Ensigo friend and fellow music collaborator Tshila was recently featured on the BBC program Africa Beats. Please check out this inspiring video as she performs live and shares her (and our) belief of how music can be a force for positive change in Uganda.
Dear Friends and Family,
It has been an interesting week for those of us working and living in Uganda. I assume many of you are among the more than 75 million people who have viewed Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video (Kony 2012 on YouTube). Opinions abound about about whether this video does something for the people of Uganda or to the people of Uganda.
Over the past few days I have participated in conversations with Ugandans, NGO workers, Invisible Children staff, local musicians, journalists, and entrepreneurs, revolving around the organization Invisible Children and their most recent campaign. After receiving multiple emails asking about my opinion of the Kony 2012 video, I have decided to write an open letter expressing my thoughts, and would love if you would write back so I could hear your thoughts as well.
As a study abroad student in 2006 I first met one of the IC filmmakers, Bobby Bailey, and am presently friends with a number of current and former staff who I think are all amazing people. To be honest though in 2006, 2007 and 2008 I didn’t have a very high opinion of Invisible Children or their work.
After an impassioned response to their initial film (Invisible Children: Rough Cut), and a call to action by the directors to “just go to Uganda,” Gulu was flooded with hundreds of ill-prepared American young people who were looking to save the world. During their programmatic beginnings in Uganda IC’s relations with the local community, established NGO’s, and government of Gulu was fraught with tension caused mostly by the cultural offenses and inexperience of their volunteers. Fortunately the volunteer program was ended, and as the organization faced local and international criticism they were receptive and began to develop more thoughtful programs like: Schools for Schools, Legacy Scholarship Program, and MEND (IC Programs).
As a devout critic of the entire development industry I am worried about the potential long-term impacts these big decisions may have on Africa, how this will shape international perceptions of the continent, and also how it will affect the marketing strategies of other NGO’s. However I still have respect for IC. I am impressed by their polite response to the intense criticism they are facing for Kony 2012 (IC response to critiques), and their willingness to learn and grow from past mistakes. I have faith that IC will continue to improve, and am thrilled that this 30 minute video has brought to light shortcomings of the dangers of metonymy (using a single, tangible person or symbol to represent a larger complex concept), self-aggrandizing marketing, and weaknesses in the white savior narrative that many hundreds of NGO’s need to be held accountable to.
As a result of this video young people are engaging with issues beyond their immediate lives and thinking about the lives of other youth thousands of miles away. It seems that one of the best outcomes of Kony 2012 is that it has sparked a national dialogue on hugely important issues. Let’s hope that this translates to millions of people becoming curious, engaged, and digging deep to find out more about taking responsible action in the affairs of the world.
P.S. If you have time I’d be thrilled if you’d watch this TED video by renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie (The Danger of a Single Story. This talk brilliantly describes the danger of a single story.
Other links on Kony 2012:
National Geographic – Kony 2012 a view from Northern Uganda
CNN – Kony 2012: How Not To Change The World
Here’s a little update letter that I just sent out to friends and family with some Ensigo news. Feel free to read it, and if you know me give me a call or send a message…but if you don’t know me you can still call and share about what’s been going on with you, but I’ll have to warn you it may or may not be a little awkward.
Dear friends and family,
Wow, it has been one whirlwind of a past year (and some weeks) spent working on Ensigo projects and traveling through Northern Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and U.A.E.! I am now back in good ol’ Nashville Tennessee where I’ll be coopin’ up until around the middle of March before I head back to Uganda. As I’m in the U.S. I’ll be working on finishing up the art and music from the U.S. contributors for the Ensigo Seeds album, recruiting U.S. artist volunteers for a new Ensigo program I’m trying to launch called “Volunteers For Creative Collaboration”, working with Compassion International again, working construction jobs, working with World Vision, and fundraising.
