For Peter Ssebandeke and his eight-member troupe, the new year starts not in January but in March. From November to February, the Ugandans – three women and six men – cool their heels back home, waiting for spring to arrive in China and banish the freezing cold. Then it’s time for them to fly to Beijing and start working. Work means performing tribal and traditional dances to the accompaniment of African drums at World Park in Beijing, a popular holiday destination sporting replicas of famous global landmarks, from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal.
Peter Ssebandeke was a struggling Ugandan church performer singing gospel music in Kampala’s churches when a friend who had returned from Beijing told him there was a market for African performers in China. In 2007, Ssebandeke, then 29, arrived in China on a tourist visa. He toured different provinces for two years, performing in clubs and making contacts. He finally landed a gig at World Park in Beijing, a popular vacation destination featuring replicas of famous global landmarks from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal.The work meant a steady contract. Chinese visitors love taking selfies with the African dancers, who are one of the biggest draws in the park. In summer, the heat becomes unendurable but Ssebandeke is stoic.He is one of six men and three women performing tribal and traditional dances to the accompaniment of African drums at World Park.“We are here to entertain,” he said. “In Uganda, the biggest problem is lack of jobs and the low income. We have to look for greener pastures.”