To be honest, I don't think anyone could have expected to be dancing to Adele's Rolling in the Deep while The Jungle Book played on TV screens around the dancefloor. But welcome to Kampala, the party capital of East Africa, where anything goes.
Nowhere are the contradictions of Uganda more readily apparent than in the nightclubs on any given evening. Uganda is a fairly conservative society; public displays of affection are frowned upon in public, and women often wear modest clothing. When the clubs open, the rules change. The hemlines become shorter and shirts a bit tighter.
Like any city, there are places to be seen and places to be avoided and places with that reputation. Al's Bar, everyone knows, is famous for its numerous prostitutes. If you want to party the night away on a Monday night, head to Club TI where you can join over 500 people partying. If bar hopping is your thing, Kabalagala, with its long strip of many bars and clubs, is always packed on the weekends.
But behind all of this is Africa's own thriving art scene; from Nigeria's P-Square's insanely popular dancefloor hit Chop My Money to the many local bands performing at bars across the city. Africa has no shortage of talent.
And it's not just music, either. Take Destreet Art, a Kampala artist who has exhibits across Europe. Destreet's art is a droll mixture of Ugandan and Western influences -- one popular screen-printed T-shirt says "We saw fishermen in Uganda. It was interesting."
His art takes an irreverent look at how Ugandans and expats view Uganda -- a reflection of the, at times, conflicting values of the two cultures. But more than that, Destreet is driven by his commitment to his charitable foundation that encourages youth living in the slums to take up the arts, from painting to dancing to poetry. His art gallery, down a narrow alleyway populated with goats and stray dogs, is a compound dedicated to encouraging people to try their hand at art. To loud hip hop music, people -- both expats and Ugandans -- paint on canvasses, browse the screen-printed shirts, and talk about life in Uganda.
Kampala's National Theatre has ballet, musicals and Latin dance shows. In May, the theatre put on Oliver. Even the touristic crafts scene is evolving from just selling East African souvenirs (many of which come from Kenya) to selling uniquely Ugandan products. But what's behind Uganda's (and by extension, Africa's) art scene? It's hard to say. But Uganda does have an incredibly diverse heritage and tumultuous history, bringing to bear a compelling mix of influences to Ugandan art.
There are over 40 ethnic groups in Uganda. More significantly perhaps is that nearly 80 per cent of the population is under 30. These young people have grown up in the shadow of colonialism, Amin, and Obote but seem determined to bring their own perspectives to the arts.
The fusion between the traditional and modern can be heard in the music, where many musicians sing in both English and the local language. P-Square's Beautiful Onyinye is a romantic love ballad; onyinye, an Igbo word, roughly translates into the greatest or the best. Bebe Cool, Uganda's answer to dancehall music, sings in Luganda, Swahili and English. But in the clubs, it doesn't matter what language the songs are in.
On Friday night, the club was crowded and the music blasting. Palm fronds hung from the ceiling -- it was Jungle Night at Iguana and they played I Like to Move It, Move It while clips from Madagascar played on the screens.
It didn't matter how ridiculous the scene was; it was Friday night and it was time to have fun. As long as the beer is cheap and the music loud, people will come out. The big hits are from African artists, but people just want to dance with the flashing lights and pulsating beats. Even if the clubs plays the Jungle Book or Bladerunner on the TV screens.
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