What a week! Since first coming to Uganda in 2008 I have found it to be a place where things happen and magical interactions empower change and create pure joy. Singer songwriter Sara Hickman and myself, a lover of Africa and photographer, are visiting from Austin, Texas. I’m happy to have my daughter Claire, 19, here too. I’ve been to Uganda many times and adore the people; I always knew Sara would too.
Her music embodies the hope, love, gratitude and positive energy I see in Uganda and in its friendly, strong people. When I attended an African Children’s Choir concert in Austin in 2001, I was compelled to sponsor 12-year-old Brenda Akello, now 23 and with me as I write this. That decision changed my life and was a first step in a long journey of love, service and involvement with the people of Uganda. Brenda is a 3rd year University student studying non-profit and government development and ethics.
Last January, we began the planning: record a small special album with the primary school children and teach various art projects at the training center and at Choir outreach centers in Kampala. Choir director Julia Tracy, who lives in Austin, and Scott Lambie, Uganda development director, helped us line it all up for the last two weeks in July.
The last three days of recording this 30th anniversary CD at the Music for Life Primary School on Lake Victoria in Entebbe, has gone beyond expectations! About 40 Choir children, ACC staff in Austin and Uganda contributed. And, like the chorus of one of Sara’s songs that the children sang, this project made us more hopeful, faithful and grateful. Auntie Sara’s songs are perfect for the Choir’s mission of hope, strength and change for these lucky children. Her songs embody this spirit: “Don’t Give Up” and “Hopeful”, with another grace filled version of Chuck Brodsky’s “We are Each Other’s Angels”. Two students, Rachel and Godfrey, wrote two heartwarming songs that we recorded with their very best choir friends.
Recording began on Friday with three local talented musicians, Price Kwagala, Sidney Kalanje and George Opio, and an accomplished recording engineer, Nelson Mahere. Their cultural instruments, such as adungu harps and a variety of drums, created an intense and rewarding experience in the makeshift studio at the girls dorm. It was a professional and passionate collaborative process across different cultures that will result in a musical work of art. The blending of the gentle children’s voices with Sara’s and the Ugandan adungu harps is just beautiful.
There was an instant appreciation and camaraderie between Sara and the musicians and Nelson. Projects seem to work out in this special country – not without challenges – but I always witness excellence, perseverance and God’s grace on missions I’ve attempted here. All of us have the same devotion, a connection I believe God wants us to have: to work together, get to know and love one another and form meaningful relationships. This new creation is evidence of the powerful binding force of music. I have a saying, “God Flies low to the ground in Uganda” and it was evident in this experience. Everyone speaks English but it is a second language for these children. I always notice though, that smiles serve as the universal language!
The children were prepared with their own songs and Sara’s too. There is nothing more precious than children singing, especially with lovely Ugandan accents. Music, spirituality and strength was and still is the promise and power that Choir founder Ray Barnett saw in these Ugandan children. Sara is a gifted musician who loves life, people and music with all her being. In the make-shift studio she was a natural teacher, giving the children tips on singing, using her humor, childlike energy and being the joyful creative artist I know as my friend to help the children laugh and sing with enthusiasm.
She entertained the children in a concert on the first day, and they laughed and sang; they’ve never met anyone like her!
I am deeply grateful for our friendship and to the Choir for allowing us to live out this dream. I photographed it all, which brings me deep satisfaction, so look for more photos, especially on the CD.
They built a bonfire on Sunday, the last night before we left to work with the Choir in training in Kampala. Watching the children dance and sing freely around the campfire was yet another enduring gift. The brightness of the flames beneath the stars in the African sky sparkled in a special way, embodying the great excitement and magical connections we felt. Sara will mix the CD in Nashville with recording engineer Luke Wooten, and we hope to finish it in time for release in December. Thank you for loving the Choir…we can’t wait for you to hear this special musical creation! ☺