Brass for Africa (Kampala, Uganda) – Simon Hogg
My name is Simon Hogg, I am Director of Music (Performance) at Warwick School in the UK. In a previous life I was a professional trombone player for 25 years.
Six weeks ago I was speaking to a parent at a school concert. He told me about a fellow BA pilot who had become involved with a project in Kampala, Uganda, teaching music to street children, AIDS victims and orphans, as a means of providing valuable money and raising their self-esteem. A two line email to Warwick Music and PBone resulted in the generous offer of 30 PBones, 30 music stands and a limitless supply of music; they also asked if I would deliver the instruments to the children and act as an un-official ambassador.
The opportunity was too great to refuse; fortunately the Head Master at Warwick School, Mr. Ed Halse kindly excused me from teaching duties for the first few days of term and along with my wife Sue and 10 other volunteers I found myself booked on BA flight 0063 travelling from London to Entebbe Airport, Uganda with a delivery of instruments customised in the colours of the Ugandan flag, yellow, black and red.
The whole project, Brass for Africa is the brain child of BA pilot and amateur trumpeter Jim Trott, an inspirational man of boundless energy. Jim formed Brass for Africa in 2009 with the support of fellow musicians from the Bracknell and Wokingham Community Band. Since then he has shipped over 130 donated instruments to Uganda and has supported music projects in three orphanages. The opportunity to learn and play music has been life changing for these disadvantaged children, bringing them joy and new found self-confidence.
Day 1 – Tuesday 1st January 2013
We gathered at Heathrow Terminal 5 for the first leg of our African adventure. The party consists of: Jim Trott plus his wife Pamela and their two children Angus and Grace, conductor and brass educator Marc Edwards and his wife Carole (who will run daily art classes), freelance trumpeter Paul Speed, trombonist and resident cameraman Mark Brown and Gill Leather a trustee of the charity. Gaynor, a GP and amateur cornet player from Wokingham will be joining us shortly.
The journey was smooth and un-eventful until I settled down for the in-flight movie The Last King of Scotland, Kevin MacDonald’s graphic chronicling the last days of the Amin regime. Was this trip a good idea?
Arriving at Entebbe we were warmly greeted with broad smiles and African handshakes by Godfrey Mboira and his protégé Bosco Segawa the two men responsible for teaching brass in Kampala. We drove the 40km to our hotel following the shores of Lake Victoria in darkness save the light of the road side charcoal fires.
Day 2 – Wednesday 2nd January 2013
Today is our first day in Africa. The calm of the previous evening has been replaced by chaos and congestion on the streets of Kampala. After breakfast our entire party plus instruments and equipment crowd into an ancient transit van to visit the three orphanages where we will be working. Godfrey tells us that his band of 30 musicians regularly squeeze into the same vehicle to save money getting to and from gigs.
The first stop is the Good Shepherd Orphanage, run by an order of Jamaican priests. Clad in a long white robe father Oratious proudly showed us around the school which is a happy and brightly painted place despite being home to 200 physically and mentally disabled children. The dormitories are over-crowded and the kitchen facilities rudimentary, however life at the Good Shepherd is vastly superior to the alternative for these, the least privileged of all street children.
Second port of call took us to the heart of Kampala’s slums. We left the mini bus behind and walked through refuse and open sewers along a mud track that led to the Mummy Foundation, a refuge for youngsters, many of whom are the children of prostitutes. Bosco was born in this slum area, his parents died young leaving four children including a two year old sister for Bosco to look after. He joined a notorious gang ‘the Dangerous Boys’, but was rescued by the orphanage where he learned to play the trumpet. He still lives in the same area with his beautiful wife Lucy who took us to their home. A choir of tiny children gave a simple but heartrending rendition of Heal the World. There was not a dry eye in the dark and crowded room.
