Last year a group of extraordinary musicians from Colorado, New Orleans and Nashville came together for the First Annual Entusi Music Fest on Lake Bunyonyi in Southern Uganda. Performing with a cadre of talented and wild local musicians and rising stars on the East Africa music scene, over four thousand folks turned out and a record 846 were tested for HIV. The message behind this concert is to create HIV Awareness and Prevention (HAMP) in communities that are sometimes very hard to reach.

And it was awesome.

If you want to be part of something truly extraordinary and inspiring, invite four thousand young people to a stadium for their first concert ever… and make it the largest free concert in Uganda! And as I made my way to the center of the crowd and Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit from the Flobots began to sing “Rise” and raised up their arms and encouraged the audience to do the same… the audience was largely unresponsive. They just stood there. As the Flobots sang “Together we rise…” the crowd didn’t rise. They didn’t know exactly what they were supposed to do. They had never been to a concert before.

And it was odd.

So we returned this year for the Second Annual Entusi Music Fest through the generosity of the U.S. Mission to Uganda, the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and a slew of supporters back home who believe in this innovative approach to community development. Complete with Miss U.S. Virgin Islands as our emcee and a rowdy and wonderful contingency from Aspen, over 7,000 Ugandans showed up and almost 1,300 were tested. Uh, when you do the math folks… that’s almost 20 percent of the audience!

And it was unprecedented.

As Jonny 5 rapped to a song that they wrote in the local Luchega language and with Ron on guitar playing his best Johnny Cash rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues”… well the audience began to rise. They no longer just stood there. They put their hands up in the air and they started dancing and they started singing. I believe we could make a case with the Guinness Book of World Records that this was the largest number of Ugandans who ever assembled in one place to rock out to the closing Luchega version of “When the Saints Going Marching In” led by the fabulous Andrew Ward and the Great Melodies Troupe! They brought down the house…

And it was amazing.

Everyone could feel it. An energy that was palpable. A feeling that was indescribable. A realization that right now you are part of a moment that you could never possibly explain to anyone back home in a way that would allow them to understand exactly what just happened. But we all knew what just happened. We invited thousands of people to be a part of something; people who rarely ever get invited to be a part of anything. We tested people and provided services to people who rarely ever have an opportunity to access health services anywhere. But this year was different from last. Not because the music was better or the crowd was bigger. This year was different because the audience knew what to do. They knew how to “Rise” and for many in Kabale, this was NOT their first concert. It was their second!

And it was humbling.

On October 17th we identified a new performance metric for community development. This Ugandan performance metric is measured by the over 7,000 people that received a message of HIV Awareness and Prevention. It is measured by the 1,270 HIV-tests administered; the 20 acts that performed over the course of five hours; and the $25 thousand in economic impact that the event had on the vendors and temporary labor in the local community.

The Ugandan performance metric is measured by the 7 musicians who traveled over 5,000 miles and by the 5 lightening rods they installed as a gift to a local village school to keep the kids safe. It is measured by the fact that almost 20 percent of Kabale town turned out to be part of this concert. And for those of us who were a small part of a very big event on the evening of Saturday, October 17th we know now that true community development is measured by the 100 percent of the people at the Second Annual Entusi Music Fest who genuinely felt included and a part of something. And that is a performance metric worth talking about!

And it was beautiful.

See you next year!

Much love, jamie “Imanze”