Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Echo Uganda rocks Lyman

Gideon Ampiere led a group of Lyman Memorial High School students in a dance on the stage in the school auditorium. With rattles on his legs, he produced music with every movement. The students - freshmen and sophomores - laughed and stomped. Behind them, their classmates kept a beat on traditional East African drums -Embuutu and Empuunyi. Others played along on Ensaasi - shakers made from large, rounded gourds. During the course of one school period, the energetic Ampiere introduced the students to about a dozen different traditional instruments, numerous songs and dances, and a handful of different languages.

Ampiere brought along two members of his group, Echo Uganda, for his Feb. 14 visit to the school. Scotland resident Chris Demorit and Willimantic resident Dave Magnuson provided backup on a number of instruments, including the Adungu, a bow harp resembling a sailing vessel. Magnuson said he’d always been a world music fan. He met Ampiere about nine years ago, shortly after the Uganda native arrived in the United States. “Someone said I had to meet this crazy guy from Uganda,” said Magnuson with a chuckle. Ampiere, whose grandfather was a music teacher, is currently a Storrs resident with a master of arts degree in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and a bachelors of arts from the University of Connecticut, according to his bio.

Echo Uganda, comprised of a core group of eight musicians and occasional guest artists, endeavors to share the instruments, music and dances of East Africa with audiences of all ages. The group has been to Lyman before, as part of the school’s efforts to promote diversity. Social studies teacher Kevin Brodie and English teacher Liza Escott head up the Diversity Committee at Lyman, and Escott is the diversity coordinator for the school. Last year, the pair booked Echo Uganda for the older Lyman students. An evaluation, conducted to help guide future diversity programming, identified the program as a hit with the kids. “They unanimously said, ‘Absolutely, have them back again,’” said Escott. So this year the group appeared for the younger students.

They clearly enjoyed the program, as Ampiere hopped off the stage to lead students in a dance in the audience, then back onto the stage to play the Ennanga, a Ugandan wooden zither, and the kalimba, a thumb piano. From time to time he would produce a string of narrative in Swahili, Luganda or Lukiga - all languages, he explained, spoken in parts of East Africa in addition to English.

When the bell rang, and students reluctantly filed out, one young woman remained behind. Katherine, a sophomore, called Ampiere over as he packed up with his band mates. “That was really awesome,” she said. “It really made my day.” Katherine said that, in a small town like Lebanon, there aren’t many opportunities to experience other cultures. “I just really enjoyed this,” she said. “Really, it made my month.”

See this December ReminderNews article for more about Lyman’s diversity programming: http://www.remindernews.com/article/2012/12/20/lyman-fosters-an-environm.... Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American author and a professor from California, will speak at the school in March. A diversity fair is scheduled for the end of April.

Echo Uganda provides programming that can be tailored to a variety of ages, group sizes, and other parameters. For more information go to http://echouganda.com/7.html.  Upcoming shows include: a Friday, March 8, appearance at UConn’s International Women’s Day, and a Saturday, March 9, Camp Horizons Benefit at Mystic Aquarium.

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