Classroom drummers at the Kyamulinga School.
As it is here in the U.S., music is enormously important for school kids in Uganda. The big difference is that they make their own rather than sampling songs from itunes and feeding them into their ears through “buds” wired to expensive MP3 players. At recess time, spontaneous music making erupts in empty classrooms or from beneath shade trees on school grounds, and those that aren’t making the music dance to it. When I visited Uganda in 2009 I was drawn to the drumming session, pictured above, in one of the Kyamulinga classrooms. The room was full of boys, so into their music that they didn’t really care about the big white guy in the room, so I fired away with my camera and a flash for a few minutes, but then stopped and just enjoyed the rhythms and the dancing.
In much of rural Uganda, resources are scarce and the toys that American kids take for granted can’t be had. And even if they were, there is no electricity to make them work. We often look upon this from our vantage point with the sense that these kids are “underprivileged,” suffering for want of all the fantastic diversions that are so easy for us to obtain, but I don’t think this is true. Yes, in the realm of educational opportunity, living conditions, and even food security, there are serious needs that many kids suffer for lack of, but play is not one of them, and the richness in improvised games and the pure joy that results from a bunch of guys beating out masterful drum sessions in empty classrooms while their friends dance is a need that our kids probably don’t even know they have.