Silas Balabyekkubo: "We contribute to a generation that is proud of who they are, where they are from and what they stand for."
You are commonly known as Babaluku. Tell us about yourself, who are you?
I am the grandson of Stansilas Sajjabi and the son of the late Apostle John Deogratius Balabyekkubo and Christine Balabyekkubo, born and raised in Makindye, Uganda. I am also an indigenous hip hop practitioner, proud son of the soil whose passion for Africa keeps me inspired to serve youth communities globally. I am part of the pioneering generation of the youth movement in Uganda known as “Lugaflow” which is an indigenous hip hop voice that has greatly contributed to the awakening of various youth movements in Uganda.
You have lived in Vancouver, Canada most of your adult life. Why come back to Africa, Uganda to start the “Bavubuka” Foundation and why the name 'Bavubuka' foundation?
The challenges of growing up in North America and the question of identity always left a void within my spirit, especially when it came to fitting in. The amount of racism and segregation in educational institutions, religious platforms and justice systems would keep reminding me of a lost freedom and appreciation of humanity that I felt before I left Africa. Growing up in the West, I drew comparisons from my past and present which led me to always think of the day I would return to Africa just to feel liberated from this new culture I could identify with or be accepted in. A culture where my basic expression of humanity was always degraded, challenged and dehumanised regardless of the extreme exposure to opportunities. Upon my father’s death, I had an opportunity to come to Uganda for his funeral and during that time I joined the creative community in the music industry in Uganda. Gathering friends who came from various parts of the urban and rural regions and providing them access to a place that was healing for me but a resource for them. We would gather, I would pull out all the church’s musical equipment I had access to and we would create, all day long. There was no space like that here and it was the first seed that inspired the spirit of the “Bavubuka Foundation” which would manifest ten years later. I stayed connected to this space even after I went back to the west. 2005 was the year I officially returned to set the tone for building indigenous hip hop movements in Uganda. By 2006 I had established the first ever hip hop community foundation that existed to serve and nurture young aspiring hiphop community leaders. Being a hip hop artist at the time and being from the legendary crew known as “Bataka Squad”, we were already fighting for ground to celebrate our native languages, voice and visibility. We wanted a place where our gifts and talents could be showcased, accepted and be of service to our communities. It was our purpose to serve the youth, with the vision that all youth are stars and that given the opportunity to polish their stars they could collectively shine. That is where I, as Babaluku, took the responsibility for youth advocacy, leadership development and providing new platforms of artistic expression. “Bavubuka” means youth and in starting a youth foundation we chose Bavubuka because we wanted it to be for them. It was instant ownership for them.
One of your objectives is to create space and educational programs that nurture youth in Uganda and Africa. Why do you think so many youth in Uganda and Africa need these educational programs?
Our institutions have not established creative sectors that inspire our generation to be innovative from their own authentic indigenous perspectives. The spaces that are regularly provided are based on a colonial system that isn’t relevant or current. It is “a memorise and repeat system” that tends to create job seekers instead of job creators. It’s with this understanding that we started to evaluate the foundational need that crosses over youth services, which is space. Space to create, be innovative, breed ideas, authentically design from their gifts and take ownership of their creative expressions. The space provides a peaceful environment that celebrates them and encourages them to nurture holistic initiatives that transform their families, communities and country.
How many projects do you have so far under Bavubuka Foundation?
Many. We serve a huge demographic and the resources are few so we are always stretching to make sure no opportunities are missed or dreams put aside in both rural and urban areas. Our initiatives revolve around music, dance, fashion, art. sports, photography, health, education, Pan-Africanism, indigenous culture, leadership development, entrepreneurship, agriculture, innovation and we are constantly expanding depending on the ideas brought up.
The Bavubuka Foundation has been running for a few years now. What are its main accomplishments so far?
The solid establishment of the Lugaflow Youth Voice as a powerful, viable and unshakeable means of expression is the foundation of all our greatest accomplishments. It has led to the creation of youth inspired movements that serve communities similar to what you would consider an after-school program. In these communities they serve this is the only access they have to this kind of free space of expression. The discipleship of young leaders who serve wholeheartedly with a passion for restoring dignity and rebuilding their communities that is our greatest accomplishment. There are many other accomplishments; musically we have represented Uganda globally with world-renowned positive influential artists such as Michael Franti, KRS-One and legendary pioneers of Cuban Hip Hop, Obsession and many more. But our pride is in what we do for our people and we are indeed grateful for our global family that stands in solidarity to support indigenous youth communities all over the world.
Does your foundation focus on Uganda alone or do you have other projects or partners in other African countries?
Our focus is Africa and our starting point is Uganda. Through our “Back To The Source” Leadership Retreat we collaborate with youth leaders in other countries, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa. I believe overtime we have partnered with almost every country on the Continent through our global connections. As Bavubuka Foundation we hope to continue contributing to the unification and restoration of Africa by encouraging our youth to rise and lead.
What criteria do you use when enrolling children and youth in the different programs?
We search for creative, innovative young minds who have a heart for serving their community. There is no education level requirements, we look for passion, love of the work, integrity and respect for each other. We encourage that their own visions and dreams be presented and each idea has to have a positive collective impact and outcome. They must exhibit a drive that reflects a commitment to the future of their community.
