sing a song of two thousand shillings, a handful of rolex

Let’s agree that we DO need more scientists in Uganda in order to develop, but that doesn’t mean that all Arts studies should be thrown into the dustbin.

The lightest of Arts courses at the University in my days as a youth was always quoted as MDD (Music, Dance and Drama) for reasons I didn’t personally agree with, and which eventually came undone when the local music scene grew in popularity.

Maurice Kirya

So now we have a teeming local music industry that keeps us and a larger part of the world massively entertained in nightclubs, on radio, on TV and at events. This music industry is even highly impactful in politics so much so that even the President of the country himself is listed in the ranks, as usual with a performance so ballistic that his topping of the charts gave him not just an award and a few week’s publicity, but contributed to his securing a five-year term in the highest office in the land.

The work of our musicians shapes language and influences popular culture, even though a lot of it is bastardised by Caribbean and American influences. Even my parents, who are re-awakened born-again Christians (Abazuukufu) and totally prohibited from rising tRadio & Weaselo the worldly pleasures that our local musicians offer, will find themselves using some terms that they are probably unaware originated in music compositions by dreadlocked chaps with questionable church attendance records (NO LINK to these fine fellows to the left here, whose lyrical prowess is legendary, if you ask my personal music players).

I don’t even need to talk about how musicians enrich the country through whatever taxes they generate and by way of tourism promotion.

So these guys are important and can be extremely useful, but this is neither a lamentation nor a note of adulation.

Instead, I wish to appeal to these icons of melodic creativity to address themselves to the foundation of our society – the children of Uganda. And by children I mean the ones who have just been born and those closer to the womb than to Youth Protest marches.

Our young ones who, like us, are being raised on songs that we call nursery rhymes and that lock them down from an early age into a mindset that makes it even harder, later, to appreciate their Ugandanness.

It hit me one morning as I was driving my youngest to school and she burst into “London bridge is falling down…”. Flabbergasted, I took her to task to explain what a bridge was or whether she had ever seen one. The discussion didn’t last long as she persisted with her singing while I racked my brain for a replacement tune and failed.

I sang that same song more than thirty years ago, and it is still here with us even though it was composed back in about 1744 about a fire in a town that even back then was more organised than many we know! And if singing this particular song had been of any benefit to our populace then there would be fewer buildings sitting so close to each other without fire fighting and escape facilities.

I am not even going to address the issue of the “my fair lady” addressed in the song.

It’s almost as bad, in connotation, as “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and the request for wool – another song that originated in 1744 England. Some educationist needs to analyse what bits of this song are of what benefit to the learner – pronunciation of words and elocution training? Conceptualisation of animal husbandry? Something.

In song chronology, the most popular nursery rhyme after this was “Jack and Jill went up a hill…”, composed in England in 1965. When I was a child we still called buckets ‘pails’, but my little one is now confounded by the word. Worse, when she first sang the song for me the version she was taught was “Jack fell down and broke his leg…” and we had to park by the roadside for a seminar until she consented to “broke his crown”. Later that day, though, she quizzed me over what a crown is and I eventually had to take it up with a teacher – including the correct pronunciation of “tumbling” rather than “tambo-ling”.

In about 1805 someone came up with the counting rhyme “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe…” in either England or the United States of America (USA) – according to Wikipedia – and this particular one I understand as useful in helping the young ones follow a counting order. Of course, a child who is studying without shoes would be licked at the third word – just as a child whose only experience with shoes involves those with shoelaces would also be puzzled there.

The reason, though, we don’t continue with “Eleven, Twelve, Dig and delve; Thirteen, fourteen, Maids a-courting…” should be obvious with just those two lines.

Next, popular in Uganda: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…” originally from the USA in 1852, brings to my mind an image of the Nakivubo channel at various points.

But move quickly to “Ring a ring o’ Roses…”, said to have originated in England in 1881, but which has many linked versions in the USA and other countries in Europe. This one is important today because it is said to have been inspired by the Plague in England in the 1600s. That part “A-tishoo, A-tishoo, We all fall down!” reportedly describing the way people succumbed to the disease in droves.

Surely, today with Ebola and Marburg being all the news, someone could have taken the opportunity to compose a similar tune? Or, thinking again, maybe NOT. We don’t want to immortalise our national name with disease, do we? Yet, why not? Europe had the Plague and let it spread so widely that perhaps 200million people across the continent died, and now nobody talks about it!

One surprise rhyme that my little one sang out to my confusion one evening was “Wind The Bobbin Up”; I didn’t sing it in my day though it’s from the 1890s in England. The bobbin, I trust, is linked to the cotton or yarn spinning industry. I refused to even begin a conversation about this with my little girl – it would have involved too much googling.

Instead, let’s move on to “Old McDonald had a farm…” and ask yourself why your child in a country that is so predominantly agricultural will grow up with the image of a farm being that Scottish man’s set up, with a horse and a ‘barn’, and you will see further how ingrained our mis-education is.

The list is much longer, and needs to be studied closely by all these students of MDD and related courses so that we have some more realistic, closer-to-home associations that our children can build upon as they grow. Feel free to team them up with educationists so that the songs continue to deliver training in elocution and grammar, and even bring in the historians as well so that some of our heritage is built in. Maybe the “Grand Old Duke of York” can become the “Grand Omukama Ow’oku!” or instead of “…Sixpence and a pocket full of rye” …” turning into “two thousand shillings, a handful of rolex…

3 thoughts on “sing a song of two thousand shillings, a handful of rolex

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