Music and Dance of Uganda Comes to FAC March 5

Spirit of Uganda, featuring a cast of 22 performers, ages 10-22, will share cultural traditions from East Africa and introduce some of the dynamic music and dance forms that are being created now in a performance at the Fine Arts Center on Wednesday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Empower African Children, is a professional training and touring program that brings its theatrical song and dance performances to North America every other year. There will be a pre-concert talk by Alexis Hefley, founder/president of Empower African Children at 6:30 p.m. at the University Club.

The performance will include a wide range of styles, from a capella duets to raucously drummed dance numbers including the entire company. While drumming and vocals are the focus of the music, traditional instruments like embaire, a large long xylophone, and omukuri, a flute most often used to herd cattle, are also used to enhance the arrangements.

Artistic director Peter Kasule helps to explain the meaning behind the songs and dances – whether a common tribal courtship dance, or a personal tale of heartbreak and betrayal. The program includes popular favorites like “Obutebenkevu,” a street dance performed by the company’s girls while they balance traditional clay pots on their heads, and “Kyemuli Kyetwaali, Kyetuli Kyemuliba,” which showcases the boys’ drumming skills in a selection of rhythms from Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.

Repertory works may be named after a featured instrument, a song’s lyric, a particular rhythm or phrase, or its place of origin. Some pieces are drawn from specific peoples, such as the Acholi who live in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, or the Baganda whose centuries-old kingdom Buganda is rooted in the court. Other pieces are suites that may link rhythms and phrases from several regions, playing with differences and similarities to combine sounds and movements in new ways. 

Kasule explains that the music and dances have significance beyond the obvious themes. “For those of us who have lost our parents, our elders and neighbors, who witness the daily struggle to carry on, these rhythms and patterns are a comfort, they are our teachers and tools of survival,” Kasule writes. “Music and dance in Uganda today are fluid and dynamic – a shifting mix of traditional and new forms that celebrate the country’s rich and multiple heritages and embody the connections among peoples and across borders.”

Tickets are $38, $35 and $15; Five College, GCC, STCC students and youth 17 and under are $10. For tickets call the FAC Box Office at 545-2511 or purchase online at fineartscenter.com.