Our final destination could not have been more different. MLISADA stands for Music, Life Skills and Destitution Alleviation. Their mission is to provide opportunities to the less privileged children. Music is the heart of the organisation and its main source of income. In the course of a couple of hours we heard a boy who had taught himself the piano to Grade 8 standard in two years, a brass band, an African dance troupe, watched team of gymnasts including ten year old Sylvia and extraordinary balletic contortionist. I had the opportunity to meet Tadeo, an incredibly brave young man who despite losing both hands and feet in an horrific fire has managed to learn to play the trombone.
An emotional roller coast of a day; I don’t know what we can teach these wonderful smiling children? They could teach us about life, survival, the triumph over adversity. We have so much and they have nothing.
Day 3 – Thursday 3rd January 2013
There is a thick mist over the seven hills of Kampala this morning.
Breakfast in our hotel is delicious. Being so close the equator the table groans with succulent guava, papaya and jack fruit. I think about the children in the orphanage who live on porridge and beans eating meat once a month.
This morning we divide into two groups, Jim, Gill and I visit the Good Shepherd Home which was built by the Missionaries of the Poor only two years ago. Like the Good Shepherd Home it looks after children with mental and physical issues, but is larger and in more rural location. It is a happy place with areas of green for the children to play. Two of the boys, Rogers and Philip are strong teenagers in wheels chairs with calipers but wheeled around by far younger boys. Health and Safety is not a big issue. They are both bright and take to the Pbones straight away.
After an hour the band of thirty have learnt their first tune, it feels like we have played a Mahler Symphony. We all celebrate with bottle of Coke.
Back at Mlisada Marc and Paul have been working hard with the two senior bands. They are rehearsing outside on chairs especially hired for the occasion and using the newly acquired music stands donated by Warwick Music. Despite the poor state of the instruments both bands are making wonderful progress. The pressure is on; we have a concert on Sunday to work for with important guests and dignitaries.
After the rehearsal we return to our hotel. Two children from Mlisada, Sylvia (the brilliant acrobat) and Tadeo come with us for their first glimpse of western hotel. Both children are wonderful company. Sylvia runs around the grounds with a borrowed camera and Tadeo despite his two prosthetic legs and stumps for arms astonishes everyone with his courage and lack of pity.
Day 4 – Friday 4th January 2013
It is amazing how soon you get desensitised even to such a colourful continent as Africa. After only a few days the extraordinary becomes ordinary. A man carrying 1000 eggs on a bicycle, goats, chicken and cattle wandering freely in the streets or a lorry crowded with mourners (and coffin) travelling to a funeral no longer seem strange.
We spent our morning working with musicians at Mlisada Orphanage. Both A and B bands are making great strides under Paul and Marc’s guidance and progressing well towards our big concert on Sunday. How strange to hear the march traditional Yorkshire march Slaidburn played so close to the equator.
BA pilot and Warwick School parent Graham Smith arrived this morning, having adjusted his rota to be with us for a few days. Like us he was moved by the children at the Bethlehem Home including Vincent the smiling five year old with water on the brain and Sabine the laughing harmonica player, born with no hands and his pelvis back to front.
We were invited for supper by two expats, Philip and Francis Attwood, who have built a beautiful lodge on the outskirts of Kampala. They were charming hosts and treated us to a barbeque in their wonderful grounds. As we sat eating fresh fish from Lake Victoria under African skies the plight of the street children seemed a long way away.
pbone brass for africaSadly, it was not for long. On the journey home, Kampala was buzzing with every form of human life. As we fought through the traffic and smog, every few yards a street urchin would tap at the window to beg. Because of recent conflict and AIDS 60% of all Ugandan children are orphans. Instead of offering money Godfrey deftly hands a card giving details of the refuge at Mlisada and the scheme to repatriate orphans to their home village. Time is limited for these kids as Kampala police do a regular trawl for street children, who they place in a notorious prison.
As we arrived back at our luxury hotel the smiling guard gave the statuary vehicle security check and asked ‘Does anyone have fire arms today?’
