Uganda In Santa Fe
“Thank you for joining us on this journey, and welcome to Uganda,” Spirit of Uganda Artistic Director Peter Kasule announced during his performance on Feb. 15 at Greer Garson Theater. As soon as the master of ceremonies stepped aside, the pound of the first Engoma drum and pluck of the first Adungu harp filled the theater, bridging the massive gap between Santa Fe and the small country in Central Africa. Though the bright stage lights and bold traditional costumes—from the Emigaala head dress to the Mukila cow tail—helped the surreal transformation, it was the music and dance of the young Ugandans that was a privilege to behold. Kasule shared later that their troupe, a performing arts tour from Uganda, focuses a great deal on African music composition and Kasule says he tries to “imagine that [they] sing so well that even the blind can be able to enjoy.” And while the young performers moved through the regions of Uganda, by imitating ceremonial dances, the effect became so powerful that this audience member forgot she was in Santa Fe.
The literal journey of Spirit of Uganda, which functions under the non-profit organization Empower African Children, takes the 13 through 21-year-old performers to 18 cities all over the world to expose, experience and enrich global connection within the arts. This year, Spirit of Uganda recruited special guest Rachel Magoola, a musical icon in Uganda, and included a surprise appearance of some SFUAD’s own musicians, who learned a song specifically for the show. Of course, before the show concluded, the audience was encouraged to stand and dance along. Luckily, we had Kasule guiding our much-too-excited arms and claps.
“I make sure whatever I’m putting on stage is up to the standard and quality of the industry we’re in,” says Kasule, who is himself a College of Santa Fe graduate (’07). Awarded an Empower African Children scholarship, Kasule studied music technology with a focus on composition, recording and African/Western music fusion. After graduation, having already performed and directed for the program Children of Uganda from 2004-2006, Kasule founded the troupe Spirit of Uganda and took on the task of artistic director. This season, Kasule taught music and dance with 50 some students from an International school in Uganda (all coming from the various 60 ethnic groups and kingdoms) then, based on talent and interest, selected 22 of them to perform with the three month tour, which launched in January.
“The entire production is on my head,” Kasule says, describing his tasks as choreographer, musician, performer and teacher. Despite the fact that the training facilities in Uganda are “not up to standards,” Kasule says his ultimate question in designing the show remains “how best can I represent Uganda at large?” According to the director, 90 percent of the performance comes from traditional African dance practices, while the remaining 10 percent is original composition, a majority of which come from the students themselves.
“Sometimes I have too much material,” Kasule says. In these instances, he decides how best to use space to showcase the different movements. “It’s almost like drawing, although I’m really terrible at drawing, but it’s like drawing shapes on a piece of paper.”
According to Kasule, the American audience has responded to Spirit of Uganda with “much love.” The director was especially excited to return to his Santa Fe campus.
“I like the fact that I’m doing what I love to do and what I started in,” Kasule says. “A lot of what I do in terms of music and sounds comes from the college, from the classes that I took. I’m able to hear things in a different way.”
The director adds that his knowledge of American culture prepared him for his stage narration, allowing him to throw in, for example, a joke on Texan cows.
Similar to Kasule’s story, recent SFUAD graduate Peter Mugga was welcomed back to campus (however briefly) as audio supervisor and assistant production manager for Spirit of Uganda, to which Mugga was an original member, a CD engineer and now a staff member. Like Kasule, Mugga was awarded an Empower African Children scholarship to study music technology in Santa Fe. While here, Mugga additionally tackled African/Western fusion, co-taught some classes, and worked as the recording studio coordinator. From the sound of the enthusiastic applaud he received Saturday night, it can also be said that Mugga left a proud faculty and student body behind.
As audio supervisor for the performance tour, Mugga’s tasks rang from mic and soundboard operation to assisting David Kasata, assistant to the artistic director. Though Mugga expresses great pride in his new position, he admits, “I miss being on stage with them.”
As for the mission Mugga sought since he first attended SFUAD, Mugga says that in participating in Spirit of Uganda he is living his goal of bettering his home country.
“I’m a strong believer that the arts and culture are one of the biggest African exports,” Mugga says. “Being able to share it with different audiences and different people all over the world, to me, helps people know more about African, know more about Uganda, know more about the beauty that comes from the country.”
Mugga’s goal coincides with the goals of his co-worker Kasule as well as the goals of the Empower African Children program, which strives to put Africa on the musician’s map.
“By coming to the show, it’s already progress that we’ve made,” Mugga says. “We’ve taught them something about the country and maybe someone will be interested in going to Uganda or investing in Uganda. At the end of the day, we have managed to create Uganda’s future through every single person who comes to the show.”