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The Fate of African Traditional Music under the Rise of Modernity

Will Teso traditional Music survive the pressure of modern Western Culture?

A group of Akogo dancers performing during the Iteso Heritage day celebrations presided over by President Yoweri Museveni as Chief Guest.

African Continent is a known home for harboring different mixtures of cultures, history, native people and economy. Its beauty is greatly classified according to the various cultures found in the 54 different countries as it is composed of vast fertile grasslands, tropical rain forests, flora and fauna which are all unmatched to any other continent in the globe.

Uganda as a country is of course one of the 54 nations that form up Africa and rich with culture, tradition and the eco system; thus the description “The Pearl of Africa.”

The diverse and rich Ugandan Culture varies not only amongst districts but from one sub region to another as well. The different culture of every ethnic group is centered on family and can be observed in oral literature, music and particular art to any tradition. Throughout the country, the people speak a wide variety of languages and reside in different kinds of dwellings.

According to Uganda Safaris tours, The Perl of Africa-Uganda is comprised of more than 360 tribes, a thing which makes it a definite place to die for incase of need for “a diverse cultural experience.”

The emergence of civilization and technology seems to be changing almost everything. These changes vary from the type of food people eat today, the dress code, cultural practices, arts, music and the general way of life.

In this piece, we are finding out the fate of tradition in the face of modernity which is a living threat to the different culture as a result of emerging technology.

We are taking a case of Teso culture which is found in the north east of Uganda. It is one of the beautiful cultures in Uganda that is facing a possibility of getting lost in modern era of technology advancement and modern western culture.


The famous dance is The Courtship dance (traditionally known as Akogo).

In This type of dance, sophisticated music instruments are used for playing tunes which the song is danced to. These tunes include Akogo (Idiophone), Alamaru (a flute), Ababairen (xylophone), among other sound items. Each of these items play different key roles in Akogo music. The crew is also composed of instrumentalists, dancers (adult boys and girls who are in the stage of courtship) and a team leader. The music is called Akogo because during the old times, elders would set a date for boys and girls from different villages to meet and each other, with an objective of those who are looking for relationship partners to take choices.

Edonga Dancers from Turkana- Kenya

The other type of dance is The Royal dance (Ajosi). Interestingly, this dance is only performed during royal gatherings where the traditional Chief of Iteso is presiding. It can also be performed when visitors of noble course are hosted in the village for example the president or other dignitaries or during anniversaries. In this dance, drums are the major instruments used and songs of praises are sang. These praises can be to the visitors, the chiefdom, the leaders or the community at large. Iteso also use this same dance as a medium to pass a message say for example of dissatisfaction to the leaders and wrong doors in the community to cause a change for a common good of the society. There are other ceremonies and passage rites like birth rites, marriage, and initiation where Ajosi is played at.

Young Ajosi dancers having fun with the writer (Noah Omuya, on Camera)

The other dance is Ekiryakirya. Unlike Akogo and Ajosi, this dance is only performed during rituals. For example cleansing a person from bad luck or making rain. They call it rain making because if prolonged drought is experienced in a community, elders gather and perform Ekiryakirya dance.  It is unfortunate to note that this particular dance is on the verge of completely vanishing. Therefore, there is need to solely protect the culture that sells Uganda as The Pearl of Africa

Just like Teso traditional music, Culture everywhere is described by dance and drama as the most components of cultural ceremonies along with songs, according to Uganda Tours safaris.

What Others Say

David Asubu, an elite Etesot who works with Action Aid Uganda shares his side of the story about traditional music and modernity.

Asubu explains that traditional music was used a means of mobilizing Iteso towards a common course and pass messages of unity, peace, prosperity and development as well as a cultural identity for Iteso.

“I remember there is one type of music, Ajosi, which is greatly under threat of modernity,” Asubu laments.

He also regrets that the present generation of Iteso does not appreciate the value of their culture. To add light to this, he says that the young generation has voluntarily run away from the traditional norms and way of life, which according to him is a big shame to the clan.

