After decades of civil war and epidemic-level AIDS, Uganda has found itself abundant in something other than coffee, tea, peanuts, tobacco and copper. The little landlocked country in central Africa, best known here for its miseries during the eight-year reign of Idi Amin Dada, has also become far too great a producer of orphans. As part of the Kennedy Center's "African Odyssey" program, their plight is being brought to the world, but in an upbeat, exuberant manner.
Eighteen kids between 6 and 16 years of age, most of them residents of Kampala's Daughters of Charity Orphanage, are currently touring the U.S. in "Children of Uganda: Tour of Light 2000," a performance of their homeland's rousing native dances. The members of the troupe, which won the "Best Performers" award at the 1993 Children's Festival at Wolf Trap in the Washington, D.C., area, serve as "goodwill ambassadors" for their million-plus fellow orphans back home in Uganda and as consciousness-raisers for the AIDS crisis in that country. Ticket sales from the tour, which visits Scottsdale Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 8, raise funds for the Ugandan Children's Charity Foundation.
Among the songs and dances that the dazzlingly costumed kids perform are the Bakisemba, which evokes the ceremonial making of banana wine for a tribal king; the Runyege Ntogoro and the Kamamojong, both dances of courtship and love; and Malaika ("My Angel"), a love song made famous by the "Empress of African Song" Miriam Makeba.
Each selection is preceded with a short explanatory introduction by director Frank Katoola. The songs are in languages ranging from Swahili to English, plus several Ugandan tongues, and are accompanied on a wide range of folk instruments, including bow harps, tube fiddles, pan pipes, thumb pianos, xylophones and, needless to say, drums.
"Children of Uganda: Tour of Light 2000" is scheduled to be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Tickets are $20. For details call 480-994-2787 (SCA) or 480-784-4444 (Ticketmaster).