I’m sure so much has happened in your lives over this past year and I would LOVE if you could send me an update email or else let me know a time when you can talk over the phone and catch up (my U.S. number is: 727.753.8663)! As usual, fun and crazy situations always seem to find me, and this trip was definitely not a let down. I’d much rather share these stories over the phone or in person but as a teaser to this last year, here are some of my favorite stories to tell (hopefully this will pique your interest to the point where you can’t resist but to call.
• Fell in love with a wonderful woman named Maggie…I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it!
• Was a part of a panel of Ugandan musicians and producers for a weekly radio show to discuss ways that music can positively transform societies, on 94.8 FM in Kampala.
• Filmed a MusicArt video with an American filmmaker, Ugandan painter, and American photographer in Mpanga forest for an Ensigo song.
• Had a death threat in Somaliland
• Worked with the Somaliland government (ministry of culture) to begin developing copyright law to protect musicians from exploitation and generate income for them.
• Recorded 15 songs with 8 Ugandan musicians for the Ensigo Seeds Album project
• Worked with 7 Ugandan visual artists who created “MusicArt” pieces to selected Ensigo songs
• Hosted and organized an Ensigo art exhibition/concert/film viewing party in Kampala as a fundraiser to send up and coming Ugandan filmmaker Peter Tukei to Berlin to present his film at the Berlinale film festival (pictures: http://ow.ly/7R3cX and http://ow.ly/7R3iB)
• My girlfriend and I were robbed at machete point in Kampala Uganda
• Helped record audio for a film being made by the organization H.A.L.O., and then donated an Ensigo song for the video (check it out here: http://vimeo.com/23398914)
• Led songwriting workshops for children that are part of the organization Empower African Children (video: http://youtu.be/S_oquaGj4IY)
• Bizarreness of being escorted in a motorcade by the president’s personal guard to a recording studio in Somaliland
• Ensigo album release party in Piswa Uganda in which, unexpectedly, several government officials attended and gave speeches…and a goat was killed then roasted (pictures: http://ow.ly/7R4f4)
• Along with a great friend named Eric Kreutter, we wrote, recorded, advised and performed songs with Uganda’s top rock musician (and great role model), Rachel K.
• First day in Somaliland myself and two other friends visited the “zoo” and then our friend got robbed by the “zookeepers”.
• A Brandon Heath music video of the song I recorded with him and the Restore Children in Gulu was released! (video: http://youtu.be/Gy67Ugf-2Ig)
• Organized (and performed at) a benefit concert for a great non-profit organization in Uganda called Educate!
• Recorded some songs of a wonderful children’s choir that are part of the organization In Movement.
• Had a baseball sized rock thrown at my head while walking down the road in Somaliland
• One that I can’t mention over email, but it’s CRAZY
• Had a giant loogie hocked on my leg in Somaliland
• Advised/mentored several great Ugandan musicians: including Tamba and Davis Ntare.
• And a few others that are pretty neat, but not quite as neat as those listed above.
So that briefly sums up my time away. Now the thing that I’m desiring the most is…if at all possible, to sit down over some coffee or a meal and swap stories. One thing that is so hard for me while I’m away from my U.S. community of friends and family for extended periods of time are these feelings of disconnection, and not feeling as involved in your lives, and you in mine. I love Facebook and using it to keep up to date with latest happenings in your lives…but good ol’ fashioned personal emails are great too. So if you have some spare time, it would be great to get an update with how things have been going for you.
Thank you soooooooooooooooooooooo much to everyone that donated financially and through prayers to make this trip possible! Your generosity has had a huge impact on me and the lives of many people throughout East Africa….and it challenges me so often to live a more giving life!
P.S. In lieu of sending out massively long email updates every several months (as was my habit), I’ve been posting more regular updates on www.facebook.com/ensigo and www.twitter.com/ensigo. So if your heart so desires you can check out what’s been going on with things there.
This summer I met an awesome guy named David Watterson in Uganda. David works for an amazing organization named The Center For Music National Service.
Well one thing led to another, and he ended up writing an article about my work with Ensigo which you can read by clicking the image below.
P.S. Also in this article, for the first time EVER that I’m releasing some clips from upcoming Ensigo songs. Check ‘er out.