During this trip, we have seen much song and dance. Communities and groups are constantly performing for us. We as a group are in constant awe in the hospitality and welcoming that we receive from communities that have seen much suffering and sorrow.
We have also noticed that music is everywhere in Lira, and it has taken many different forms. Usually the groups we visit and help play traditional music on traditional instruments. In the city, we often hear the occasional Justin Bieber or Rihanna. At mass, on the radio, and all over we have heard religious music praising God.
One question that was asked today is if Uganda can maintain its traditional music with the increasing influence of outside cultures such as the West, China, and India. Generally, the older generation resists this change while the young excitedly embrace it. One thing is certain, Uganda’s culture is changing with rising outside influence in such forms as aid workers, technology, and entrepreneurs.
Our music, the music from the West, cannot give them what their music can: a frame for their stories. It is their stories in music that they have to offer God. As one priest pointed out to us, it is their song and dance that engages not just their mind but their body as an offering to God. With a church that was introduced during colonization, their music plasters an African identity to a worldwide institution.
However, there is still a tension between the traditional music that is especially upheld in the church and the changing face of music in Uganda. An aid worker described how they often resort to modern forms of music in order to engage the interest of the youth. This method of teaching experiences resistance however with elders.
Whether traditional or modern, the love and involvement of music is a constant in a life of tragedy, war, and death. It has stayed with them when so many others have left, either fleeing to another land or passing away to another life. For those who saw and felt the effects of the LRA, the involvement of music in their life is a part that the LRA could not coax into fear or destroy with hatred. It is the part of them that lives on in the songs of their death as their spirit passes. This involvement is a thread that can connect past and present and teaches for the future. My friend Sara smartly put it as the heartbeat of a culture.
As the complex debate and tension of the role of outside influences on changing traditional culture persists, it is my opinion that music will always play a primary role in the life of Ugandans in a way that seems secondary in my life back home. Culture and music are two dynamic entities that are constantly changing as unknown influences continue to introduce themselves. Change is usually not solely good or bad in my experiences. The change in environment here in Africa has caused me stress, but also made me a better person. I have seen technology can help improve living conditions but also cause indifference. I believe the influence of outside cultures is often much too complex to be compartmentalized. I can say though that it is of my opinion while the future shape of music here in Uganda is uncertain, from what I have seen music in and of itself as a primary expression of all aspects of life will stay.