We are greeted with music

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.


9 thoughts on “We are greeted with music

  1. I am reading your blogs and having a whole world open before my eyes. Your thoughts and input are so deep and real I can reach out and touch all of these children. As an educator of first graders, I understand all the things you are saying. Children are the future. Given an education with opportunity, children can make a living. Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. You have given me new inspiration to help educate the first graders I teach about those in Uganda. I am purchasing a new book for my classroom entitled My Precious Name with part of the proceeds from the book going to help the children in Uganda. Each child is given a precious name besides their own. Just as the children surely know they are precious, I want to educate all first graders that children are precious in every country throughout the world especially those who are more in need than they. Keep up the good work. Enjoy the celebration of their music.

  2. Jason – It was very interesting to hear how important music to the very souls of these people, and encouraging to hear how it has been a constant source of peace for them. I liked how you said it ‘frames their stories,’ and besides that making me anxious to hear their songs, that made me contemplate the music I love. It also makes me hope that this will help me to worship ‘better’ as an offering to God; what an inspiration these people are; thanks for helping me to see that! — Love, Mom

  3. It is amazing to hear how much music is such an important part of their lives. Is seems to define them and how they communicate with God and relate to each other. In my days of working at Sea World, we talked often about the songs of the whales when we listened to them in the tanks at night. I wonder if music and song is a common thread for all living beings given to us as a gift from God.

  4. Very interesting Jason! I mentioned something to one of the teachers at school and she thinks it would be really interesting to come and talk to the kids sometime about your trip. I think the kids would enjoy it. I hope you are having fun and learning a lot. It sounds like you have really captured the essence of these people and their music and have made it part of you too.

  5. Jason, your words painted such a vivid picture of the role music plays in cultural flux . I especially liked your reference to how our music cannot give them what their music can. Music does reflect the social condition and the music and dance of the Lion King came to me as I read your reflections. Well done !

  6. This is a particularly interesting topic to me and I’ve enjoyed your observations as well as the comments of others. Music transcends so many things; culture, language, race, politics, and it is interesting to read your observations of how it affects the people of Uganda. Hope your trip is everything you’d hoped it would be, Jason!

  7. Reading your impressions of their traditional music reminds me how much I love the Methodist hymns of my growing up years. I have friends that didn’t go to church as kids who can’t stand the hymns. I love them, have come closer to them through difficulties that lead me away from God and back. Music seems to be the root of human experience no matter where we live. I feel grateful that your group is having these experiences that can bring us all more understanding of one another and compassion for all.

  8. Wow Jason, such descriptive thoughts and examinations. I love the way you have noticed how outside cultures change a traditional way of life. I guess that has sure happened in the U.S. as well, although most of the change was generations before both of us!! Your comment about modern music made me think about our modern church services here. You said “An aid worker described how they often resort to modern forms of music in order to engage the interest of the youth.” We do that here in our praise and worship services in the mega-churches (for lack of a better term) with contemporary music that usually appeals to the younger member. So, as different as their culture seems, I suppose there are some parallels as well. What an awesome experience for you Jason. Keep writing!

  9. Jason, you’ve made some insightful observations about cultural influences on music. It’s good to hear that the religious and traditional influences are still strong. I’d rather see Uganda’s influences on American culture than Justin Bieber’s influence on their traditions. I hope your group is able to record some of the traditional music and share it with us. I’d be particularly interested in hearing what kind of native instruments are used. I’m looking forward to learning more, Elaine

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