had compiled articulate self-assessments of the affective qualities of events by a few audience members, I would not attempt to make these stand for the whole. What I can perhaps most safely describe is the spatial, temporal and symbolic architecture of events, drawing connections between this and other architectures Ugandans regularly encounter. If at some point, for example, the Extravaganza resembles the Schools competition in its spaces, procedures and symbols, it is likely that people are reminded of the latter, and prone to experience feelings associated with it and/or in contrast to it.

On the day of an Extravaganza event, vinyl Senator banners were posted on the road next to the field or square where the stage would be set up. The biggest draw was a parade down main street, staged around four or five o'clock in the afternoon. A masked stilt dancer, 'Mr Senator', was followed by three trucks blaring news of the event and pop music advertisements for Senator over a public address system. One or two competitor groups rode in the beds of trucks and drummed along with the recorded music. Children swarmed around Mr Senator and curious adults followed in their wake. This parade set the participatory tone of the event: bodily participation, in that everyone was moving to the same music, and civic participation, in that the parade symbolically embraced the town as a whole.

A rickety stage was hauled in by truck and assembled by members of Nile Beat Artists. Banners on the stage read: 'Discover Our Land, Our Cultures'; 'Cultural Galas: Bigger, Better, More Exciting'. Groups' performances took place on this stage, or on a rectangle of ground in front of it. The stage was too small to accommodate many groups' 'traditional folk dance' items, so these were performed on the ground. 'Solo' items also were often performed up close to the judges. The far end of this rectangle, opposite the stage, was bounded by a tent, under which sat the judges and behind them any invited dignitaries, such as local politicians, royalty and other 'cultural leaders', brand representatives, and, occasionally, me. I filmed most of the events I attended, so I stood or moved around much of the time. The sides of the rectangle were cordoned off with ropes, and policed by a guard carrying a stick. The audience packed in tight along these sidelines. No one stopped them from dancing, or otherwise expressing themselves, but they usually stood still. The tightness of their space probably dissuaded some from moving more.

When groups danced or performed their musical theatre pieces, they oriented their spectacle spatially toward the judges, but made a show of ignoring both them and the audience, as is the custom in stage-style performance. This was made especially apparent when dancers sometimes whirled close enough to touch audience members, without visibly acknowledging them. As the word 'item' suggests, these performances were meant to seem contained in an imagined theatrical space, and also in a set period of time. The presence of the judges, identifiable by their business suits and their seats at a table covered with papers, contributed to a sense of the performance as an insulated object. Their typical manner, as I interpreted it, was one of scientific detachment. Rarely did they show open appreciation for, or any kind of reaction to, a group, but attended studiously to their papers or gazed off at some indeterminate point in the distance. At the end of the evening, they stood on the stage and passed out certificates and small prizes, sometimes scolding groups at length for problems of 'authenticity' and 'tuning'. All of these procedures were redolent of the Schools competition.

The Schools competition denies audiences direct bodily participation, but fosters a sense of civic participation. The National Theatre, in which the final round of that competition takes place, is a stately building designed for that effect. Without such 'civic' surroundings, the Schools competition aspect of the Senator Extravaganza seemed slightly out-of-place and fragile, especially as it was surrounded and impinged upon by beer-promotion activities. In Uganda, there are drinking and disco occasions, and there are formal occasions of school, government, church and clan, but never in my experience have the two types been merged quite as they were at the Extravaganza. There are, on the other hand, many Ugandan events in which an atmosphere of discipline and civic spirit is followed by one of wild hedonism. A 'party' for graduation or some other occasion almost never means crowds mingling and socializing in a common space. It entails, rather, a central arena, where guests of honour and hired entertainers perform in various ways-most typically, delivering long speeches. The audience is sedentary and respectful, with different qualities of seating (under tents or not, plush-upholstered or not) parcelled out to different attendees according to rank (cf. J. Smith 2008: 190). After about three hours, this official space is allowed suddenly to disintegrate. The food that everyone has been waiting for is served, and there is what can only be described as a mad rush to get it. Similarly, on campaign visits to villages I have observed, a politician and her/his entourage will deliver speeches, and answer questions from important members of the community, while the citizenry sits and listens politely. At the end, however, the politician will be besieged by all the individuals in the camp at the same time each one crying out her/his personal needs, demanding a small donation. One interpretation that may be made of these events is that they progress from an atmosphere of civic participation, in which the roles of various persons in the community are affirmed, to one more expressive of bodily participation, in which individual needs and desires are given their due.

