Park City musicians tell the story of ‘Sudan and Me’
The Lost Boys of Sudan were comprised of 20,000 youths between the ages of 7 and 17 who were orphaned during the Sudanese Civil War in South Sudan that lasted from 1983 to 2005.
Park City residents Tanya Taylor and Todd Bigatel have created a musical podcast called “Sudan and Me” that tells the stories of those boys and that of other Sudanese refugees.
“These children walked up to 10,000 miles, scared and starving, searching for food and shelter,” Taylor said. “Many died, and those who survived ended up in refugee camps in either Ethiopia or Kenya.”
The podcast, which is available for download on iTunes and other podcast apps, is designed to be a precursor to a fully produced musical that will premiere on Feb. 15 and 16 at the Rockwell Room. The prodcution will feature up and coming actor Vegaz Taelor — the son of B. Murphy. known for touring with The Platters in the 1970s, according to Taylor.
Tickets for the musical, which are available now at tanyataylorproductions.com.
Taylor, whose friend Solomon Awan is one of the Lost Boys, came up with the idea of a telling his and his friends’ stories eight years ago, after she met Awan.
“He was able to come to the United States as a refugee and attend college,” Taylor said. “The more I talked with Solomon, the more I realized how extraordinary he and the other Lost Boys were.
“I was so fascinated by the story and how they persevered,” she said. “I’m amazed that they were once starving in the jungle, and almost all the ones who I’ve met since have graduated college with master’s degrees and are integrating into American society very well.”
The idea to make the stories into songs sprouted two years ago.
“Todd and I began writing these narratives through their viewpoints, especially how Solomon saw things,” Taylor said.
Taylor introduced Bigatel to the Lost Boys plight, and he took it upon himself to learn more.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this and found that they have a very complex story,” he said. “I learned just how resilient human beings can be. They continued to maintain a positive outlook on life, regardless of the horrendous experience they went through.”
Bigatel was surprised to learn about the refugees’ socio-economic status in Sudan versus the United States.
“Some of these people were once the most wealthiest people in Sudan,” he said. “Then when they arrived in the United States they were the poorest.”
One of the biggest challenges of creating a musical podcast about the Lost Boys is converting the “dark and convoluted” stories into comprehensive songs, Bigatel said.
“There was so much information that we could have gone in any direction,” he said.
The first few songs started off in a singer-songwriter style, but started taking on other styles because of the nature of the stories, Bigatel said.
“For example, when the characters are set in Sudan, the songs sound more theatrical,” he said. “When the characters arrive and start living in America, the music uses more rap and hip-hop.”
Taylor said it was Bigatel’s idea to turn the songs into a full musical, and releasing them in the podcast.
“Doing a podcast was a good outlet, because people are so busy and find time to listen to things in their cars,” she said. “Plus, the podcast gives people a taste of the stories, background, that they will draw upon when they see the musical.”
That is also Bigatel’s hope.
“We would like people will listen to the podcast before coming to see the musical,” he said. “That way they can get the story, so they can get into the music more.”
The timing of a podcast that deals with immigration is not lost on Taylor and Bigatel.
“We hope it will help educate people about this topic, because there are thousands of Sudanese people who have a lot to offer our country who are living in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya,” Taylor said. “We just watched a video about a man who has lived there for 26 years. During that time, he has watched as all of his friends have been able to immigrate to the U.S. and he’s still stuck in this camp. I don’t know the selection process, but I have come to understand that they choose the most vulnerable members of the population to immigrate first. Since he isn’t considered vulnerable, he has been passed over all these years.”
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