Meru - Feature Articles

The Appearance of Music

The following article first appeared on the website of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. It concerns a remarkable school for deaf children in Meru, who were rehearsing their dance for the Kenya Music Festival in Nairobi. See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

The Appearance of Music, by Kaburo Kobia

Kaaga students rehearsing their danceYoung boy from Kaaga School

After a long and tiring day's work you may go home and relax with your favorite CD perhaps even dance a little to unwind. Or you may dance to celebrate even to praise God. Music plays such a diverse role in our lives, and what a blessing it is! However, there are those in our society who do not have the luxury of music and dance. They are the hearing-impaired. Yet, on a recent trip to Kenya I found a group of hearing-impaired children who did not let their disability hinder them from dance.

Meru is a district on the western slopes of Mount Kenya. In the town of Kaaga, Meru, I found the Kaaga School for the Deaf, one of the best schools for hearing-impaired children in Kenya. I arrived at around 4:00 p.m. Classes for the day had already ended and children were doing their various chores. Mrs. Kibiti, headmistress of the school, introduced me to one of the teachers and urged me to go to the playing field. There children were rehearsing for the Kenya National Music Festivals, an annual event in which hundreds of schools from around the country participate. The competitive festival includes various categories such as choirs, solo-singing, classical music, traditional ensembles, and traditional dance, among other creative forms of music. The School for the Deaf was preparing to present a dance. As we approached the playing field, the teacher instructed the students to restart the dance they were performing.

The students were excited to have an audience and quickly reformed their lines. There were about twenty-five students standing in rows of five by five. They were not in costume, but their teacher assured me that the costumes were delightful. In each hand they held black-and-white-striped batons. At the signal, the dancers began to bob their heads and tap their feet in unison, setting the pace and rhythm of the dance. Then they burst into dance. How amazing! Smiling, they moved in perfect sync: a shuffle here, a tap there, clacking their batons in rhythm. "Smile, smile," the instructor signaled.

As I watched, I could practically hear the beat and feel the rhythm of the song. Simply watching them, one would never have imagined that these dancers could not hear a single beat. The bobbing of their heads and the shifting of their feet were simply to memorized counts. That, I was told, is how they learned the dance. What brilliant children! They had memorized each beat through count and knew the entire dance simply by number. The drummer, too, learned the beats in similar fashion. So, as we heard the beat of the drum and the tapping of the batons; as we watched the steps of the dancers, the dancers themselves heard nothing. This was not the sound of music but the appearance of itùand it looked wonderful!

What a blessing the performance had been to me, and how blessed are those children to enjoy the pleasure of dance. I signaled my thanks to them once they were done, and wished them, through the signing of their teacher, all the best in the upcoming competition.

September 27, 1999


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
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