So a Ugandan teenager managed to make his way through the crowd of over 10 thousand concert goers and up to our sousaphone player Ed at the end of his performance in Kabale. Ed and a group of Ugandan artists along with a whacky assortment of musicians and public health experts from Denver and New Orleans and Nashville had just brought down the house with a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” like you have never seen or heard before.
Our fearless chairman Andrew Ward describes the Entusi Music Fest as a “lintbrush for weirdos” and most people who have made their way to this annual event would probably agree! And if you have met Andrew you know that he makes up a lot of that lint!
Every year the Global Livingston Institute teams up with Reach a Hand Uganda to bring together bad ass rappers from Kampala along with equally bad ass horn and banjo players from the United States to see what happens when you put these people together in a room for three days… or on a peninsula on a wickedly beautiful lake.
So this kid enthusiastically goes up to Ed and he reaches into his pocket to show him a piece of paper that indicates that his HIV test was negative. It was really important to him that Ed know how much he appreciated the testing and how happy he was about his status. Sweating profusely, with sousaphone in tow, Ed reaches into his pocket and loads the kid up with a handful of condoms and says: “Keep it that way”!
This weekend marked the third year for the Entusi Music Festival and we broke some records along the way. In the true spirit of Malcolm Gladwell you might say that we “tipped it” this year!
We started in Lira in Northern Uganda last week. This is the first time we have expanded to a new city since we began the festival and we did it at the request of the community. Lira is one of the regions where many former child soldiers have returned to reintegrate into their villages. True to the GLI, we did some listening and we did some thinking and then we acted!
And we liked the results.
We set the stage with a day filled with acrobats, stilt walkers, mobile video billboards, health professionals, and musicians.
There were a lot of musicians!
Twenty acts and five hours of music! We planned for 5,000 and as the sun went down over Northern Ugandan, we had accumulated 14 thousand. That is about five thousand more than a full house at Red Rocks!
Add to that the 2,200 people we tested for HIV and the 57,000 condoms that we distributed and the 250 pints of blood that we collected for the Red Cross and you might say that this lint brush broke some records.
We took the show on the road back to our headquarters in Kabale on Lake Bunyonyi and our lint brush accumulated more musicians and more public health experts. We gathered together at Entusi and we made music with washboards, trumpets, mobile keyboards, drums, bass guitars, lead guitars, flutes, shakers, tambourines, kajons and ukuleles. And then on Saturday, the GLI together with Reach a Hand Uganda hosted the Third Annual Entusi Music Fest and well you might say we broke some more records!
As the musicians took the stage we had tested over 2,500 Ugandans for HIV in an eight hour period (a new record in Uganda), and over 3,000 during the two days we were there. We collected another 110 pints of blood for the Red Cross, conducted 34 cervical cancer screenings, implanted more than 20 IUDs, and conducted two tubal ligations. We reached over one million people on social media and we distributed 87,120 more condoms, minus the one that made its way back into the bell of Ed’s sousaphone!
For more than five hours local and international acts took the stage as 12 thousand eager Ugandans filled the Kabale stadium. And with each year that passes, the Entusi Music Festival gets exponentially better. This year there were more vendors with chapattis and sodas, there were more health care services and providers, there were more musicians, more condoms, more HIV tests…and there were definitely more people! By the time our headliner Navio took the stage, the audience had packed the stadium and our musicians all closed the evening with a most eclectic and international version of “I Know Who I Am”!
Well, it turns out that we also know who we are.
We are the Entusi Music Festival and we are a group of passionate and compassionate and somewhat whacky nontraditional musicians and public health officials and community development workers that have breathed life into an unexpected event that has a place on the stage for everyone and handsomely rewards those who think differently, think big… and in this case think weird!
Who would have thought when we hatched the crazy idea of the Entusi Music Festival over three years ago that we would reach over 35 thousand Ugandans and test more than 8 thousand for HIV? Our best information suggests that we broke a record in Uganda for the most tests administered for HIV in an eight hour period and that we are on the heels of the world record currently held by Ethiopia.
But who’s counting?
Who would have thought the Flobots would launch our first festival singing “Rise” on stage to a group of people who had never attended a concert before in their entire lives; or that Kabale would rage to a Johnny Cash tune in year two; or that Ed would mystify attendees at the music festival this year with his massive sousaphone that compares only to the size of his heart?
We all started to head home this morning. Andrew Ward’s crazy white suit, beaded and bedazzled Entusi sash, and feather hat definitely need some cleaning and upkeep. Ed will shake out his sousaphone to see if there are any more condoms stuck inside. Shawn will leave the remainder of his Japanese erasers behind for the kids. Mark will begin writing HIV grants for next year on the plane ride home and wow the woman sitting next to him about the tubal ligations that were performed. Tom will hatch a new plan of where to install his next lightening rod in Brite’s village…
And this lint brush for weirdos will continue to accumulate more momentum and more excitement and more community participation because a group of people who would not typically have reason sit together, or jam together, or share a meal together or ride in a boat together or visit a witch doctor together…
Well, we all assembled again this week to share music together.
We did some listening and we did some thinking and we acted.
And when we did, this lint brush broke a couple of records along the way. But more importantly we impacted some real positive change in the communities where we played.
Just ask the kid with the test result in his pocket.
See you next year!
Humbled and honored to be among one of many lint on this brush,