USAFE Band connects cultures during African Partnership Flight Rwanda

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Timothy Moore
  • USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs

Through music, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band is breaking down cultural barriers and differences in Rwanda. 

The USAFE rock band Touch N' Go performed at various locations throughout Rwanda while supporting the African Partnership Flight Rwanda mission taking place from March 4-8, 2019. 

"Our job in this particular (African Partnership Flight) was community outreach," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Cockerham, USAFE Band's Touch N' Go pianist and music director. "We were embedded in a couple of schools and a hospital for the disabled, where we able to put a real face on the uniform."

Notably the band performed at the Home de la vierge des Pauvres Gatagara Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital and Inclusive Education Center in southern Rwanda. The HVP Gatagara mission is to treat and educate youth with physical, visual, and developmental impairment to ensure a bright future for their students. 

The band also performed for the students and staff at the Gisimba Memorial Centre. Gisimba is an after-school program initiative for disadvantaged children in the city of Kigali. It was formerly the oldest and best-known orphanage in Rwanda until the government began shutting down orphanages and transferring children to foster care.

"We, as some who lived in the orphanage, thought of how we could continue the good work," said Javan Uwimana, Gisimba choir director. "We started an after-school program."

Students can participate in educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities to include practicing various disciplines of art such as painting, dance, and music, both vocal and instrumental.

During their performance at Gisimba, the band had the opportunity to work directly with some of the music students.

"This is a fantastic aspect because music is something, regardless of where you come from, everyone virtually understands the same way," Cockerham said. "Even if we don't speak the many languages that the native people here in this nation speak, we all speak music, we all enjoy music, and we can all unite with one another as people over the various aspects of music."

After their performance, the band was treated to a performance by the students.

"It was a good performance from the U.S. Air Force," Uwimana said. "We went to the U.S. Embassy (in Kigali) last year in December, and we performed. It was really good to have them back to perform for us."

The band also got to play alongside the Rwanda Defence Force Band for some of their outreach events as well as some of the African Partnership Flight functions.

"This is always an interesting experience when you get the opportunity to perform with a military band from another nation because they have their own musics and their own customs," Cockerham. "Their experiences and their cultures have shaped them very differently than the way Americans are shaped."

Cockerham pointed to the difference in rhythms as a particular thing that stands out about the Rwanda Defence Force Band's music.

"Their music can be more harmonically simple but is far more complex rhythmically," he said. "It's a lot of fun, and they can teach you a lot about some of the stuff that we don't necessarily get to experience in our culture. In turn, we get to do the same thing. We get to give them an experience they don't necessarily get. What's really fun is when we run into common ground musically."

Through music, the band was able to connect with people to further increase cultural ties and build relationships between the United States and Rwanda.