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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student

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Children of Uganda find brass family

Uganda Band

KAMPALA, Uganda – As the sun sets over the red rooftops in Kampala, Uganda, more than 30 young people gather in a dirt compound surrounded with brick walls still under construction. A young boy climbs the ladder to a water tank to get a bird’s-eye perspective of trombonists, trumpeters and drummers as their initial tuning notes converge into a melodic and energetic piece.

“Music has power,” musician Segawa Bosco said. “Everyone loves music. We go on and tell children the beauty that music has. Someone can discover his or her own talent through music.”

Bosco should know. He slept in a slum and walked the streets of Kampala, where there were beatings and rough survival until he was 11 years old. That’s when he heard the strains of brass-band music coming from a school compound. It took him a year to find the courage to approach the band, but when he did, he told the German music director he wanted to learn to play.

Soon, Bosco and a group of seven other street kids were learning brass instruments. He said their first performance at a wedding profoundly changed him, as people saw them with musical talent doing good things.

“From that day my life started changing,” he said. “It was very empowering. I became a good person.”  

That was in 1996, the beginning of M-Lisada, or Music Life Skills and Destitution Alleviation. From those first days, the group has grown to 70 children, from ages 4 to 22, and Bosco is now the director. They live and sleep in a compound that was purchased for them by a British group. Like Bosco, all the children formerly lived in the slums or slept on the streets. Now they learn and play classical brass-band music together and perform for events around Uganda.

M-Lisada’s musical talent has earned it high grades on international music exams, a CD recording project and performances for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Germany’s first lady. Kampala Music School, a hub for classical music instruction, provides teachers and music advising.

Tebezinda Malitoli Derrick, managing director of M-Lisada, said music has opened up audiences that would otherwise be closed to listening to poor children.

“Music brings people together,” he said. “The rhythm that music has makes people draw near. People join with a full heart.”

When people are drawn in, they are more open to share their personal lives with one another, Derrick said.  

This goes for the musicians as well. They have become more than a brass band. They are a family, with the younger children calling their seniors “uncles” and “aunts.”  

Ronald Kabuye lived on the streets of Kampala until he was 5 years old. He said life was hard and he could not sleep. But one day he saw the band playing in town and asked “Uncle Bosco” about joining.  

“Music was my love because I had no parents,” he said.

Now he conducts the group with sophistication and grace, clearly in control of the musicians before him. Eye contact is easy to maintain when no one uses sheet music. He has also played the trombone for two years and wants to teach music and be a mechanical engineer in the future.

“Music unites people,” he said. “When we play music, we see people uniting.”

He added, “If you have any support, you can help us. We want to help Uganda to become famous in the world.”

M-Lisada relies heavily on donations from sponsors, yet there are still many challenges, Derrick said. Performance events do not bring in enough income to sustain the home and provide school fees for all the musicians. They have funds for only one meal per day, and staff members are not paid.

They lack medical support and deal with issues like prostitution and AIDS in their neighborhood. Some of the girls are more interested in learning woodwind or string instruments, but they simply don’t have the instruments or instructors available.

The challenges are pressing and affect these musicians’ daily, but one would never know when listening to the band play Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” or when the children crowd around to greet and hug, beaming ear to ear with smiles.

As Bosco said, “If you come together, you can produce something that’s good.”

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