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Published on Jun 17, 2015
ACHOLI MACHON “Lamwong”(Freedom Fighters)
I met instrument builder, Gaetano Otira Tep Yer Yer, through a mutual friend in the Acholi tribe who had been abducted and made a child soldier at age 11. A giant of a man-- standing almost 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds, he dwarfed the musician, who walks with a hunched back and prefers squatting to standing due to a childhood accident where he fell from a tree. They are from the “black” tribe. The one that produced the now infamous, Joseph Kony. The ones that were designated as a soldier- class by the colonial rulers over a century before and forced into countless battles with their neighbors. The duo, Acholi Machon (Old Acholi)-- which often swells to 15 members-- arrived riding tandem and helmetless on a motorcycle that had crossed over 100 miles of bumpy dirt roads. Singing songs like “Poisoned Food from the UN”, “Developing World”, “HIV” and “Who Will Build Good Roads for Us?”, Yer Yer is a topical and prolific writer, but no song is more revealing than “I Choose Love”. Enduring war for almost five decades straight, first in Uganda and then from the Arab rulers in north Sudan, the Acholi now suffer one of the highest mortality rates in the world due to AIDS and Malaria. In a rural region where you are more likely to hear Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton on the radio than anything else from America, it becomes clear how deceptively close the connection between our roots-music tradition and theirs can be. “I cannot sing unless there is meaning. The song has to be about something”, states Yer Yer. His dueling lokembe and vocal partner, Kornelio Odong Mulili, nods in silent agreement.