I give this description of a very common event-type (weddings, campaign stops), because Senator Extravaganza events seemed to be structured in very much the same way. There was the dance competition which began in the late afternoon and stretched on past midnight. During this period, attempts were made to preserve a disciplined, insulated performance arena, and a main concern was the demonstration and ranking of the various groups in the region, and the affirmation of local 'tradition'. Then the cordons came down, and the crowd surged into the performance space for a disco dance, with loud radio music provided by a DJ. The point from then till daybreak was social dancing and the selling and enjoyment of beer. Extravaganza events modified the conventional civic/ludic binary form of occasions such as weddings or graduations in ways that are attributable to its branding project. During the competition part of the event, the central space, generally reserved for special guests and specialist performers, was 'perforated' (Barber 1997: 352)-that is, sporadically made accessible to the rowdier element in the audience. The tent where beer was sold opened up into the performance space, so that those who wished to purchase bottles had to walk (or dance) across the rectangle. The guard, patrolling the sidelines, repeatedly had to allow men, who were getting progressively drunker, to cross his boundary. The right to transgress the cordon may in itself have been an incentive to purchase Senator beer; men sometimes lingered in the performance space once they had breached it, and put on small performances of their own impromptu dances in disco style, sometimes saluting the Senator brand. I saw men pouring Senator on the ground in the manner of a libation. On rare occasions, women too entered the space and performed. Their outbursts were stifled, far quicker than the men's, by guards and other audience members.

In the intervals between groups' items, as an announcer was hawking the Senator brand, he would invite audience members into the central space for a drinking contest or to receive raffle prizes. While they were there, he would ask them to say something about themselves and the brand into his microphone. The microphone, along with the patter style adopted by the announcer, strongly suggested radio, specifically the call-in shows which are very popular in Uganda. Call-in radio is probably popular because it democratizes a coveted privilege that is generally afforded only to dignitaries, the opportunity to make a speech. This part of the Extravaganza was in keeping with brand marketing's cultivation of the individual-testimony experience-particularly in high-technology, pleasure-oriented arenas. The microphone, and the rest of the electronic apparatus, were highlighted at events, with frequent 'mike checks,' and requests to the dee-jay to give a 'sampling' of the disco music to come later in the night. There was usually only a single microphone for amplifying the groups' performances, so the announcer, dressed in a Senator t-shirt, would move from singer to singer and instrument to instrument, technologically curating the performances on behalf of the brand.

All of these branded activities felt, to me at least, like interruptions and destabilizations of the more disciplined competition proceedings. The civic and ludic procedures, normally kept strictly separate in the schedule of an event, were blended or interspersed. This enabled readings of the traditional MDD in two different spirits: one attending to the dance's function in society (as a representation of 'culture'), the other to its function on a level of individual bodily desires and needs. The proximity of the dancers to the audience, especially when they were in the rectangle of cordoned-off ground space, was an important contributor to a sense of direct, bodily participation. The dance formations and dramatic scenes the groups put on brought them within social distance of the crowd--even, on occasion, intimate distance. Meanwhile, the audience members, packed tight against the rope, were certainly within intimate social distance of one another. All this may have contributed to a sense of inclusion in the arena despite the group's and judge's efforts to create a separate space. As in Okot's poem, the moment of a touch (or simply a closeness) can bring a sense of bodily and social implicatedness. Different dances, of course, produce different spatial effects. The Acholi bwola, performed by several groups at the Extravaganza, is danced in tight circles around a central drummer the women circling within the men's circle. Its concentric structure, with a musical energy source in the middle, probably correlates to the inward-facing radial design of Acholi villages around a central campfire space (an architecture they were denied in the IDP camps they were forced to live in up until recently) (Girling 1960). An Acholi viewer, habituated to this 'architectonic' (Fernandez 1977), might experience the spaces of this dance with special intensity.

Did the Senator brand, merely by being present in force, attach itself to these intense experiences of dance? Was this a perfect example of provisioning, the fulfilling of unarticulated individual needs and wants by a brand, so that it might receive loyalty in return? The EABL marketing team was relatively pleased with Senator sales at events and the results of follow-up surveys of their target consumers' attitudes toward the brand. Certainly, I saw plenty of Senator being drunk at events, often with explicit celebrations of the brand by the drinkers. These questions of Ugandan branding 'success' must, however, be complicated in the concluding section.