Day 5 – Saturday 5th January 2013
Today there was an informal concert for all the children we have been working with, performing for the residents of the Good Shepherd Home. We were scheduled to start at 11:00 however because of traffic problems things were running late. No-one gets too anxious here, as we are constantly told, TIA (This Is Africa).
The Good Shepherd Home is a musically based Catholic ministry originally founded by a Jesuit priest, Father Richard Ho Ling 31 years ago in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica. Their mission is to care for those on the outer margins of society, which they do selflessly to 400 handicapped residents. This is a happy place; especially today.
Our compere was the charismatic Peninah Nakhandi, who despite standing three foot tall raised the audience to heights of ecstasy, clapping and cheering the various artists. A pocket size Oprah Winfrey.
One by one singers, dancers and acrobats entered the makeshift stage. Troupes of dancers swayed to the rhythms of evangelical tunes. ‘Congo Jesus’ was well received, followed by a local favourite ‘Someday very soon we will see the King’. I was reminded of my Rough Guide to Uganda which stated that average life expectancy was 52. I was clearly on borrowed time.
All three brass bands entered the stage with new found pride after a few days coaching. Marc Edward’s Mlisada Band played favourites including: Mini March and Boulders Brass, however the highlight was undoubtedly a spontaneous rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In.
Mlisada A Band were the top of the bill and brought the house down with five numbers including Slaidburn and Super Trouper; all new additions to their repertoire.
As the concert drew to an end the wheel chair rappers from the Bethlehem Home, Philip and Rogers, came forward and, as they might say at the Para Olympics ‘got those who could’ onto the their feet dancing.
It was an African Eisteddfod, a brass band contest and Glastonbury all rolled into one.
Day 6 – Sunday 6th January 2013
We woke to a huge thunder storm, the skies turned grey and tropical Kampala was reminiscent of caravan holidays in Skegness. Only the giant marabou storks dared to venture out, resplendent in their black-and-white plumage like macabre undertakers looking for business.
Our morning was free to visit the town and local markets. After the relative tranquility of the orphanage, walking through the streets of Kampala there was an underlying sense of danger; even the entrance to the craft market was guarded by a surly youth with a Kalashnikov. This was a reality check of life on the streets.
brass for africa pbone tubaThis is a big day for the musicians of Mlisada with two important concerts, one in the afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel and again in the evening at the Tender Talents School, the culmination of our work. Even Jim Trott, normally so relaxed was clearly anxious that all should go well.
Slowly the hall filled with dignitaries, including the Head of the British Council, benefactors Philip and Francis Attwood plus members of the military and police, resplendent in blue uniforms festooned with yards of gold braid. At the last minute the audience chuckled as Bosco walked in like a latter day Oliver Twist leading a party of ragged barefoot urchins who sat silently at the back.
The concert went better than anyone could have wished, when during a slow and moving tune, Desire a small hunchbacked boy too sickly to play an instrument, rose to his feet. He gently made his way to centre of the stage and started to conduct the band. This was his contribution; spontaneous, instinctive and heartbreaking. The grand finale was Elton John’s the Circle of Life with Frank Katoola’s Tender Talents Choir, African drums and brass.
The evening concert was the inaugural event in a new concert hall at Tender Talents School financed entirely by Philip and Francis Attwood. Tender Talents is a school for children aged 12 to 18 in Kasangati, near Kampala. Set up in 1999 by Frank and Brenda Katoola, it offers a rigorous academic curriculum along with special arts training. The school’s pupils come from the poorest section of the community, however despite receiving no state funding the school is in the top 250 of the 5,000 schools in Uganda.
The evening concert was another joyous event; the audience drawn from the local community clapped and cheered as these amazing children excelled themselves once more.
