African Educator Shows Students from Stockton, Area Schools
How Music Connects Global Culture
Benon Kigozi Also Does Workshops for South Jersey Teachers, Churches
Galloway, N.J. - Benon Kigozi of Uganda, a noted educator and jazz pianist, recently spent 10 days teaching students and teachers from South Jersey schools, Delaware State University and Stockton University about African performance traditions and how they relate to our shared history and global culture.
“Generally wherever I have been, I have been met with a lot of enthusiasm, both at the university and in the schools - people have been really expecting something different and new,” Kigozi said of his experience here.
Kigozi spoke to five Stockton classes and did a workshop with the Stockton Oratorio Society as part of his Feb.11-23 residency which also included visits to local schools, churches and community groups.
“Students have been very enthusiastic and played drums, sang and danced. And they learned the characteristics of call and response, through which they’ve understood how communal participation is part of the African culture,” he continued. In music, a call and response is a succession of two distinct phrases usually played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or response to the first. It is also used in singing hymns and responding to ministers’ sermons in many black churches.
African performance traditions were integrated as learning tools in several types of classes, including one taught by Donnetrice Allison, associate professor of Communications and Africana Studies. As Allison showed a film and led a discussion exploring how Christian missionary work was often intertwined with western enslavement of Africans, Music Professor Beverly Vaughn entered the classroom, along students carrying with dozens of black plastic buckets.
Very quickly, Kigozi had smiling students beating time on the buckets and singing as he played his African drum and sang a traditional song of thanks. A key piece of the lesson was how Africansociety held different religious beliefs and honored different social principles, including the importance of communal decision-making, exemplified by call and response. These beliefs, Allison noted, were not understood or valued by Europeans seeking free labor.
Kigozi also visited Absegami, Cedar Creek and Atlantic City high schools, as well as the New York Avenue, Martin Luther King and Uptown elementary schools in Atlantic City.
Kigozi provided a workshop for area teachers through the Southern Regional Institute& Educational Technology Training Center (SRI&ETTC) on the elements of African music, showing how they could incorporate it as an academic teaching tool in their classrooms. He also did a workshop at Delaware State University, a historically black public university in Dover.
He met Atlantic City Councilman Frank Gilliam, a Stockton alumnus, and Pleasantville school board member Bernice “Sandy” Couch, and had the opportunity to try African-American soul food at Kim and Kelsey’s Southern Cafe in Atlantic City. He also visited with Economics Professor Melaku Lakew, a native of Ethiopia who has organized many Books without Borders projects benefiting his homeland and other African nations.
At Stockton, he presented a free, public workshop, “A Sampling of Ugandan and East African Singing Music Traditions and Performance Practices,” and gave a free, public lecture, “Indigenous Knowledge Systems as a Way of Africanizing Music Arts Education through Technology.”
He also gave workshops for Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and Central United Methodist Church in Linwood.
Kigozi is a senior staff member at the Department of Performing Arts and Film at Makerere University in Uganda. He is president of the Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education (PASMAE), president of the Uganda Society for Musical Arts Education (USMAE), and chair for Music In Africa Foundation on Education and Content. He previously served as head of Music at Africa University in Zimbabwe.
As visiting lecturer, Kigozi has presented research papers and conducted workshops at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Texas Tech University, University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Cambridge University and the University of Glasgow in the U.K., Kabarak University in Kenya, University of Pretoria in South Africa, Kyambogo University in Uganda, Africa University, and in other countries including Greece, China, Malaysia and Italy.
He was surprised by how little many people he met knew about Africa.
“They don’t have an idea that Uganda is just a country and Africa is a continent,” he said. “A student in Delaware asked me about an instrument from West Africa as if I should know all about it. But I am from East Africa.”
Music Professor Beverly Vaughn, along with Associate Music Professor Christopher Di Santo, organized the visit after receiving funding from the university’s 2020 Initiatives program.
“This is the first time that the Music Program has been able to bring an artist and academician of this caliber to our campus for a 10-day residency,” said Vaughn. “This has changed our program and increased its visibility in the community.
“More importantly, this has given our students and the Stockton community a look into the wider world, realizing that we all live in a global culture and support each other,” she said. “We will not forget learning lessons through musical stories, communal decision-making and how these relate to our own western ideas. Our students’ awareness of the world has opened and we look forward to greater bridges being built between Kampala and Galloway, thanks to Dr. Benon Kigozi.”