I know a musician who tells of kids in his east African village who taught themselves to fix broken radios and other electronics. According to my friend, Patrick Kabanda, these kids have real innovative talent — the sort of talent that African leaders must develop.

It is hard to dismiss Patrick when you first meet him. He is an artist who studied international affairs after two degrees from The Juilliard School. He talks endlessly of intellectual property rights and of sustaining culture.

When I first met him, Patrick was writing The Creative Wealth of Nations, a thorough working paper on how the World Bank can better leverage the performing arts in development. His work is endorsed by Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen. You would never think — had you seen him barefoot outside his home in Kampala — that he would now be discussing development with renowned economists.

Q and A with Patrick at Yei Day Secondary School, Southern Sudan – July 2010. Photo by Kenneth Wani.

Patrick lived with his mother, a woman who did all she could to feed her children. Ignored at home, hungry most times, and failing classes, Patrick had a difficult time in Ugandan schools. Like many students in the region, Patrick was expected to become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer. Not a Musician.

Patrick will tell you, however, that music saved his life. He tells of hours (ten or so) of practice every day — his childhood spent wrapped in the allurement of an old pipe organ at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala. Determined, he eventually also played at the city’s Sheraton. It was here that a stranger from North Carolina heard him and recommended Brevard College.

Patrick would go on to graduate with a Bachelor and Master of Music in organ from Juilliard; teach music at Philips Academy in Massachusetts; receive a Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School; and consult for the World Bank and United Nations.

You should hear him.

Much like Wole Soyinka and the late Chinua Achebe, Patrick tells captivating stories about the arts and culture in development. And when he gets in front of a piano or an organ, you feel the sound of his music.

Patrick’s dedication to a passion, which lacked immediate support, continues to open doors to a wealth of knowledge and people. His story is music, and Patrick dances to its tune.

Photo credit: Art in All of Us. AiA promotes tolerance and cultural exchange through art and creative activities.

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Kem Megwalu

Kem runs programs to empower youth in the D.C. Metro Area (United States). She grew up in a low income community in Southeast Nigeria and believes that every young person can be a valuable member of their community. Her writing explores development in education, the arts, and culture of Africa.
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