Posts Tagged ‘uganda’


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kampala, Uganda

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus.  I’m in Uganda for work. Pushing my way through the narrow aisles of Owino market in Kampala the other day, I turned a corner ot face this: a plastic bag bearing President Obama’s face with “Best of Luck” written accross the top.  Profoundly depressing on a number of levels.

More images of Ugandan trash on Facebook.

Recycled straws in Uganda

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I’m in Kampala this week, attending the International Conference on Family Planning on behalf of the day job. Tonight at the opening session, I was surprised to see the first lady of Uganda on the program.

First Lady Janet Museveni offers me a hi-five (not photoshopped, I swear).

Before today the only reproductive health activities I’d ever heard of her taking part in were events to promote abstinence. She has led a march of virgins, offered scholarships for virgins (not sure how one would prove eligibility) and last year held a big virgin party. During her speech tonight, opening the conference and welcoming participants to Uganda, was apparently the first time she had ever uttered the term “family planning” publicly. That may not sound like much, but in a country where birth control pills remain highly controversial,women have an average of two more children then they want, skyhigh rates of unintended pregancy lead to skyhigh rates of unsafe abortion (it’s legal only to save a woman’s life here) which in turn lead to skyhigh rates of maternal death, it’s a pretty big deal. To thank her for participating, the conference organizers presented the first lady with a gift. They wanted something made by Ugandans entirely out of Ugandan materials. Their choice: a handbag made of recycled drinking straws cleaned at soda factories, flattened by hand and woven by a local association of women artisans.

Ugandan women making crafts from straws

There you have it: progress + upcycling. Not a bad start to a meeting.

Indonesian beats, upcycled

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This is a post about upcycling old music into new beats. It is long. Skip to the end if you’re only interested in the sounds. There, you will find a free download. For those curious about how this amazing beat came to be, this is the story:

In October, I spent a week in Jakarta for work. The day job, of course, consumed the majority of my time, but I did manage to make the most of  my one afternoon off that week while my colleagues were busy working on presentations and setting up meetings for the following day.

“I want to buy records,” I told our Indonesian consultant who, after some clarification that I meant vinyl and not compact discs, instructed the driver to take me to the antique market.

Jakarta antique market

Jakarta antique market

Looking for records while traveling is a hobby I picked up from my friend Flex Unger, whom you may remember as the Brooklyn musician fond of upcycled drum machines. It is also easier said than done, at least in Africa, where I normally go for work. In Lusaka, the only records I could find were a newly released Whitney Houston album on sale at the mall and the vinyl glued to the door of a local radio station. I was on my way to that radio station on the last day of my trip—thinking I could track down the DJs responsible for the decor and ask them where to find records—when I noticed a huge curl of smoke in the air above the center of downtown. We tuned the radio to the station we were on our way to visit and got nothing but static. The station had caught fire, taking the entire building down in flames.

In Lagos, when my friends and colleagues failed to lead me to the records, I dragged several of them out to Fela Kuti‘s Shrine, the famous nightclub run by his son, Femi Kuti. There, we spent the afternoon drinking beers amidst the schwag fumes of the local Rastas, but got no closer to locating the Lagosian record trade. I tried once again to no avail last month in Kampala, where my Ugandan radio friend insists you can’t even buy a record player (though he has promised to help track down local collectors).

Digging for records in Indonesia was much easier than in Africa. Almost too easy. After a mere half hour in local traffic, the car pulled up to a row of the fanciest outdoor market stalls I have ever seen. In fact, they weren’t outdoor at all, but a pint-sized strip mall of shops selling colonial era furniture and Indonesian knickknacks. They even had doors. One of those shops sold nothing but records. I couldn’t believe it. I passed some time there, limiting my search to Indonesian music instead of my regular preference of R&B instrumentals since I only had a couple hours to spend at the market. After the mini-shop, I walked through the less built-up side of the market—open-air stalls selling greasy appliance parts and random chotchkies. There, I found two more record sellers, one of whom even had a turntable set up. I asked him to play me the records I had just purchased and bought one more from him, just to be polite. In the end this is what I took home:

Some finds from Jakarta

Finds from Jakarta

Three Indonesian pop albulms from the 1960s and 70s and one two-disc traditional compilation full of old opera and gamelan music. My favorite—both for the cover and what’s actually on the record—is the center album above. It’s called (in Indonesian) Andrianie Beladjar Sepeda, which my Indonesian friend (the one who helped me find the antique market in the first place, THANKS IWU!!!) told me  means Learning to Ride a Bike. It’s got a kind of  Gainsbourg/Bardot feel, excellent sounds to blog to.

All told, I spent $1.20 on that shopping spree: Twenty cents each for the three pop records, forty cents on the double album of traditional music and twenty cents on a lovely lunch of fritters, samosa and a banana dessert cooked in banana leaves.

Not pictured, one croquette already consumed

Not pictured, one croquette already consumed

Though I mentioned to Flex Unger that I had picked up some records in Indonesia and even sought his advice on the purchase of a portable record player to enjoy them in Brooklyn, I never showed him these albums or brought them to his studio. My great and fruitless musical safari through Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda had carried with it the specific mission of finding African music that he might enjoy or be able to sample. Before I left on each of those trips, Flex specifically asked me look for music for him. But when I went looking for music in Jakarta, it wasn’t as much to run home to impress my DJ friend as it was to seek out personal souvenirs of a fascinating trip.

