We used to be invisible, but now we are visible.
Slum Cinema training workshop in Kisenyi, 2008
My name is Wasswa Abbey, I’m a musician, I play guitar, but my focus is vocalist. I’m here thanks to Vodap, I’m a member of Street Voice. Street Voice is located in Kisenyi, one of the most notorious slums in the whole country. In Street Voice we work with street children, mainly those who hang around in the slums. Street Voice is just located one kilometer from Vodap. I came to know about Slum Cinema through Vodap.Vodap is an organization for disadvantaged people, so we were their first priority for this workshop in 2008. During the first workshop we attended I learnt about editing, filming. In fact I thought as a musician I have nothing to do with editing and filming, but then at the end of the workshop I noticed that I needed this programme, because as a musician I have to record my songs, I have to make videos about them. So by the end of it, it became very important. The skills I got at the workshop have really helped me as I managed to make a song without even paying money, because Vodap has equipment, so I could use that equipment to make my songs and my video.
It was important to me because I used to lack professionalism. I was not looking at that, I thought I could write my songs. If I wanted to create a song, I created a song. I would just write it and keep notes. But the workshop has changed me, in that I have to save my things on a CD, so it has changed me to do things professionally. Many times I could misplace my things, sometimes I would have a lot of books, but this has really changed me. I can even have maybe just a flash disk or a CD, where I can carry a lot of messages, while before I used to have books. So it has changed me in that way.
I come from the slums, and people neglect people who are in the slum, so, in the first place, I had no chance to be noticed. But now since I finished the workshops, since I joined Vodap, I’ve been noticed by other musicians, I have even managed to sell a song written by me, ‘Kiwaani’, to Bobi Wine, a great musician in Uganda, and the song was really a hit. I wrote this song back in 2005, I had not recorded it anywhere, we were just singing it in the village, every kid could sing this song, so I was even tired of this song. I managed to sell that song just after being taught that video and filming is important. When we started editing we were noticed, and they came to me to ask me to sell this song. I think if I had that idea before, I would have sold that song [earlier], it would have made money for me. But it was through Vodap that I managed to get noticed, and even to sell a song.
There was no way I could pass that barrier [on my own], because I was just a street singer. Many times I could sing it in slums, and people would just listen to it and go, some people could not even remember it. So it was like a song just for me. And I believe if I had had some recorders and video [equipment], I would have recorded this song and maybe it would have sold by then. So when we got these gadgets, they helped, even to our group Street Voice, to be noticed and we are even preparing ourselves to sell other songs.
When you look at music, mostly in slums, it’s not easy to pass through, I mean to succeed, because you need a lot of money, you need to go in the studio, you need to publish. But when you look at the advantages we have now, we can record our songs, we can even make video from our songs. Not only that, we can even do our own documentaries. Which has made us earn some money, even been noticed by other organizations, even the government. Because before nobody could come in the ghetto to do business in the slums. There are no good roads there. There is no security even: somebody could just harass you and no one would care. But since we can put the things on video, now you see security there, we have good clinics, they’re even now constructing good roads. And I believe it’s because of the documentaries, reports, and even video that we have been doing. We were invisible, but now we are visible.
This has made the people in our area happy, since we started learning to edit, the people in our area are even happy to have cameras shooting at them, not like before. Before, if you would come with a camera in the slum, you were in trouble, they would just break it. But since Vodap came in [with the Slum Cinema workshops], we learnt how to make screenings, because every Sunday we screen in many ghettoes. Now people are used to the camera, they don’t hate cameras anymore.
The camera in Kisenyi used to be the enemy, and now it’s a tool to help the people, it’s something to bridge the people’s problems to the government. So it’s not the enemy anymore, it’s like a gun to them. If you attack the people in Kisenyi, many times they can even call us. Now in Kisenyi, they know him Okello Mohammed Fathil, another member of Street Voice, and they’ll just call him or call me, they say ‘bring the camera, some people are just harassing us’. So the camera is no more an enemy, it’s a weapon to help them [to defend themselves].
And we believe that if we really had these gadgets, it could go even further than that. Because when you look at it, in slums there are many breaking news, you’ll find very interesting news at any time. Like recently, there are people who make aluminium, they boil aluminium to make saucepans. But one group went to buy old scrap, and they bought a bomb [without knowing], and put it in the saucepan to melt it, they blew the fire and everybody was around. So in just a few minutes it blasted, people died, and we recorded these things. It was a good thing that by then we were working together with Slum Cinema. Immediately the police came in, medical care was around. But before, nobody would have known that there was an incident like that in the slums. See a Slum Cinema video about Kisenyi