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Author: Jill Kimball

The Nile Project brings African beats to Boulder

Musicians from 11 countries unite in harmony for a good cause

“Where words fail, music speaks.” To the musician-activists of The Nile Project, these five words, first spoken by Hans Christian Andersen, aren’t just food for thought—they’re a mission statement.

Founded just a few years ago, The Nile Project brings together performers from the 11 African countries along the Nile River not just to play grooving multicultural music but also to send a political message: water is precious and scarce, and we must all band together to decide how best to use it.

“Wherever a path can be found to help raise awareness of and find solutions to universal issues, it’s better to be there,” says Steven Sogo, a Burundian vocalist, bassist, guitarist and ikembe player. “We are using our music not only to entertain but also to educate.”

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the vibrant, joyful and original music of The Nile Project comes to Macky Auditorium for one night only, part of CU Presents’ Artist Series. Combining the musical traditions of nearly a dozen countries up and down Africa’s diverse Nile River basin, this “committed, euphoric international coalition” (The New York Times) of performers transcends language and cultural barriers to unite in harmony.

More than 400 million people currently call the Nile River Basin home, and that population is set to double in the next 40 years, creating an ever-increasing demand for water in an area already facing water shortages. Through music and classroom education, The Nile Project hopes to propel Northeastern African politicians to join forces in fairly allocating the river’s resources.

It’s a tough job, given the diversity of languages spoken, religions practiced and wealth—or lack thereof—in the region.

“I feel so sorry to see how Africans don’t listen to each other,” Sogo says. “We are always limiting ourselves to what we know and have, what is wrong. We don’t know what’s going on abroad in our neighboring countries.”

Kenyan percussionist and vocalist Kasiva Mutua says she once had limited knowledge of other cultures—until she joined The Nile Project.

“We have so much in common,” she says. “We discover so many similarities that I personally stop seeing Egyptians as Egyptians and Ugandans as Ugandans and so forth. I see them simply as Nile citizens.”

Mutua says she hopes the Nile Project’s catchy and unique international beats are not just enjoyable but also thought-provoking for Boulder audiences. While not all Americans face a water crisis, plenty of other pressing issues demand that people of different beliefs unite for a common cause.

“We hope that by watching how the music comes together from different countries into one solid sound, how the instruments interact with each other and how languages are sung into rhythms not of their own, inspires people to find ways of cooperating to come up with sustainable solutions,” she says.

Sogo adds that even for those who aren’t politically inclined, the Nile Project’s performance promises to be memorable and enjoyable.

“Everyone speaks the language of music,” he says. “You don’t need to understand the lyrics to shake your head or your whole body!”

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