In the marketing or neoliberal era, dance is addressed not as much in a mode of discipline as in one of governmentality. Whereas colonial powers repressed 'primitive' dance, and post-colonial ones moulded 'traditions' into mass spectacles of obedience, today's powers-corporations like EABL--adopt a subtler, more hands-off approach. Dance, and 'culture' generally, are treated as something essentially chaotic and not amenable to disciplinary intervention, yet potentially useful, if its energies can be channelled in the right directions. An emphasis on producing new nationalist art forms from scratch is being replaced by an emphasis on knowing what is already out there to be tapped, in its diversity. The primary problem of governmentality is that of circulation. What marketers perceive as most necessary is that as many people as possible be exposed to a brand, and thereby drawn into global capitalism as consumers, whether they have money to spend or not. How the many are drawn into a brand is of secondary importance--today's marketers allow that tastes and understandings vary. They do not try to comprehend all this diversity, but try simply to increase contact with a brand, whatever works. Much of the work of promotion may, and ought, to be left to the consumers themselves, and to their neighbours. 'Total provisioning' is possible when the feedback loop between brand and consumer becomes intimate and automatic.

Governmentality and total provisioning are strategies, not the inevitable processes brand marketers would have them be. The question of how these strategies will actually work in African contexts remains. 'Consuming subjects', of the kind marketers are used to dealing with, may not be so easy to reproduce in Africa. In Uganda, the strategy of branded 'provisioning' is thoroughly complicated by the prior existence of complex, culturally potent, patronage-based systems of provisioning. The mechanism of brand loyalty in American culture is one of individual identification: 'the brand and I are one independent being, we pursue happiness together'. It is hard to imagine such a mechanism being popularly accepted in Uganda or elsewhere in Africa, where provisioning is intensively used to think about/act upon networks of kin and clientage. Karlstrom's (2003) discussion of Ganda 'welcoming' (bugenyi) gives excellent illustrations of this: patrons and clients provide for each other, but always with an eye to determining who stands where. The provisioning of the African 'big man' (Vansina 1990), for himself ('eating') and by others, is typically conceptualized in relation to the clientage network he tops. His needs and desires are understood as an aspect of his position in that network, not as personal qualities he would have regardless of status.

Dance energies may well be used to generate brand 'loyalty', but what will be the nature of this loyalty? Members of performance groups in the Extravaganza sometimes spoke of 'Senator' as though the brand were a powerful patron. A member of the Acholi women's group, Mon Pi Dong Lobo, told me,
   There are almost five groups here now that are supported from
   outside, but for right now, we said now we are going to get support
   from Senator. We have joined them now, together. They have started
   knowing that there's a group called Mon Pi Dong Lobo.... If they
   call Mon Pi Dong Lobo 'The Senator Group', let them come!

The brand, in this conception, gives you 'support', and in return you give it loyalty and an outpouring of gratitude. You have 'joined' with it, and may even take its name. Such clientelistic relationships in Africa, no matter how heartfelt, are thoroughly scrutinized. The client never becomes 'one with' her/his patron in the way that a consumer is supposed to become one with a brand. All parties remain aware of their place in a complex, shifting set of debts; everyone feels grateful and suspicious at the same time. If the balances start to shift out of your favour, it is not at all uncommon to 'splinter' from one network and join another, or form a new one-a dangerous eventuality for brands. There may be a successful kind of branding to be built around African clientelism, but it will be very different from the branding that has so far been developed mainly with Western sensibilities in mind.

I suspect that the main outcomes of the Senator National Cultural Extravaganza will not include the advancement of an American-style consumer consciousness in Uganda. One effect of the Extravaganza and marketing generally, that is observable, is the adoption and modification of brand marketing strategies and rhetoric for other purposes by the targets of, and collaborators in, the advertising. People are experimenting with new ways of thinking about 'promotion' and 'exposure'. A second effect may be the relaxing and aesthetic enrichment of the traditional MDD genre, as it is taken up by a branding sphere which puts a priority on pleasure rather than discipline, and involves adults, not just children. This last outcome, especially, seems promising. While the brandmarketing aspects of the Senator Extravaganza will remain disturbing to those who--with good reason--fear the spread of brand marketing and the neoliberal discourse into every corner of the world, we may at least be consoled that this project is injecting new energies, and liberal sensibilities, into the Ugandan field of 'traditional' dance. Out of such developments may yet come a new, unexpected, African cultural revolution.


