In the previous issue, I mentioned that art serves a duo purpose: it entertains as it educates. Today, I would like to say something more about the first purpose: entertainment. To put it simply, to entertain is to amuse. In the Luganda language, entertaining is captured by the word ‘okusanyusa’; in Lhukonzo, which is my mother tongue, to entertain is ‘eritsangya-tsangya’, which can be translated as: to make people lively or merry. What is implied in both ‘okusanyusa’ and ‘eritsangya-tsangya’ is that before entertainment sets in, there is boredom or heaviness of heart, which needs to be lifted away. But what is it exactly in art that makes it entertaining? This seemingly simple question is quite difficult to answer, which is why it is the subject of many treatises on aesthetics. I will attempt to answer it in simple terms, and quite briefly.
There are several aspects that make a work of art entertaining. One of these is the perceptiveness of the work – that special quality of its insightfulness that makes you say, ‘Waoh, what a beautiful piece of work this is.’ That’s the joy one experiences upon listening to a good song, like Philip Bongole Lutaaya’s Alone and Frightened, which captures the pathos of discovering that you are HIV positive in a world where this discovery sounds more or less a death sentence. So, while it is a very sad song that brings tears to our eyes, both its lyrics and its melody are deeply moving and beautiful.
This is one of the paradoxes of art: that a painful experience (in this case contracting HIV) can be rendered so beautifully. At Immaculate High School, Nyakibale, where I conducted a 3-day poetry writing workshop from 4th to 6th December, 2020, a poem by a senior six young lady called Precious Betty Ankunda entitled “Pieces of Me”, made the point – clearly and deeply – that the person we describe with the pronoun ME or I has many pieces of him or her: “Me sad, me happy, me furious, me lively, me scared.” The poem turns out a love piece when the persona says,
“There is every piece for a me
And every me for a piece
I fix a piece by a piece
But there’s just that one crack
That is only filled by you
And when it’s filled, I am whole.”
The other aspect of art that entertains is the curiosity it engenders in the audience, as it keeps us hooked to the stage, for we want to know what happens next. This partly explains why a tragic story entertains us, even as we weep with the tragic character as he or she suffers in a way disproportionate to the mistakes he or she has made.
The entertaining power of a tragedy arises from the intricate plotting of the events, as we see the tragic hero or heroine being entangled in a spider’s web, so to speak, helpless, despite the enormous power he or she may wield, as a Queen, a King, a Prince, a Princess, a military hero, a President of a country, and so forth.
In John Ruganda’s play The Burdens (1972), we keep wondering what will happen to the ever drunk Wamala, who is always in a fight with his always sober but frustrated wife, Tinka. While what we hear and see on stage is scaring and painful as the couple and their children (Tinka and Nyakake) wallow in poverty and misery, the desire to know how the story will end is entertaining in its own right, as it tickles our curiosity and imagination. The story is sad, but the intricateness of its plotting keeps us hooked to the stage where the drama of this unfortunate family is unfolding. Likewise, at times, artists employ humour as a technique to entertain us and make us laugh.
By Dr Danson Kahyana
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