He agrees with the fact that not all cultural practices are good thus should be avoided but asks the public to embrace the positive cultural practices such as music, traditional foods and dress codes including some beliefs which he urges even the government to embrace.

He also further explains the disadvantages of modernity when it comes to traditional foods. He says most people today consume junk food full of fats contained in cooking oils. According to him, this modern practice of cooking food is unhealthy to human well-being.

Moses Okedi, the head of Kodukul Akogo group from Kumi district is passionate that the traditional music will exists as long as culture is living. He says he has lived to witness Akogo music passed to generations and currently, he is training a team of young boys on how to play music instruments.

“This culture will never vanish. However much they want to corrupt every young man with modernity, it is my duty as an elder to ensure that there is a section of people who will preserve it,” Okedi argues.

He adds that Teso music has great value to the building of society and maintaining peace in families.

“You see, if there is a misunderstanding in the family, a man who truly loves his wife will compose a song and plays Akogo, before the day ends, the wife feels happy and there is peace. That is the secret why Teso families lasted long,” he explains.


On the other hand, Mr. Kuloba Lomoetakan, the head of culture preservation department in the Turkana county of Kenya says that if the music culture has to last long, Iteso should first learn to appreciate their own culture.

He says most youths in Teso today praise the western culture than their own. According to him, this is the first enemy to the prosperity of Teso music culture.

“When an artist sings from America they call that one an international artist and when a fellow Itesot composes a song they call him a local artist,” states Kuloba.

David Asubu reveals that the challenge at hand is the rising power of politics where leaders have to politicize everything.

He also further strikes at leaders who do not take advantage of their positions to educate locals on the relevance of the music culture to the community of Teso.

He regrets that most leaders have resorted to using the political seats for exercising the politics of mediocre instead of using it for development.

He also adds that there is a section of people who have also paid a deaf ear to the leaders including the paramount Chief of Iteso-Emorimor.

Way Forward

As a scholar of culture, Mr. Kuloba suggests that the elite section of Iteso should venture into different measures of preserving the culture.

According to him, making documentaries in audiovisual language and making publication of literature books, magazines, and photographs are a best to preserve culture.

“You see how great writers like Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie among others put the African culture to the heights. Look at people like Aminatta Forna from Sierra Leone. If Teso elites did the same, I bet you this culture will forever witness prosperity,” Kuloba explains.

As a social worker, Asubu on the other hand proposes that leaders ought to stop politics of mediocre and begin mobilizing the people on the value of culture preservation and also asks locals to be submissive to their leaders.

“We need to begin thinking of how we can all make a way forward for the safety of our culture,” Asubu states.

President and King Speak Out

On the same issue, the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has cautioned communities in Teso, Uganda and Africa at large to avoid mixing Culture and development.

He said that most African cultural institutions tend to interfere development with cultural norms and values. He said this on November 20th, 2018 while presiding as the chief guest of honor during the heritage celebrations week for Teso culture.

On the same matter, the paramount Chief of Iteso Papa Emorimor Augustin Osuban Lemukol says leading a cultural institution if filled with a number of challenges which have contributed to the erosion of some cultural values.

However, according to him, the tradition of Teso is composed of great norms and values which teach its children to be obedient, humble, trustworthy and hardworking. Papa Emorimor adds that this is the reason why most of the products of Teso children perform tasks in employment opportunities with less or no supervision.

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Noah Omuya

Noah Omuya is the founder and CEO of Aica Media and a two time winner of the Media Challenge Awards (The best feature story writer- 2018 and the best Climate Change Photography Award- 2019). He has a bachelors degree in Mass Communication from Kampala International University. He is also an alumni for; British Council Future News Worldwide Fellowship- 2020, Climate Tracker Energy Reporting Fellowship- 2020, InfoNile- Code for Africa Data Journalism Fellowship- 2020, the Media Challenge Fellowship, 2019 and British Council East Africa and Africa Writers Trust Master Class in Creative Writing- 2019. Omuya has specialized training in writing, strategic and multimedia communication, mainstream and online journalism, broadcast media and youth participatory radio, content development, and public relations. He is very much interested in sustainable development communication.

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