Stephen Rwangyezi called it Ndere Troupe to symbolize the beautiful diversity of Uganda’s music and dance traditions.
In 1984, before it could perform or rehearse a single item, Stephen Rwangyezi registered Ndere Troupe with the culture ministry as a cultural development organisation.
He called it Ndere Troupe to symbolize the beautiful diversity of Uganda’s music and dance traditions. Much as he registered the troupe, Ndere would wait two years for a performance.
It was in 1986 that Ndere Troupe began performing in schools, to a great reception, but when he ventured into performing for the general public at a fee a year later, Rwangyezi, who had had the idea of running the troupe as a business, soon realized the public’s mindset had been accustomed to viewing native arts for free.
So he decided to offer his performances free with the hope that he would later add a price to the shows after audiences had started appreciating them.
Between 1986 and 1995 Ndere performed free of charge in schools and between 1988 and 2003 the troupe performed at the Nile Theatre every Sunday, also at no cost.
It was after the troupe’s demand had surpassed its supply that Rwangyezi began to charge for every performance.
In 1997, Rwangyezi started the Uganda Development Theatre Association, where performers from different localities of Uganda get trained by Ndere and then sent back to their communities to train others, start-up groups and preserve their art, while also using the art for educational purposes.
There are now 2,084 groups affiliated to the Ndere Centre under the Uganda Development Theatre Association. Since 2000, the troupe has also been running festivals at its centre.
Education and sensitisation
Away from promoting cultural heritage, Ndere Troupe also uses its art to sensitise and educate the masses on the issues affecting Uganda. The troupe has since its formation used its plays, dances, and songs to deliver to different communities messages on themes such as health, economics, education, and governance. The troupe also performs at graduations, weddings, anniversaries, dinners, launches, conferences, expos, festivals and state functions, among others.
Rwangyezi says in Africa, the written word did not exist thus Africa’s history literature; knowledge and wisdom were recorded and passed on through the medium of performing arts, music, dance, storytelling, and poetry.
The man behind Ndere - Stephen Rwangyezi
The man behind everything to do with Ndere is driven more than anything by a passionate love for his country’s culture.
“I grew up seeing the new ways brought by the whites washing out every bit of our culture,” he says.
“Everything to do with our culture was being reviled as backward, primitive and evil. Yet as one who grew up having a taste of both sides, I knew our culture was beautiful in many ways and there was a lot that needed to be preserved.
“So I set out to preserve and show off the beauty of our culture, particularly in the performing arts which have been a part of my life,” says Rwangyezi.
Rwangyezi was born in 1955 in Itojo, Ntungamo district, to a family of musically talented persons. By the time he was 10 years old, Rwangyezi had mastered the flute (endere) and it was the instrument that saw him through primary school despite having problems with school fees.
Every time they sent him home for fees, they would call him back because there was no one else to play the flute at the school’s music, dance and drama (MDD) events.
He went to Itojo Primary School, starting in P.3 in 1970 at the age of 15. After his primary education, he joined the Teacher Training College in Kabale, in the four-year stay he learnt western music too.
In 1985 and 1986 he studied for his diploma in MDD at Makerere University and between 1987 and 1990 he did a bachelor’s degree in economics and rural development.
Over the years, he has taught music and English in Mbarara, Kabale, Kasese, and Kampala, while also training the school choirs and MDD groups and has won regional and National MDD competitions with various schools