In Uganda and other African countries, there was music used on different occasions. There was music to celebrate good times, to praise the creator – religious music as well as music to mourn loss and other sorrowful moments. There was also music for education or entertainment purposes.
However, as musicians continued to promote the hip pop and dancehall styles, Africa’s traditional music started to disappear.
It’s against this background that Simon Yiga, a renowned Ugandan composer and musician decided to found Pan-African Choir Uganda in 2013.
“I founded this Choir with a big dream of using music to unite people as well as revive and preserve Africa’s ethnic music that’s culturally unique for empowering, transforming and harmonizing communities. I also wanted to change the attitudes of non-Africans about African Music,” Yiga says.
Although there were a few groups in Uganda doing the same by then, PACU was born with a traditionally unique, very rich and varied program which takes you across the African continent.
“I realized that a few available groups were either school or church-based, which would not explore the African folk secular music,” he says.
The choir fronts music Pan-Africanism, and so attempts to fuse the diverse cultures in each country into music with the hope of bringing about positive attitudes and at a bigger scene globally.
As they feel and live by what they perform, each of the choir members is held as an African global ambassador wherever they hold a performance or concert to preach the message of Unity, Peace, Reconciliation and healing amidst the diversity in communities.
According to Yiga, PACU repertoire emphasizes African elements mostly in their original form or with new arrangements allowing fusion with other existing global styles.
Songs, dances and instrumentals celebrate milestones such as traditional baptisms, marriages, funerals, birthdays, academic excellence, wealth, weather changes, adolescence, and so much more from their culturally diverse homelands.
“The choir gives us a platform to see, celebrate, preserve and promote these traditional norms across Africa!,” Yiga says.
In a group of over thirty members, the choir members appear on stage very smart in beautiful costumes, well-disciplined and organized.
“The way you appear and what you present must match. You cannot be appearing very shabby and not happy then you present a joyful celebration piece,” Yiga adds.
Also very unique and to keep with the traditional African style no scripts are used during performance! This gives the choir a lot of freedom to present not very frequently seen with many other choirs.
In the few years the Choir has been in existence, they have held a number of concerts both in Uganda and in Europe like in France and Italy.
Yiga recalls that marketing and promoting the choir was a challenge in the first years, but they are currently overwhelmed by the reception they are receiving from everywhere including at International music festivals.
Some of the pieces performed by PACU
Empuuta – A Kiganda traditional song about the Nile perch fish.
Ezo ente Zasituka –A traditional piece from Ankole kingdom narrating about a cow, which is the most kept animal in the kingdom.
Others include Otwenje (Lugbara culture -local beer), Simumanyi, (I don’t know him –Luganda gospel) and others.
Besides his dedication, Yiga has received support from colleagues and co-directors such as Jonathan Ssengooba, Bernie Kiweewa, who immensely support him in running the group as well as composing and directing the productions.