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Rhythms that beat with true Ugandan spirit

By Vision Reporter

Added 20th January 2008 03:00 AM

MIRIAM Namala steps onto the brightly lit stage. The yellowish stage lights bounce off her sunny smile like the hot African sun sparkling on still waters. Left, right, she glides in tune with Thylis Asiimire. They dance to the tune of Ntwala Mata Gange. Namala is singing.

MIRIAM Namala steps onto the brightly lit stage. The yellowish stage lights bounce off her sunny smile like the hot African sun sparkling on still waters. Left, right, she glides in tune with Thylis Asiimire. They dance to the tune of Ntwala Mata Gange. Namala is singing.

By Harriette Onyalla

MIRIAM Namala steps onto the brightly lit stage. The yellowish stage lights bounce off her sunny smile like the hot African sun sparkling on still waters. Left, right, she glides in tune with Thylis Asiimire. They dance to the tune of Ntwala Mata Gange. Namala is singing.

For eight year olds, the huge stage of Kampala’s Theatre La Bonita seems to swallow the girls up, and yet Namala’s beautiful voice powers through.

The drums beat on. Why? There is no sound as superior as the beat of the African drum. One moment, you are sitting on edge, holding your breath, holding your seat tight, the next, a soothing sound plies your clenched fists open, your soul opening up like a flower in bloom basking in the African sun.

Slowly, you lean back, the temptation to close your eyes and lose yourself in the rich African heritage.

Spirit of Uganda Children’s Choir is performing. It is a Monday night, but given the full house at Theatre La Bonita, it is certain the audience chose to forget the Ugandan culture of theatre being a weekend affair.

“This is a song from Bunyoro, it is a lullaby,” Peter Kasule, artistic director of the choir which left the country last Wednesday, said.

The mishmash of emotions began with the usual unnerving feeling of the unknown, despite the reassurance in the name of the choir. “The performance is free, all you will have to bring is a joyous spirit,” read the invite.

Well, the culturally rich performance blended with modernity, turned out to be a remedy for a blue spirit too.
Kasule said the choir will be on tour in the US for three months.

Indeed, having sent the audience’s expectations sky-rocketing, Kasule, the master of ceremonies, did not let them down. “Dignified but informal, amusing but corny, informative but preachy and a fine story teller,” is how US-based Ann Arbor News described him.

Kasule told of a story of how the bakisimba dance of Buganda came into existence. “After a woman discovered the brew, mwenge bigere, it was taken to the royal palace and the king enjoyed it and decided to host a royal banquet.

“However, the king had one too many pints of the new brew and staggering, got up to thank the people. This was a great embarrassment since culture did not allow the king to thank his subjects. To cover up the king’s blunder, the drummers began following the king’s sound with drumbeats. ‘Abakisimba beba giwomya’ the king went.

As he staggered on, the women followed him, moving from side to side to cover up for him and thus the dance was born.

Kasule, who was also once in a children’s choir, said: “I know it takes just one person to make a difference in the life of a Ugandan child. I am that child. Now, I also know that it can take one child to make a change in Africa.”

For a child whose only concern at one time was what he was going to eat and where he was going to sleep, Kasule has come a long way since his parents died while he was a little boy. “And now I ask my myself: How can I make a positive impact on the world?”

A 2006 graduate in Music Technology from the College of Santa Fe in the US, Kasule believes each one of us can change the world even for one child struggling to get through school, who life has dealt a severe blow.

Perhaps their parents died all too soon through HIV/AIDS, war or a road accident.

That is what Empower African Children is determined to do. Alexis Hefley, who initiated the Children of Uganda 14 years ago, said the organisation focused on secondary school children. “We are looking at empowering children of 12 years and above.

That is why we are not planning to open orphanages. This will enable the children to keep in touch with their communities and cause change because they have got an education which they would not have otherwise gotten.” Hefley is also the production director of the choir.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Children of Uganda is “not just entertaining. They are reaching out from an unbearable place of loss, drawing from their inner reserves the multi-faceted rhythms that bear at the heart of Ugandan culture.”

It is not just the drumbeats, but also the lessons these children are teaching us. One of the boys, Peter Mugga, wrote a song Liwonvu. It is a tale of how God does not forget. If you have been in Mugga’s shoes, you will know where a boy of his age gets such insight.

And you wonder: Why do bad things happen to children? Could it be so that they could teach us lessons we would not have learnt, except from the resilience of a child — a child like Namala.

Rhythms that beat with true Ugandan spirit

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