Witness Uganda – Recording Review

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Did you know that by January twelfth the majority of people had already broken their New Years’ resolutions? I went into the new year aiming to write a new album review every week but, rather disappointingly, was only about to do two weeks in a row which meant by January tenth I had broken my resolution! The process of finding new musicals, on top of the pressures of training to become a teacher and general life responsibilities, was a lot but I have found a way that is going to make this process so much easier. One of the two weekly reviews I did earlier this year was for the original cast recording of The Anxiety Project (which you can read about at https://rhysreviews.com/2022/01/03/the-anxiety-project-recording-review/) which tells the story of a series of interviews that explores how common mental health issues are and how it can affect is sufferers! I found out about the recording through a wonderfully helpful account on Tik Tok who talks about new musicals! If you are a fan of musicals I would recommend that if you haven’t already you go and follow them at https://www.tiktok.com/@themusicaldealer/video/7048270406989532462?_t=8OiVBjFLQqU&_r=1. One of the musicals this account brought to my attention was the new album of Witness Uganda which follows the life of an outcasted LGBT young person who decided to develop a school to avoid the church probing into his sexuality!

This story comes from the creative duo of Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews who have managed to capture authentic and real experiences of Ugandan schooling and embedded them into the heart of this musical. Griffin Matthew’s visited Uganda in 2005 on an aid trip. After that trip, he started a charity called Uganda project which helps Ugandan orphans go to school. Witness Uganda was then created by gathering long interviews from both staff and students of this project and then weaving music through the words direct from the people the musical is all about! On top of using real experiences, this project hs raised thousands of dollars for the Uganda Project which is the icing on the cake for me personally! Having been on many mission trips to Africa when I was younger I am aware of how difficult it is to even explain to people in words the cultural difference and the experience of going over there and so the team behind this project have created this musical in way that is both accurate and authentic which is great! While being their teacher Griffin falls into a complicated relationship with his students where he becomes obsessed with changing the lives of the people he has met!

I thought that the opening number in this album did exactly what an opening number in a musical should do. The music is so wonderfully atmospheric with the structure helps to build mystery which makes the audience want to watch on. The use of a very traditional Ugandan voice was very dramatic which again keeps the audience guessing as to what is going to happen next! One of my favourite songs in this recording would be “Circle” which is all about our main character being outed by someone he trusted to be a pastor of the church. The lead vocalist (Griffin Matthews) managed to perfectly capture the emotional journey of this number that I imagine will be insanely powerful for anyone who is going through a similar thing in their own lives! The rest of the story follows our lead character Griffin who relocates to Uganda to avoid being outcasted from the church due to his same-sex attraction which is upsettingly still very common! It’s is very upsetting that people are being persecuted based on who they love but it is clear that some places are becoming more and more welcoming. For example, just before Christmas, I attended a drag show that was inside of a very historic and traditional church building where the money raised by the performers would be used to fix the church’s room! If you want to learn more about this event you can do so at https://rhysreviews.com/2021/12/08/dragged-2-church-event-review/ and while this may be a step in the right direction it is clear that we still have a long way to go! One of the things I personally struggled to understand during the mission trips I have been on is the fact that there are people in these less economically developed countries who have very little yet that are more grateful than anyone I have ever met! This idea is explored in the song “beautiful” as it highlights the difference in attitudes from the people in New York (and most other places) to the people in Uganda.

The number “fall” was an uplifting and powerful duet between two talented performers who talk about discrimination. The song talks about casual racism that people of colour (sometimes referred to as POC) face every day but also talks bout the things that people of a certain size experience. It’s the little jokes and comments that people casually throw around that stay in the minds of people and can sometimes can be just as damaging as outright insults. Shining a light on casual racism and sizeism is such an important thing as many people are not aware of how hurtful these things can be! One of my favourite songs in this recording was “Put It All On The Line” which portrays my ideal of the perfect classroom. This song is a musical adventure that begins by showing how the teacher is encouraging every student to Perdue their dreams whether that is to be a model, become a doctor or simply learn to read. It goes on to talk about the classic idea that as a volunteer you can’t help everyone but I always think about a story I was told about a boy walking across a beach and noticing thousands of washed-up starfish. He begins to throw these starfish back into the sea when someone tells him that there is way to many and he won’t be able to save them all. Instead of stopping the little boy simply says “well I have helped this one … and this one … and this one etc.” There is no way in this world that we can help every single person but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make a difference!

Overall, this is a musical that has been cleverly crafted to represent an authentic and real experience that will be incredibly relatable to a vast audience. The songs are extremely powerful and discuss some very powerful themes that are clearly intended for a more mature audience. I would rate this musical 4.5 stars out of 5!

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