The End of East Africa’s Swankiest Nightclub Ange Noir

By DailyNewsUg,

Club Guvnor, one of Kampala’s premier nightclubs, is phasing out the famous Saturday Night session, for which it has been known for over two decades.

The news, broken through a notice dated on May 17, 2024, has been received by the city revellers with mixed feelings. While the management blames the decline of business for the decision, its ardent patrons who have come every Saturday over 25 years are melancholic.

Guvnor Club | Music In Africa

Located on 1st Street Industrial Area, Jinja Road, Guvnor was once one of the city’s swanky nightclubs, complete with premium service and hosting private parties.

It boasts four bars, four independent sections, top-of-the-range sound system and a fully equipped ambulance.

In its heyday, the nightclub was busy from Tuesday through to Saturday. Now, it will be operating only on Fridays.

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Revellers at the 2012 All White Party at Club Guvnor in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI | NMG

“Guvnor Uganda informs its patrons that, owing to a sharp drop in business, we are ceasing Saturday Night operations starting June 2024,” the notice reads. “The club shall, however, remain available for hire on Saturdays for private parties/ events/ concerts/ product launches/ presentations.”

The reaction of its patrons was instant.

“As the curtains fall on [Saturday Night Fever] @GuvnorUganda, a somber shadow blankets the memories of vibrant Saturday nights that once filled its walls with music, laughter, and joy,” actor and director John Segawa posted on X, formerly Twitter, immediately after the club made the announcement.

“The echoes of revelry now fade into silence, leaving behind a void that special bookings can never truly fill. A chapter closes, carrying with it the collective heartbeat of a community that found solace and connection within those hallowed halls. May the spirit of those unforgettable nights live on in our hearts, a bittersweet reminder of moments cherished and a place that will forever hold a special corner in our memories.”

But Afrigo Band’s CEO James Wasula said the end of Saturday Night came as no surprise.

“It was expected. Why? Because every village in Kampala has a live band that performs free shows. Now it means that people no longer have to go to certain points to get entertainment. People go in their neighbourhoods to enjoy live band music. So, nightlife has not changed, people are going out and enjoying. What has changed is that in the past we used to have fewer places to go to, people would go to Club Obligato, Ange Noir, and Club Silk. But now every village has an entertainment place and, actually, some villages have two places, and there is no entry fees so long as you buy a drink.”

He says that is why Afrigo closed Club Obligato: It was not making money anymore, as people were not turning up.

Actor and playwright Philip Luswata says the signs were always there “though it is still heart-breaking to lose a piece of showbiz history.”

“The reality is that showbiz has shifted from the city centre. I have said this of theatre. These iconic places of entertainment existed when there was a sizeable population living in the city centre. These days, all the residential units on Dewinton Road and Buganda Road in Nakasero and Kololo are either offices or brought down for rebuilding. The entertainment-consuming public is far off in Najjera, Kawanda, and Kijabijo.”

But Lusawata says the trend shouldn’t spell the death for some of the establishments.

“One would hope that they become places of pilgrimage. Ange Noir was like this, but when it became Guvnor, it slowed down. Every time one went to Ange Noir, it was like entering a new space. It seemed like it kept mutating and this, to me was touristic. Even when you went alone, you could dance the hours away but then at one time it turned into a lounge where people booked seats.”

Businessman James Kayemba, 55, blames Covid-19 and the attendant restrictions that drove people to alternative joints near their residences, where “they ended up stuck.”

“In my local language we say ‘nti atannayitayita, yatenda nyinna okufumba,’ loosely translated as ‘when you wander, you find what you may have missed.’ This will include new friends, service, ambience.’ But for me, it’s the generational gap because once in a while I get a great time during the Oldies Nights at Club Guvnor,” Kayemba said.

“This shows how the entertainment industry has changed since the emergence of Covid-19,” says Rugiirwa Katatumba, chair of the Bar, Club and Entertainment Owners Association Uganda.

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Revellers at the 2012 All White Party at Club Guvnor in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI | NMG

“Many bars and nightclubs closed during and after the Covid-19 lockdown. The entertainment industry hasn’t been the same since.”

Asked about the phase-out of Saturday Night, Luswata says, “The spirit to go out is still there, and people do go out. The Kampala city centre can’t lay claim to the partying patrons any more, though. There is a drop in resident population in the city. Everybody after work is rushing out of the city, and when they get home, they become prisoners of bad city management decisions. Without a rapid public transport system, coupled with high fuel prices, you can’t think of going back to the city to watch a play or cross from Kawempe to Kabalagala.”

“This used to be very easy before, but today a jam holds you down up to 11.30pm on the Northern Bypass. People still want to party together, to make friends in new places, but the circumstances don’t allow.”

Is it possible that Ugandans are drinking less, hence not going out more?

Observers say no, it’s just that interests have somewhat changed.

“Have you also noticed that ensemble dancing is the in-thing for young people doing dance challenges on TikTok? How then do you say that a space that provides for this popular pastime for young people is obsolete? Discotheques simply need to be discotheques,” Luswata says.

But there is also the issue of cost.

“Ugandans can no longer spend Ush30,000 ($8) on entry charges when they can drink at upscale bars for free entry,” Katatumba observes. “Maybe Guvnor can consider removing the entry charge.”

Alcohol-free bars have become more popular in recent years, especially in Europe, indicating that some revellers are becoming teetotallers or cutting down on alcohol consumption.

Asked if alcohol-free bars can thirve in Uganda, Luswata says: “Nightlife is a very special, individual and spiritual experience. Alcohol has been very central to spiritual experiences traditionally for us Ugandans, and is even biblically endorsed. In the West, they have space for alcohol-free bars. Here, we have restaurants for that. The West can handle such spaces, here, we can’t.”

The question of alcohol-free bars is debatable, Wasula argues. According to him, Uganda is among the top countries in the world where consumption of alcohol is high.

“I do not know the position that we hold — we could be in the top 10 or 20. So, I don’t know if alcohol-free bars are really a thing. I doubt. People in Uganda enjoy their alcohol.”

“So, the issue is about decentralising entertainment. Most areas have local live bands forget about discos because Club,” Wasula adds.

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