Your methods of teaching are very unique through dance and hip hop. Has this worked well for your foundation so far?
Wel,l we call it the unconventional methods. So yes, it works well with all communities due to its authentic spirit and all inclusive practice. The fact that we work unconventionally leaves the door open for any opportunity and partnership to make itself available. We have seen young men and women excel through our efforts of creating access to liberating education. That is education that allows the mind to be free in its thought process and expression of ideas authentically revolving around their indigenous environment. We believe that the more Africa gains an education system that is designed in an appropriate context, the faster we will see Africa rise and shine.
African youth especially in poverty stricken countries always turn to drugs and alcohol, gangs, early pregnancies etc. Is this an area your foundation tackles?
Yes indeed. The disciplines acquired through the environment we provide encourage young people from various marginalised communities to regain value for their lives and also be role models for their peers. The change witnessed through their process of transformation is one that always leaves generational impact. Our approach of supporting young creatives has provided a huge outlet for many young men and women to stay away from self-destructive behaviours. The problems you mentioned are definitely the biggest hinderances to the progress of young people, both rich and poor. It’s not just a poverty mindset, it is youth mindset that we are aiming to eradicate. Its lack of direction, there is a void so even if they happen to have money they still are lost and there is no space provided for them to find themselves. That is what “Bavubuka” is providing. A space in which they can explore who they are, discover their value and their sense of self worth, also making sure they recognise their contribution to the issues that hinder the progress of young people in Africa.
Most African parents are old fashioned and believe their children should have professional jobs. Bavubuka Foundation encourages children to express themselves through music, art and culture. What reaction do you get from parents of the children in your foundation?
Yes, that old-fashioned belief has always been one of the major hinderances to youth progression in Uganda. All from a colonial construct that has boxed success into narrow packages of status and achievement. It has been such a strong battle to stand against a community that believes that only certain academic achievements are worthy of encouragement and celebration. For example lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants are considered the epitome of success. Yet in the last ten years we have witnessed a creative generation rising and establishing new benchmarks of what it is to succeed. And we have seen parents begin to come alongside their children as they witness the transformation of the youth. Let’s say what we are learning through this process is that parents have also been disconnected from their indigenous culture and through the platforms Bavubuka has created are finding new ways to celebrate their children.
We have watched some of your YouTube posts and one that particularly stands is a young lady by the name of MC Flower. Do you have more like her? What happens when they get older?
The beauty of working with children is that they learn from the environments they are given and as they get older they are able to practice values held from their best memories from the spaces that have nurtured them. So at Bavubuka Foundation we see many of our young people desire to lead and create their own initiatives to further their visions. This has given us much hope as far as committing to making sure that all young people gain access to such spaces and resources. There will always be more like Flower and as they get older we hope the community learns to support such young brilliant women and that we see them leading Africa in the future. If you know of any others out there, please always let us know!
What future plans do you have for Bavubuka foundation?
The future plan is to establish ownership of dream spaces, in rural and urban areas, in Uganda and across Africa. This means purchasing land and creating access for holistic community practices which serve and celebrate youth and elders. We are certain that when this dream space vision becomes contagious in Africa we will have more impact than those corporate companies who are building shopping malls to feed the consumerism beast that bears no return for the communities they are established in.
What advice would you give the youth who are struggling with various issues in their lives at the moment?
In my past ten years of doing this work and serving young people I have arrived to an understanding that we all are a disconnected generation. And that only when we accept and recognise that disconnection will we be able to find freedom as we begin our journey to reconnect. So my message is ‘Reconnection is a Must!’ I advise all young people across the continent to start reevaluating the roots of their issues. Exploring solutions from within themselves and the foundation of their cultures. There is indeed a need for a new breed of young Africans who are committed to contribute to the new frontier. So know your worth, reclaim your land, celebrate your culture, preserve your language and always seem unity and justice for all, putting God above everything.
How do you fund the different projects under the Bavubuka foundation?
Through my artists community and close organisations and institutions that recognise the uniqueness and impact of the work. I have to also say that the power of creative individuals who have struggled with the same hurdles in funding creative arts initiatives, especially within the culture of hip hop, have greatly contributed to our success today.
One of your core values is encouraging and celebrating African Languages, Heritage and culture. How have the youth you work with received this message?
Today we are witnessing young people move beyond their limitations by discovering their power through language, in this case the Luga Flow Movement. The overall mission through our work has been to contribute to a generation that is proud of who they are, where they are from and what they stand for. The message has been well received as we see an exodus of young people leaving urban spaces to lead in their villages and even embracing farming and agricultural initiatives as an expression of themselves.
What is the global message behind the Bavubuka foundation?
Young people are the future. So our investment in them is vital and we should encourage those who have power and influence to prioritise youth agendas. Always reminding youth that they have power and influence available to them as well through their voice. The critical need of restoring their spirit from all the past histories of trauma and poverty must keep us dedicated to work hard, using our resources to provide new ways of transforming communities through the dreams and visions of the youth.
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