As it turns out, impressing my DJ friend happened anyway. A couple weeks ago, Flex was over at my apartment and spotted the alluring cover of Learning to Ride a Bike. “What are these??” he cried, sifting through the small stack of Jakarta finds. Since then we have spent some hours at his studio in Sunset Park transferring the records to electronic format, breaking up the fun and strange songs into smaller pieces and feeding them into Flex’ drum machine to mix and match the noises and layer them with new ones. Or rather, he has done all of that while I have looked on, pressing the occasional button on the soundboard when instructed to do so. It feels like I’ve learned something while observing the process—a vague something about timing, Pro Tools, hip hop and Southeast Asia.

More importantly, the end results have been fantastic. Check out the first finished beat. It is entitled “Steamed Bananas” after that tasty Indonesian snack and because Flex is working on a larger, super-market-themed album for which all beats must have food names. Consider this a sneak peak.

“Steamed Bananas” mixed by DJ Flex Unger

Kind of makes you want to dance, doesn’t it? For comparison, here is the original track from Learning to Ride a Bike.

“Kedjam” from the album Andrianie Deladjar Sepeda sung by Eddy & Siam

Impressive, non? Check out Flex’ label Black Rhombus for more fun tunes. And send us your stories of upcyled music and musical upcycling. I’m all about musical trash posts this summer, especially since I just figured out how to upload mp3s.

Also, this whole process has renewed my entusiasm for figuring out where they hide the records in Africa. Stay tuned. And speaking of African music, Brooklynites mark your calendars for June 25th and seek me out in Prospect Park!

Upcycle my ride

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Check it: a group of students from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda designed this “poor man’s car” from upcycled farm equipment and other salvaged materials, including an engine ripped from an old maize grinding mill.

Photo by  Dr. Yasin Naku Ziraba via

Photo by Dr. Yasin Naku Ziraba via

Supercool. To all who say Makerere has slipped in quality and no longer deserves the “Harvard of Africa” rep, I have two words for you: pooh and pooh.

Note: I found the post about this project via Nubian Cheetah, a blog suggested to me by Google Reader, presumably because of my ever-growing folder of African blogs. Yay technology.

Flipping the flop

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

While in Kampala a few weeks ago, I stopped in at one of my favorite stores in the world, Banana Boat, and went on a semi-conflicted shopping spree among their fine upcycled crafts made by women’s collectives from all over Africa. I bought up a dozen strands of Ugandan paper beads for my girlfriends, homemade soap wrapped in homemade paper for my colleagues and a collection of small creatures fashioned out of bottle caps including this three piece band, now residing at my friend’s music studio in Brooklyn.

Bottlcap boogie

Bottlecap boogie

Ok, full disclosure. I went more than once and to more than one Banana Boat location during my week in Uganda. I couldn’t help it. While normally I try to buck the inner American, my desire to consume flares at the sight of trash. The the irony of upcylcing is that it makes me want to buy MORE.

The first wave of  my Banana Boat binge was stopped short by the pricetag on a string of plastic foam beads. The moment I saw them, I knew they were made of old flip flops—likely washed up on the shores of Kenya—and, because of this, I grabbed them up. But then I saw they cost roughly $30 U.S. and I looked again and decided, actually, big foam beads on a short choker strand might be a little too UN chic for my blood. So I set down the hideous necklace and made my way deliberately to the woven basket and cardboard diorama section of the store.

It was hard to walk away. Physically hard, because my urge to buy something was so strong it nearly made me twitchy. The little voices in my head debated the novelty of flip flop jewelry versus the reality of its ugliness, the feel good return of purchasing upcyled crafts from women’s collectives versus my uneasiness with the price, the uniqueness of the product versus the fancy UniquEco logo. One of the necklaces had a tag declaring “flipflop (i was)”. I took note of the confirmation that these were indeed flipped flops upcycled by Kenyan fishing communities. And I took note of the all lowercase tagline and pretentious use of parentheses. Ugh, I thought, branding.

I left the store feeling very proud of my resolve.

The next day I dropped $50 on a hot pink rhino doll/statuette from the same company. It’s adorable with a sleek and marbled hide created by a fused pile of flip flops of similar but not identical colors. This, I thought, will liven up my bookshelf. Or hip up my office. It carries a message that is both political and fun. It will make for a cool blog post and spread envy among my friends. I NEED this.

More tales to come of Kenya and consumption.

Postcard from Kampala

Monday, April 27, 2009
Marabou storks trash digging through trash in Kampala

Marabou storks digging through trash in Kampala

Posting may be light or Victor-centric this week as I (Leila) am in Uganda for the day job. While waiting for my ride outside of the Statistics House in Kampala today, I noticed some Marabou storks lunching in a parkinglot accross the street and promptly dashed over, in heels and through a lot of mud, to take some photos. Let me tell you, I’ve always found the Marabou storks nesting in treetops around the city a bit creepy when overhead. They are even more so up close and on the ground. And so BIG. Imagine if pidgeons were larger than our children!


Sunday, August 27, 2006

threestrand.jpgbeaders.gifbandbrace.jpg I have discovered what I believe to be the most politically correct items on the face of the Earth: jewelry from the Bead for Life project. Bead for Life is a community development program that allows women from Northern Uganda to earn a living for themselves by making beads out of old magazines and stringing those beads into shiny strands to be sold to yuppie Westerners. Nothern Uganda, in case you haven’t heard, has been plagued by civil unrest for years now. Also, the HIV rate is very high, in no small part because of the violence and instability, including rape, domestic abuse and all the other side effects of war. So, this little project of recycling old paper into profit benefits women who are either refugees, living with HIV or raising AIDS orphans or some combination of the three. You, too can feel good about yourself by buying beads.

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