Meet the Ugandan Music Teacher in America

He bears the hallmarks of a true African artiste – shaggy hair, lithe body and g arms.

Alfdaniels Mivule Basibye Mabingo, 31, took his love for the rich Ugandan culture to another level. He passed it on to the Americans. With or without an audience, he quite easily pulls off any of the traditional folk dances such as the ntogoro, amagunjju and bakisimba. Feet thumping, vigorous waist wiggling and coordinated body movements all form part of his dance repertoires.

Mabingo, the twelfth-born in a family of 19 children, has been a teaching assistant of African Dance at New York University, in the Steinhardt’s Dance Education programme. He is also a dance choreographer and performer. African contemporary dance is his choreography style, a genre that combines both African and Western techniques of dance performance and choreography.

Some of the dance pieces he has choreographed and staged include The Journey, (2005), The Smile Of The Oppressed (2006), Ndi mu Firika (I am an African) (2007), The Meeting Point (2008), Irresistible and Between Four Eyes (2009).

However, scaling to these heights was not something that just came along automatically. It was a journey characterised by luck, passion and resilience, all along swimming against the tide of stigma that was attached to dance studies at the time. For the love of being in the limelight, he wanted to become many things while growing up.

“I wanted to become a priest because of my family’s devotion to the Catholic faith. And I admired the way the congregation always stood up in respect when a priest or bishop walked into church to lead the mass,” he says.

However, eluding the seminary throttled those dreams and he adopted yet another one – of becoming a lawyer. To him, lawyers were always surrounded by pomp and were widely acknowledged as ‘The learned.’

No doubt Mabingo was on track to becoming a lawyer, owing to the subject combination of History, Economics, Divinity and Luganda that he took up for his A-level at Kako SS in Masaka. This was between 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, this road remained one less travelled. In 2002, Makerere University introduced new courses such as Dance, Entrepreneurship and Human Resource Management, all of which he applied for.

“My elder brother, who was pursuing veterinary medicine then, did the unthinkable. He photocopied the bio page of my passport and applied for all the new courses in my names,” the chatty Mabingo recalls.

As it turned out, Mabingo was admitted for a Bachelor of Arts in Dance – his last resort – on merit. His parents, Joyce Nakawombe and Mathias Tulabiddaawo threw a spanner in the works by discouraging him from pursuing dance as a career. Nonetheless, he swam against the tide and went for Dance. One of the Dance department founders, Prof Moses Sserwadda, encouraged him to pursue the course by putting him in a number of performances.

This was at a time he was already contemplating change of courses. Mabingo did not disappoint. He excelled and graduated as the overall best humanities student with a first-class honours degree in 2005.

“For someone who had just come to Kampala city when I was enrolling into the university, it was humbling for me that the then chancellor, Apolo Nsibambi, handed me an accolade and cheque of Shs 500, 000,” he reminisces.


Dance has seen Mabingo perform on the local and international stages, scoop awards and win scholarships. In 2006, he was appointed a teaching assistant of Dance at the department of Music, Dance and Drama, Makerere University. He later went on to pursue a master’s degree of Performing Arts in Dance Anthropology at Makerere, graduating in 2011.

“In 2011, I won the US Fulbright junior staff development scholarship and was admitted at New York University to study the relevance of dance in higher education,” he says.

At the end of this course, he was awarded the E. George Payne Memorial award, an award given to graduating students in recognition of outstanding leadership and superior scholarship. Luck birthed fortune when Mabingo was retained by the university to teach African dance until June this year when he won yet another scholarship to pursue a PhD in Creative Arts in Community Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

With this diverse experience, Mabingo has worked on community- based projects, focusing on how dance can be used as a tool of rehabilitation for psychologically, emotionally and physically- disaantaged people. This has seen him work with children organisations such as Kiwanga Children’s Home, Naguru Remand Home, Blessed Family, Life in Africa, and Uganda Heritage Roots, among others.

He has also researched and presented papers on dance, both nationally and internationally.

“My key area of interest is looking at dance as space for individual and cultural expression, definition, articulation and narration,” says Mabingo who has also performed at festivals in Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan.

Some of the papers he has written and presented include: The Origin And Development Of Kimandwa Dance Among The Banyankore Of South Western Uganda and The Indigenisation Of Modern Dance Choreography And Performance In Uganda

Challenges and future:

Although he has notched many milestones, he has had to deal with some challenges.

“Positioning oneself in a new community like I did when I travelled to the US was not easy because they have different ways of social interaction,” he says.

He adds that there is a tendency of non-Africans ignorantly portraying Africa negatively. A case in point he highlights is the Kony 2012 documentary which he says was plagued by much inaccurate information. Casting a glance into the future, he harbours ambitions of establishing a regional dance consultancy, releasing multiple publications on arts and culture and making Uganda a regional hub for dance artistry and research.

His long-time friend, Lubogo Mutaawe, the Kalungu district health officer, credits him as a hardworking and self- motivated person.

“He is self-driven, works with minimal supervision and gives his best for any task he sets out to achieve,” says Mutaawe.

Early life:

Born and bred in Mbuukiro, in Mpigi district, Mabingo was thrust into the world of play at an early stage. Local games such as kanemu, suna suna, tapo and ssonko were the mainstay of a blissful childhood. At only five-and-a-half-years, he walked 18 miles to and from Ssango primary school. Along the way, he interacted with different families, who, in one way or another, also played a part in raising him.

He recalls the incident after his first day at school when a stranger walked him home. His father, a teacher, had dropped him at school on a bicycle and Mabingo had to return home on his own in the evening.

“Luckily, I had noted some markers on my way to school and I also met a man who said I resembled my father and offered to take me home,” he recollects.

Mabingo credits rural life as having been the best university he has attended. Creativity was part of everyday life, be it fetching water, firewood, imitating the singing birds or composing songs.

“It is in the village that I learnt how to fashion flutes from pawpaw tree branches and build wheelbarrows that we used to ferry jerrycans of water,” he says.

Even when he joined secondary school at Kako SS in Masaka, he took up Luganda as a subject throughout his O and A-levels, just to keep in touch with his roots. At school, he built his reputation as a good debater, football, scrabble and table tennis player. Joining campus in 2002 was an exposeacute to city life for the sturdy lad. He was later to meet and share a room with Hillary Kiyaga, aka Dr Hilderman.

“Hillary was already experimenting with the music industry and he broadened my contact base that, somewhat, gave me a forward push,” Mabingo says.

And he has never looked back.

Source : The Observer

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