One searches in vain for a phrase that accurately describes the year 2019. The Bakiga would call it omwaka mubi (bad year). Kiswahili speakers would call it mwaka wa huzuni. Latin speakers would call it annus horribilis. None of these quite describes a year of great personal sadness occasioned by the deaths of people that had either been part of my life or whose relatives were my friends.
This past weekend we buried Rose Safari Shyaka of Kabaare, the mother of my friends, whose death last week ended an illustrious life of service and dedicated Christian leadership. Her death occurred three days after that of my friend and revered teacher of medicine, Prof Bwogi Kanyerezi of Kampala.
Kanyerezi died a day after the demise of Alice Nyangayoona Bafwokuheeka, my childhood friend and neighbour who died in Mburara. Alice died a day after the burial in Kahondo of Charles Kikafunda mwene Bwanyina, my paternal cousin. On the very day that Kikafunda was buried, our dear friend Alice Miriam Rwabazaire died in New York City. She was still in her prime.
Earlier in December, Ms Katara, my sister-in-law, died in Kahondo, aged seventy-something. She was the wife of my cousin, a super-centenarian who is about 110 years old. Dr Mmusi Mukete, a Mosotho friend and professional colleague who made our stay in Lesotho in the 1970s very pleasant, died in Bloemfontein in October.
In September, Daniel Musisi Kyanda, my headmaster at King’s College, Budo, died after years of ill-health. Still in September, Rikaadi Kakibibi mwene Kyakuguru died after an extremely painful illness. He was my immediate neighbour in Mparo and a good friend.
In August, we lost Mary Karuhanga, my brother-in-law’s wife who was a gentle soul and outstanding hostess. In July, my paternal uncle died in Bunyaruguru, Ankole. His name was Rwendinga Tibihika wa Mununuura, one of the men who helped raise me and instilled a love and understanding of my culture as a Mukiga. He was 90 years old.
In the same month, while my wife and I were visiting Nairobi, Ngina Rose Mugwe, the mother of our friends, died very prematurely. The contagious pain of her loss was slightly eased by the dignified simplicity of her funeral service and burial. The year had started very badly, with the premature death in February of John Baptist Mbire, my maternal cousin whose sense of humour and candid observations about human nature had been a source of pleasure and education for me. Then, of course, was my father’s death in November, an event that left a huge void that I am beginning to accept as unfillable.
Notwithstanding the pain of these and other personal losses, my spirit has been soothed by uplifting musical experiences – two at Makerere University last month and one in Kabaare this weekend.
On December 21, 2019, I attended a friend’s wedding at St Augustine Chapel whose magnificent acoustical ambiance was the perfect setting for the beautiful singing by the choir of Sacred Heart, Bugonga, led by Mr Nyeko. Those voices! The joyful music, crowned by the Kinyarwanda hymn Mungoro Y’Imana Haragwa Ibyiza, sung to the rhythm of Intore, the great dance of Banyarwanda, left me hungry for more.
One lady singer took to the floor, her ballet dancing a gentle celebration of love and life. A priest joined her in the dance and acquitted himself very well. The Bugonga choir’s conductor was a joy to watch as he kept a tight grip on the rhythmic pulse that had many heads bobbing.
Our musical nourishment was enhanced the next day, this time at St Francis Chapel where we enjoyed European Christmas carols, presented by the Joint Hymnal Choir and the Bivuga Sinfonia. Founded nine years ago, the Joint Hymnal Choir brings together top choral singers from several Anglican churches in Kampala, Mburara and Fort Portal.
The choir, superbly conducted by Allan Mulumba, was in great form. Their performance reflected an emerging professionalism that has the potential to rise to the top league of East Africa’s choral ensembles. The Bivuga Sinfonia, a European classical music ensemble, very ably conducted by Nicholas Kiberu, offered a very pleasing selection of pieces by some of the great European composers. An expanded instrumentation to a full orchestra would have enriched the sound.
The carols, all of them from the traditional canon, were sang in English. The congregation joined in singing some of them. The children’s choir, singing with a beauty that is unique to voices that have not been altered by adolescence and the ravages of time, featured the sweet angelic sound of a boy who sang the opening lines of Once in Royal David’s City. Duncan Katimbo’s beautiful organ accompaniment gave depth to the proceedings and the chapel’s excellent acoustics added to one’s pleasure.
Unfortunately, the concert was marred by audience chatter and the distracting roaming about by cameramen during the performances. There were moments when it felt like a marketplace. Furthermore, clapping between musical pieces was allowed, which interrupted the flow of the music. There is a good reason why classical music concert etiquette prohibits extraneous noise once the first note has been sounded.
The carols were entirely European. Yet those timeless pieces have been translated into African languages. Consideration should be given to a mix of English and, mostly, African versions of the same. Better still, a presentation of carols and other worship music composed by Africans would add authenticity to a performance on this continent. Otherwise, it was a great joy to be part of the musical fellowship and to witness the revival of the high art of great choral music in our country.
The celebration of Ms Shyaka’s life this past weekend was full of joyful worship, complete with great singing and traditional dancing (okusooma) to Kikiga songs and hymns, led by the St James Kijuguta Church Choir. The voices, the rhythm, the energetic dance and the musical testimonies by the choir were the perfect farewell to a born-again woman who had dedicated her life to Christian service and worship. I did not want them to stop.
It is always a joy to be part of celebratory worship that reflects the joie de vivre of the Christian experience. Not even the death of a dear one should distract us from the buoyant enjoyment of life with music and dance, to the glory of God.