|© UNICEF Uganda/2009/Hyun|
|Hip hop artist Michael Angaun (centre) poses with fellow performers, Abram Angella, 24, also known as ‘Rasta Innocent’ (left) and John Ngorok, 19, known as ‘Rodman.’|
By Chulho Hyun
MOROTO DISTRICT, Uganda 1 December 2009 – Under the starry night sky of north-eastern Uganda, the lyrics to ‘Education is the Key’ resonate against the backdrop of a pulsating bass line and syncopated drum beats.
Performing the song is hip hop artist Michael Angaun, who goes by the stage name ‘Original Lopetha.’ Born and raised here in Moroto District, Angaun says that music has been his path away from a troubled and often violent past.
Throwing down the gun
A long tradition of raising and herding cattle exists among the Karimojong agro-pastoralist communities of Moroto District. Born into a cattle family, Angaun was expected to join the ‘kraal’ cattle camps at an early age. When he chose to attend school instead of working, his father became physically abusive.
It was also expected that Angaun, like many other Karimojong children, would participate in armed raids on other communities’ cattle. At age 12, he was made the leader of 50 other young warriors who raided cattle in Moroto, Kotido and Nakapiripirit Districts.
Angaun found himself at a turning point in 1999, when he was 15. That year, a rival group raided his village’s animals. The clashes devastated his community, taking many lives. Angaun says that after the incident he “threw down the gun” for good.
‘I sing about life’
With encouragement from local church leaders, Angaun refocused his energy and began cultivating an interest in singing. After years of hard work, his group now has many devoted fans.
“People know us by our music, and they call the radio stations to request our songs,” he said during a recent interview with UNICEF.
Angaun now makes his living playing music and he says that the work has opened his eyes to new places and people.
“I get to travel to other parts of the country and outside Uganda,” he says. “Knowing how people are living in other parts, I use what I learn in my music.”
Today, Angaun’s music is bringing strength to his home community in other ways. As part of a UNICEF-supported project run by the Italian non-governmental organization Cooperation and Development, Angaun and other young men and women are using music to promote positive messages about health, education and peace.
“Music is a way to reach many people at one time,” says Angaun. “My songs are my cry out to the people. I sing about peace, HIV and AIDS, sanitation, health and protecting children. I sing about life.”
In October 2008, Angaun composed a song for the UNICEF-supported campaign to reach all communities in the sub-region with polio and measles immunizations, as well as to provide referral services for acutely malnourished children and to distribute two mosquito nets to every household.
A responsible leader
In communities like Angaun’s home village in Moroto District, the violence that he experienced as a child continues to this day. Angaun says he wants to break this cycle by spreading a message of peace.
“People assume that Karimojongs are just fighting each other,” he says. “What we need to fight are things like malnutrition and illiteracy. People need to hear these messages. Our brother and sister Karimojongs must change their lives for the better.”
As a singer and a role model, Angaun says he can show many children – even those who cannot read or write – that there are paths out of the violence.
“I want to be a responsible leader,” says Angaun. “Once a leader in Karamoja, you are always a leader.”