Interview By Rebekah Frimpong
Photos by Bwette Daniel Gilbert
In Uganda’s vibrant art scene there is one young photographer whose work stands out because of his unique perspective on “Liberating Self Expression”. Bwette Daniel Gilbert, calls himself a Hip-Hop Archivist rather than a photographer because he considers what he does to be more than just photography but instead he feels his photos document moments in time and personal self-expression and a love for Hip-Hop culture. Bwette Daniel Gilbert, shares with Africology’s Focus In; Digital Storytellers, how his photography not only shows how indigenous Hip-Hop has played a huge role in youth movements in Uganda but also shares a bit of his own story of how he started on a personal journey of liberating self-expression.
Q: You call yourself an archivist rather than a photographer; can you expand upon that some more?
I have worked in, worked with, and worked for various youth communities in Uganda since I completed my high school education back in 2008. I joined a Hip-Hop based community called Bavubuka Foundation, and I managed to learn photography through the sponsored workshops that were taking place every weekend and that’s how I developed my passion for photography. With much practice and research, I taught myself most things and was also greatly helped by my first mentor Roshan Karmali. But then I realized that being a just a photographer was not enough compared to energy that revolved around Bavubuka Foundation. Also, given the fact that Ugandan cultural arts and journalism did not cover Hip-Hop in its full essence. The greatest reason why I chose to start calling myself “an archivist” was the purpose I wanted my photography to reflect. I chose to start prioritizing documenting indigenous Hip-Hop culture in Uganda in every essence and that has made me unique from the rest of other culture & arts photographers. With the help of Silas Balabyekkubo aka Babaluku, we opened up The UG Hip hop Archivist movement to purposely create digital and physical archives of indigenous Hip-Hop of Uganda beyond just rap music and this quest over the past four years has grown global to start attracting scholars from all over the world learn about Hip-Hop in Uganda. I find it important that I use my passion for photography to serve as a vehicle for the voices not heard in mainstream media yet globally in demand.
Q: How does Hip-hop influence your work?
I actively joined Hip-Hop culture in 2008 when I joined Bavubuka Foundation. I actively don’t participate in the physical element of hip hop of (emceeing, deejaying, break dancing or beat boxing) but found my way exercising the most important element of Hip-Hop: Knowledge of self. Indigenous Hip-Hop has greatly influenced my work because it shows a direct translation of my struggles and those of my peers around me. Understanding the fact that Hip-Hop is a lifestyle not just music helped me so much and how to search and find direct translation of what it means to live a Hip-Hop lifestyle. My experience working in creative urban youth sectors in Uganda gives me an opportunity to find how best to carry the message of youth empowerment within grassroots communities to help influence policy making in youth sectors. I feel Hip hop always gives a balance to make realistic relations in dialogues especially when engaging youth.
Q: Do you believe that photographers like yourself are truly changing the narrative about Africa? And what kind of impact do you think this will have?
There is an African proverb that says: “until the lion learns to speak, the tale will always favor that of the hunter”. So many African narratives have been passed on from an outsider perspective and therefore our story is never reported with the entire truth. I truly believe photographers especially from Africa, have given a new perspective to how people from the rest of the world look at Africa. We as African people are tired of being documented in categories of hunger, flies over children noses and huts to represent our habitats. As a photographer, I have a responsibility to change this and I don’t have to wait for a big photography agency or press agency to employ me to do this. It is important that we create our own media, learn the craft of photography and document successful African stories that will inspire our up and coming young Africans who are following our footsteps.
Doing this will completely change that the rest of the world perception of Africa. I also believe that it will change the way Africans feel about themselves and develop confidence to stand for what is right.
Q: Do you feel obligated to have a social commitment as an artist to your community?
I deeply feel the social commitment and responsibility to my community getting wider especially when I get connected to an opportunity that I feel learning from will impact more people in my community. This has led me to deepen my quest for knowledge and also to look for the right community to share this knowledge. At the beginning of 2014, Merita movement and Bavubuka Dynasty gave me an opportunity to travel and share skills in DR Cong – Goma as part of the first Young African Visionaries caravan. The experience was incredible and made me to go back to the same place in July during SKIFF (Salamu Kivu Film Festival) to do the same work. My commitment for 2015 is to mentor young people who are truly passionate about photography and would love to take it beyond just a passion in my community, Uganda and around Africa once the opportunity presents itself.
Q: What new projects are you working on now?
Couple of months ago, I have a successful online crowdfunding campaign to buy a new DSLR camera for my archivist movement and with greatly much help from my global Hip-Hop family, I successful got this camera. I am planning to continue my photography research project I started early 2014 to find the relationship elder generation in Uganda had with music and its relationship with current Indigenous hip hop culture. I am using a boom box radio as a catalyst to instigate conversations. I am also planning to start my mobile Hip-Hop photography exhibitions in various institutions and communities such as street photography exhibitions, university photo exhibitions & scholarly conferences both in Africa and around the world. I hoping to instigate a new conversation especially in African secondary school and universities about the greater contribution of Indigenous Hip-Hop culture and how youth in educational institution can use Hip-Hop in their academia since Hip-Hop and education is somewhat a new frontier in most African countries.