Children helped by the Saved by Music foundation, which the rave is raising money for.
Image Credit: Kyewalyanga Fredrick

Rave to Save

On February 6th 2024, a new event called ‘RAVE TO SAVE’ will take place at the Bullingdon. The event aims to raise money for a charity called the Saved By Music Foundation in Uganda, which provides children with a musical education while also giving a platform to genres of underground dance music which I feel are underrepresented in the University’s music scene. The night will feature live sets from student DJs as well as some of the most exciting young Drum & Bass, Jungle, and UK Garage artists. Putting together this event has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it certainly promises to be a night to remember. It will hopefully reach an audience who wouldn’t normally attend an event of this kind, while also raising money for a great cause.

Last summer, I spent a month volunteering at the Saved By Music Foundation in the city of Mbale, which is in the east of Uganda, near its border with Kenya. The Foundation primarily functions as an orphanage for children whose parents have either passed away or are unable to take care of them, often on account of diseases such as AIDS and Malaria, or drug addiction. Both are at epidemic levels in Uganda. Without a suitable guardian, such children are often forced to live on the streets of the city centre and take extreme risks in order to survive, and are referred to as ‘street children’. In order to get money to survive when they are too young to get a job, boys in this situation typically rely on begging and petty crime, while girls are often tragically forced into prostitution. Thanks to SBMF, there are now 25 boys aged between nine and nineteen who have been spared from the perils of this lifestyle, and call the Foundation their home as residents.

Many street children have substance abuse problems from a very young age, addicted to smoking cannabis, chewing khat (a plant containing naturally occurring stimulants), and even inhaling solvents and the fumes from fuel tanks. They seek the temporary highs that such activities provide to numb the constant pain caused by the reality of life on the streets. Unfortunately, those who are the worst affected by such addictions find it hard to get clean and prove that they are dedicated to working hard and pursuing a future off the streets.

Kyewalyanga Fredrick, who founded this organisation, was a ‘street child’ himself and  knows the day-to-day struggle that such a lifestyle consists of. During the seven hour car journey to Mbale from Entebbe airport, he told us the fascinating story of how he was given the opportunity to leave behind his life on the streets by a local teacher who taught him the trumpet and allowed him to play in a school brass band, giving him access to an education that would have otherwise been out of his reach. In this way he was literally saved by music, and felt compelled to dedicate his life to changing the lives of as many other street children as possible.

SBMF’s main musical component is an ensemble called the Elgon Youth Brass Band, which is made up of the male residents and attendees of the Foundation. The brass band receives bookings to play at various types of functions, such as weddings and opening ceremonies, which raise funds that contribute to the Foundation’s expenses, adding to its self-sufficiency. There is fierce competition among the boys to be selected as a regular player in the travelling brass band, since there are a limited number of working instruments owned by the Foundation. In addition to this, the boys are given the same meals to eat as the guests at the function, which tend to be high in quality and proportion compared to the small plate of beans and posho (a thick paste of cornmeal mixed with water), which is what they are given every day when living at the orphanage.

Throughout the duration of my stay, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the band at two of their functions. One of these was a wedding ceremony, and the other an ‘introduction’ – a traditional Ugandan ceremony for engaged couples at which the family of the groom present the family of the bride with gifts, in the hope that they will provide the couple with their blessing for the wedding to take place at a later date. I can confirm that the food did not disappoint! These functions were probably the highlight of the trip, and allowed me to gain a unique perspective on Ugandan culture which typical visitors to the country wouldn’t experience. There is a similar collective for the girls who attend the Saved By Music Foundation in the form of a dance group called the Koona Cultural Troupe. They too are booked for functions which contribute to funding the Foundation’s day-to-day expenses.

Overall, I was taken aback by the politeness and manners exhibited by children who, in most cases, had experienced extremely challenging upbringings. As well as this, the work ethic they displayed and the willingness from within themselves to progress at their musical endeavours was something I had never seen before. For example, the resourcefulness in teaching themselves to play instruments that were in many ways worn, broken, or defective, and the dedication to practise for hours on end to improve their skills. It wasn’t uncommon that I would walk into the Foundation at nine in the morning and hear a difficult phrase of a song being played very slowly by a group of players, and to hear the same phrase being played constantly until I left at five in the afternoon, at which point it would be perfect and up to speed. It is important to note that due to the very limited funding the Saved By Music Foundation has, there are no full time staff and such rehearsals are typically run by older residents who take it upon themselves to cultivate an environment of musical excellence among the younger, less experienced members of the organisation. The Director of SBMF has an existing network of skilled teachers, administrators, and social workers which he is unable to employ due to a lack of funding.

It was during my time in Uganda that I came up with the ambitious idea of putting on a fundraiser concert when I got back to England. In Oxford, these typically come in the form of an instrumental concert playing something from the Classic FM hall of fame, so I thought I’d switch it up a little. That being said, I had always contemplated the possibility of doing some kind of Underground Dance Music event in Oxford. It was my desire to contribute to the SBMF’s work that made me decide to take the risk and give it a go.

In terms of our aims following the fundraiser, finding a way to give the children at the Saved By Music Foundation access to computer software that can allow them to explore creating music in any genre or style is imperative. Instead of giving them a violin so they can learn how to play centuries-old pieces by European composers, giving them access to a Digital Audio Workstation which is used by almost all artists producing songs on today’s global charts, and allows them to utilise an infinite range of sounds, is a more expansive way of allowing them to discover their passion for music.

I urge you to check out the details of Rave to Save and join us on the 6th February, and also to have a look at the Saved By Music Foundation’s website and social media pages to learn more about their amazing work.

Tickets for the event are available on the Youni app and all profits will go towards the Saved By Music Foundation (SBMF). Please visit our Link Tree to find the RAVE TO SAVE social media pages and tickets, as well as the SBMF website and a link to donate to them directly.