Day 7 – Monday 7th January 2013
brass for africa pbone trombonesToday has been designated a rest day; our plan is to leave early and travel to Jinja, a small town 50 miles east of Kampala where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria starting its 4000 mile journey to Egypt. However, even before we leave the hotel our vehicle has a puncture; hardly surprising, considering the perilous state of the roads. Driving in Uganda is a nerve racking experience, cars and motorbikes attack from all directions. At night it is even worse, few roads have street lights, every yard is potholed and there are treacherous gullies to drain the monsoon rain. Lorries returning home to Kenya stop for no-one, their headlights blazing, blinding anyone in their way. Fortunately our wonderful driver Mark, immaculate in his royal blue chauffer’s cap, never puts a foot wrong.
After leaving Kampala the countryside soon became lush and green with mango trees and tea plantations on either side. We are fortunate to have Godfrey as our travelling companion. This wonderful man knows every inch of the road and is an expert in all Ugandan matters. Despite minimal formal education he is a natural musician, a humanitarian and speaks eight languages fluently; a true philosopher King.
Arriving in Jinja we take a boat ride by the side of the Bujagali Falls and the mighty Owen Dam. Our keen eyed-guide Babu knowledgably points out the rich variety of wild life visible from the water. It transpires that Babu is only fourteen, his father was killed in a road accident and his mother has lost a leg, he is the sole earner in the family. The boat owner pays him 2000 shillings (50p) a day. Despite the construction of a multi-million pound dam providing hydro electric power for five countries, local residents like Babu still use paraffin lamps to light their huts.
After sailing up to the Bujagali Falls we hit a squall and the boat’s owner shelters in a nearby cove whilst we marvel at the power of an African storm. Miraculously, within half an hour the sun comes out again as if nothing had ever happened. Lunch was in a beautiful cliff top location favoured by white water rafters and bungee jumpers previously known as the Nile High Club!
Our final destination before braving the Jinja Rd home was to visit a plaque where John Hanning Speake discovered the source of the Nile in 1862. To quote Dr Johnson, “worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see”.
Day 8 – Tuesday 8th January 2013
brass for africa pboneIt is our final day in Uganda; I don’t like goodbyes at the best of times, but I know this will be tough. We have made such close friends and associations it will not be easy to turn our backs and leave.
We fight our way down Entebbe Rd towards the Mummy Foundation deep in the heart of Katwe Slum, the refuge set up by Bosco Segawa in memory of his mother, to support vulnerable young women. We crowd into a dark room full of young girls who sing in childish voices ‘Heal the World’ before presenting us with leaving gifts wrapped in newspaper. Such generosity, there isn’t a dry eye in the room.
Next to Mlisida where the jazz group have laid on a special concert in our honour, they play standards such as Take the A Train and Comin’ Home Baby. After some persuasion we all join in and everyone plays a solo, each one more outrageous. Stood in the midday sun, with washing blowing on the line, children clapping and Max the Mlisada dog asleep on the floor I couldn’t have been happier if it was the Albert Hall.
After long farewells, African handshakes and hugs we exchanged emails and left, not knowing if we would ever meet again.
Leaving our hotel for the airport we hit one of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen. Fearing we might miss the plane, our driver Mark mounts the curb nearly hitting an army of street vendors and drives over an area of waste land before entering an arch no wider than a large child. We are in an oriental souk, but still Mark drives on through smaller and darker alleys until, feeling like extras from the Bourne Identity; we emerge back on the main road just in time for our flight.
Lonely Planet Guide describes Uganda as the number one location for 2012. We didn’t see any lions, tigers or giraffes but we met a pride of wonderful young people who despite life dealing them a poor hand have given us more than we could ever offer to them. I cannot express my thanks to the guys at pBone for sponsoring this trip, to Godfrey and Bosco in for their wonderful work in Kampala and to (Sir) Jim Trott for his tireless energy, boundless enthusiasm and selfless generosity; a truly remarkable man.
There’s A Place In Your Heart
And I Know That It Is Love
And This Place Could Be Much
Brighter Than Tomorrow
And If You Really Try
You’ll Find There’s No Need To Cry
In This Place You’ll Feel
There’s No Hurt Or Sorrow
Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me