Morning has arrived in Africa. A hot air balloon glides across the horizon, hovering over a surface dotted with slender trees, shrubs and boulders. The rising sun peaks curiously down at a herd of wildebeest galloping below across the savannah, a trail of dust drifting in their wake.
“Good morning!” the people in the balloon yell to those waving on the ground. Then, in Swahili: “Jambo! Jambo!”
This is the scene that Rob Alley, Director of The Art for Life’s Sake program in The University of Alabama’s Honors College, found himself immersed the summer of 2017. His wife, Stacy Alley, is the Director of the Musical Theatre program and an Associate Professor of Musical Theatre/Dance at UA. Along with their daughter, Evy, the family spent a portion of their summer vacationing over 8,000 miles from Tuscaloosa in Tanzania and Kenya.
The trip was a glimpse at Eastern African culture, society and nature. Through the course of their journey, the Alley family embarked on a safari, learned how to grind coffee beans at a coffee plantation, and toured vibrant street markets.
On the other hand, they also visited a school and an orphanage, where they were able to see first-hand what life is often like for children living in those countries. It was, Rob Alley said, a good opportunity to show their daughter — who had never been outside the United States – a world different than her own.
“It was good for her,” Alley said. “We definitely wanted her to see the struggles in other parts of the globe. But we also wanted her to experience the triumphs and joy inherent in the collective human existence, no matter the degree of struggle.”
Evy’s love of the PBS Kid’s show, “Wild Kratts”, also inspired the family to spend some time with Africa’s wildlife. They petted elephants, saw zebras and wildebeest, and watched lionesses feast on a freshly killed prey animal from the safety of their safari vehicle.
But while it was a family vacation, the Alleys also made a point to share their work and their artistry with the people they encountered in Africa.
While in Tanzania, Stacy orchestrated a collaboration between African dancers and musicians, and with help from their tour guides, was able to contact people from Danceteam Africa. In video footage, Rob plays his trumpet alongside a group of musicians, and Stacy leads an instructional session with young dancers. Later, the two performed – Rob on trumpet, Stacy tap-dancing – with several of the artists they had met.
Neither the music nor the dancing in the performances was entirely planned. In fact, while there was discussion beforehand between the Alleys and the African musicians, their collaboration was primarily improvised.
“It’s very much like a conversation,” Rob Alley said of the improvisation used to acquaint the artists with one another. The blare of a brass trumpet, the rhythmic shuffle of dancing shoes, the beat of a drum – all became musical notes transcending cultural and geographic boundary lines during these performances.
Back in the United States, the Alleys have taken their memories from their summer trip to
Africa home with them. Although now an ocean away, it is a trip – and a musical collaboration – they will always remember.