The Singing Wells field visit to Uganda in December 2012 was to record the music of the northern tribes including the Iteso, Acholi and Alur.
Here we introduce you to The Macedonia Band from the village of Obuell-Lira near Soroti
Our story: recording the inspirational Macedonia Band
We were recording in Northern Uganda, in the Teso region, scene of multiple rebel movements, land of terrible atrocities. That was a decade ago, of course, and the land has returned to host villages of peace and music. We met the Macedonia Band and their leader, Joshua, who told us their incredible story, which we will try and do justice to here…
During the civil war villages in the region were under rebel control from 1989-1992. The rebels came to the village to kill the men and seize the boys to take into the bush to fight. Joshua tried to convince the rebel leaders that he was a man of peace and music and asked them to listen to his music. The band began to play Uganda Land of Freedom and the rebels started to gather round, starved of music and the chance to relax. An argument broke out amongst the rebels – most wanted to continue the raid and kill the musicians but a small group started to argue that the band could serve a purpose and help provide welcome distractions for the rebels. Eventually, after a few tense hours of debate, the village was spared. The rebels were about to take the young boys as soldiers, but by that time Joshua had gathered the whole village into the band, dancing or banging some percussion instrument. He convinced the rebels that the band included everyone in the village so the whole community was spared. Sadly, as Joshua went on to tell us, the ‘hot heads’ were allowed to satisfy their blood lust against the next village where 20 men were slaughtered.
For three years, the ‘village band’ played for the rebels and were visited by all the leaders. They refused, however, to play rebel songs or support the rebel side. They said over and over again that the music was neutral and only had allegiance to Uganda, not to one side or the other in the war. There were many scary moments when rebels would try to force them to declare allegiance or die. It was a miracle that the rebel leaders let them live and continue to play their music as ‘neutrals’.
In 1992, the Uganda Army re-took control of the area. One of their first acts was to go to each village and accuse them of collaborating, typically killing the men under the assumption that they must have fought with the rebels. For Joshua, this was a terrifying moment because the band was known to have played to the rebels. Again, a group of soldiers came into their village and again their mission was to kill the men and boys of the village. And again, Johsua rallied the village and started to play Uganda, Land of Freedom and again a small group of the army felt the village should be spared because they all enjoyed the music. Joshua began to say that the band was made up of people from every neighbouring village and in doing so saved everyone from the dangers of interrogation and false accusations. Each time someone was threatened in a nearby village, Joshua would call an army officer and explain that one of his musicians was under threat. And the officer would intervene. Pretty quickly, everyone in the Teso region carried a thumb piano or a drum and all claimed they were members of the Macedonia Band.
The Macedonia band and the song Uganda, Land of Freedom was known by everyone and many times served to spare someone from being accused a rebel collaborator.
How you can help the Macedonia Band
We aim to help support the communities we meet by sharing their music and dance through Singing Wells. You can support the Macedonia Band by donating directly to our charity The Abubilla Music Foundation.