I would like to thank Tom Beidelman, Stephen Blum and Lydia Boyd for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this article. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback during the review process. James Isabirye and Hajjati Watongola Rehema extended generous hospitality and research assistance in Uganda, for which I am grateful.


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(1) In all quotations from Ugandan sources, writing-mechanics idiosyncrasies are left intact.

(2) The Senator brand managers' methods and motivations are discussed further in a forthcoming article. Dick Kawooya has written a dissertation which discusses the Senator Extravaganza, focusing on issues of intellectual property (2010). The contrasting brand strategies of SABL in an urban (South African township) setting have been examined in detail by Anne Kelk Mager (2010). Don Stevenson, who developed beer brands for a Namibian company, has written about his strategies (2009).

DAVID PIER is an Assistant Professor specializing in ethnomusicology in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Email:

doi: 10.1017/S0001972011000246
TABLE 1 'Senator Song' lyrics by Twekembe Group, 'creative item'
as sung at the  Busoga Regional Competition, Jinja Town *

Senator abeewo!                     Senator stay!

Abataka mwidhe, mwidhe mwangu-      Elders come quickly, and enjoy

Abataka mwidhe, mutyame, tuzwire    Elders come, sit, we've found a
ekyama                              secret

Ekyama ky'omuwendo                  The precious secret
okuva mwitaka lyaffe                from our soil/land

Lino lyenne                         This very land

Omuceere n'ebikaddo                 Rice and sugarcane

Abataka mwidhe, mutyame, tuzwire    Elders come, sit, we've found a
ekyama                              secret

Tuzwire ekyama kya Senator          We've found the secret of Senator

Mwebale abataka, bannange,          Thank you elders, my friends, for
mwebale okwidda                     coming

Mwebale tweyagale tufunye eddembe   Thank you, let's rejoice, we've
                                    got freedom

Abantu twenna twenna buti,          All people now, we shall rejoice.
tutuuse okweyagala

Omuceere n'ebikaddo, n'ebijja       Rice and sugarcane are the ones
okutuyamba                          that will help us.

Ebiseera by 'iffe ni bino           Our season is come for us to
bannange okweyagala                 rejoice

Nekyo, tweyagale, tufunya eddembe   That's it, let us rejoice, we've
                                    got freedom

Senator kyamuwendo eri ffe          Senator is precious to our lives
obulamu bwaiffe

Onwa kuwewewezza obulamu            You drink, you feel better, your
bwatereera                          health improves.

Abantu twenna twenna, tutuuse       Every one of us, we are going to
okukulakulana                       develop

Senator webale, kino kinene,        Senator thank you, this is great,
tufunye eddembe                     we've got freedom

Twenwere Senator, Senator           We drink Senator, Senator is our
n'eky'obuwangwa bwaiffe             culture

Tututubye obuwangwa twizze          Let's boost our culture and bring
emirembe gyaiffe                    back our peace.

Tweyagale ddindu tweyagale,         We rejoice with happiness, we
tweyagale ii maama.                 rejoice, we rejoice, ii mama.

Abantu twayega okulima, ii maama,   People we learned to farm, ii
tweyagale ddindu                    mama, we rejoice with happiness

Omuceere, ii, ggwe twalima, ii      The rice, ii, we farmed, ii mama
maama n'omuviire Senator            is the source of Senator, a
eky'omuwendo                        precious thing

Ebikaddo byonna byetwaklima         All the sugarcane we farmed is
n'omuviire Senator eky'omuwendo     the source of Senator, a precious

Atanywe Senator atusse okuswala     Whoever does not drink Senator
kubanga Senator n'ekyomuwendo       will be shamed, because Senator
                                    is a precious thing

Imwe abataka mbebaza okulima aye    You elders, I thank you for
mwidhe twenwere tufunye eddembe     farming, but come, we drink,
                                    we've got freedom

Muleete Senator twenywere ii ffe    Bring Senator, we drink, ii
n'eky'okunywa kye twafuna, maama
                                    It is the only drink we've got,

* Transcribed and translated from the Lusoga with the help of
Irene Nabirye (leader of the group) and James Isabirye. Some
spellings arrived at during the translation process differ from
those standardized in Lusoga dictionaries.
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Author:Pier, David
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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