Review: Spirit of Uganda portrays plight — and hope — of nation
ALBANY Few among us can imagine the heartbreak of the Ugandans.
War and AIDS have ravaged this east African country so deeply that 50 percent of its people are younger than age 15.
But there is hope for the country’s many orphans and at-risk youth thanks to organizations like Empower African Children. This nonprofit is the sponsor of The Spirit of Uganda, a music and dance ensemble.
As seen Friday night at the Egg, this uplifting band of 22 young people — ages 12 to 21 — reassured its viewers that the spirit of its people will endure. Their enthusiasm alone — seen in their smiles and heard in their angelic voices — guaranteed their spirit will be hovering over Albany for some time to come.
Of the more than a dozen regional songs and dances they performed to a full house, nearly all were joyful. If not, they were inspired by the magnitude of the rhythms, hammered out on massive drums that reverberated throughout the theater.
The host of the evening was Peter Kasule, the artistic director and himself an orphan whose parents died of AIDS. Kasule is a charismatic figure who likes to talk about his country as much as he likes to share its musical heritage.
Between each piece, such as a dance in which the girls balance jugs on their heads and another for the boys and the girls where their arms and bodies undulate like snakes, Kasule strolled out and spoke to the crowd. His mini-history lessons deepened the understanding of what passed on stage. It also forged a stronger bond between artists and audience, which made Albany fall hard for the Spirit of Uganda.
The evening began with the “Bakisimba,” a court dance that celebrates the creation of banana wine. With the boys behind the drums and xylophone, the girls shook their hips in an exhausting display of endurance and sexuality. With long-haired skins wrapped across their bottoms, they flirted with the boys with their shimmy.
Interestingly, the boys wore the skin wraps in the second half of the show in “Mwaga.” The skins were poised, hanging in the front against their groin. In this all-male show of virility, they hopped about on one leg, with the other lifted as if asking spectators to dare a peek.
But this was no burlesque show. Rather, every dance was an exhibition of beauty and color. In “Gaze,” the girls donned bright polka-dot dresses, squatted low and bounced. In “Aida,” the two youngest girls sang and danced with a calabash that they gently tapped to create a soothing swish.
“Ding Ding,” for the girls, was another rousing display of intricate rhythms made plain by their fleet feet.
With all this energy flowing from the stage, it was impossible to sit still. So toward the end of the evening, Kasule asked the audience to rise to its feet and dance. Most did, and it was a sight to behold — the crowd moving as one — wrapped up in a blessed cross-cultural moment.