The thump of goat-skin drums pulses through the Jefferson Junior High School cafeteria as eight dancers dressed in multi-colored batik robes and headdresses and brandishing short swords jump, sway, and sashay to an African beat.

"Drums are part of the African tradition to send messages. They are like the bells in the church to call people to pray," says Alex Mukulu, 39-year-old director of the Ugandan dance troupe Impact International. "They are drums of praise," he tells students, "drums of worship."

Impact International's 11-city tour of the U.S. last year aimed at reaching both churched and unchurched people with their message of praise, cultural change, and redemption, using African musical forms laced with Western influences.

Mukulu plays much of the music on a guitar, but the musical center of attention is the drums. "Your [Western] drummers beat away but don't say any-thing with it-only 'boom chuck,' " Mukulu says, laughing. In Uganda, different rhythms have different purposes-as the village alarm clock or a call to work.


The performance is a vibrant example of African praise. Much of the music and dance attempts to show and to affirm the values of African customs and traditions, says Mukulu-though people are becoming bitter with change and loss of those customs as more and more of Africa is involved with the Western world. For example, Uganda is moving away from arranged marriages, once "part and parcel of parents' contribution to the future of their married children," he says. Now, because of Western media, couples want to fall in love, then marry. But they can "fall in love" for the wrong reasons, Mukulu argues, and then they get divorced.

Mukulu wants to point out both the strengths and flaws of new ...

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