Category Archives: uganda

Jjajja Kaweesa Turns 100

The other day I went out to Kawuku with my Ffumbe folks from Ntinda.  Every once in a while we get an opportunity to see those who can come together in this family at a single event.  Last year it was about 100 people, and today is about the same.  At one point, I think about trying to count the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Jjajja Mukyala (Grandma) Rose and Jjajja Omwami (Grandpa) Kaweesa.  Then it occurs to me that at least half of them live elsewhere in the world.

I’ve only ever been to one other 100th birthday party, and that was for my great-grandmother Anna.  It’s always an interesting experience to consider the changes that someone that old has seen in a lifetime that long.  At this point it’s enough just to consider that this family takes such good care of their grandparents.  It’s inspiring.  I’ve included a few of the photos below just for fun.

The Bajjajja at Kawuku: Jjajja Omwami at 100 and Jjajja Omukyala at 88.

The bazuukulu (grandchildren).  Spot the muzungu?

Sister Francis was also celebrating 50 years as a nun!

Some aspiring drummers of the next generation…

A few beers and some roasted chicken on this sunny afternoon really hit the spot.  Jjajja Kaweesa went to sleep early in the comfort of knowing that his next three generations were enjoying the lawn.


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Homecoming (of sorts)

So it’s taken me some time to get back into the swing of things enough to post.  It’s not for lack of something to write about.  On the contrary, the first two weeks have been full.  I’ve been so busy attending rituals and thinking and writing and transcribing…there hasn’t really been much time for blogging.

Maybe it’s appropriate then that now I do have a little time on the day I went to my Ugandan host family’s place near Ntinda.  I had been biding my time until most of the family could be there.  What a happy afternoon!  Mr. Magoba invited me for lunch, but they all knew as well as I did that it was a leisurely affair that would take all afternoon.

Lunch was fantastic as usual.  Local food really is good in Uganda.  Maama Magoba’s food is a whole new level, though.  I eat matooke almost every day here.  Some people would get sick of it, but I really like the stuff.  Today, Maama’s tooke was really a cut above anything I’ve had since I got back here.  That set the tone for the whole visit.

This really was a homecoming for me.  Don’t get me wrong: I love my family in the States.  When people make me feel this at home when I’m this far from home, though, that’s a really special thing.  I realized this morning that I had been eagerly anticipating this for two weeks.

I always bring gifts for my family and friends here.  This time my wife sent me with really nice gifts for the ladies in the family.  Maama got two necklaces, and she absolutely loved them both.

Gloriah’s necklace is going to go well with her newest pink gomesi (local nice dress for women here).  People really like to match things up exactly here.  Needless to say Sister Glo was elated.


Then there’s Nantongo.  This girl took such great care of me when I was here last year.  She’s the girl who cooks and does much of the laundry in the Magoba household.  We call her Nakinyonyi (Big Bird) because she’s always smiling.  She nicknamed me similarly as Ssekinyonyi (Big Bird, the male version) last year.  After greeting Mr. and Mrs. Magoba properly, she came out of the girls’ room there and shouted,


How great to see my good friend again!  I don’t think she expected much of anything from me, but she’s part of the family.  Jenn really made a cute necklace for her with little blue stars and some clear beads.  It was like watching a child on Christmas morning.

Settimba and some of the others weren’t there, but I will see them soon.  In the mean time, it was really cool to see Mr. Magoba with his bazuukulu (grandkids).

At age 6, Mugumya is a total Curious George with a priceless gap-toothed grin (akazigo).

Then there’s Vincent (in the yellow), who can really school Uncle Kigozi in soccer.

As we relaxed after lunch and drank some of Maama’s homemade pineapple wine, they invited me to three upcoming family events.  Among these, Jjajja Omwami Kaweesa (Grandpa Kaweesa) turns 100 this month, and we’re going to celebrate with a big family reunion on the 26th.  I’m so excited.  These are the people who initiated my linguistic and cultural education in Uganda.  Now that I’ve been coming here for three years, they are still the people who teach me most about language, culture, and how a family lives together here.

When Jjajja Kaweesa prays, he still thanks God not only for all that he has, but also for all of the blessings that he has yet to receive in his life.  It’s such a hopeful outlook.  Maybe this is how a person lives to be 100 and has the riches of family that he has.  This is how a coffee farmer in Uganda and his wife educate their 11 children, 10 of them through university level, and several through post-graduate studies.  Now that he’s dependent on them, it’s inspiring to see that he still lives in his own home, where his children and grandchildren take care of him.  This, I have the privilege of saying, is my family in Uganda.


Filed under travel, uganda

The Road (back) to Uganda

International travel offers some prime opportunities for people watching.  If Garrison Keillor is right about being part of a throng as one of the essential experiences of being at the State Fair, each airport is a new State Fair of humanity.  The sounds of people speaking different languages disorient us, the smells of various things good and bad annoy, delight, and disgust us.  I always love how the Memphis airport smells like a BBQ pit.  It brings the comfort of knowing that there’s a vendor nearby hawking something tasty on a stick or a bun.  Then there’s the guy who stops by a small construction area in DFW International to relieve himself…twenty meters before the restroom ahead of him.  How about the only flight attendant aboard the plane who wears corn rows referring to herself as Ms. Chocolate?  Endless sources of amusement all.

Now I’m in Uganda, where I get watched and cajoled and laughed at by strangers who enjoy watching people as much as I do.  I’m okay with that.  Then they’ll be the ones who get to pretend that their version of humanity doesn’t seem just as ridiculous to someone as mine seems to them.

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Okay, okay, I’ll try harder…

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and that one was recycled.  I wouldn’t have given a second thought to this, but then people approached me at two separate conferences to inform me that they either follow me on Twitter, read this blog, or both.  Thank you, then, to the few faithful readers who abide long absences and the strange stories that punctuate them.  Despite my best efforts, this blog in both of its forms has been primarily a travel blog that keeps family and friends informed of my activities.

C’est la vie!

Alas, I am about to embark upon the final phase of my dissertation field research.  So thanks as well to the American taxpayers, who will underwrite this most recent portion of the project.  So, as usual, I will undertake this portion of field reflections as a less formal form of fieldnote.  I leave in a little less than a month.  Enjoy the ride!

Until then, it’s Christmas photos, hopefully those featuring my dog in various ridiculous costumery…

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On the Laughter of Children and the Value of Play

Recently the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) quarterly newsletter published a short piece that I submitted based on an interesting experience I had during field research earlier this year.  Only SEM members could see that version, so I thought some folks might like to see it here: the text appears below, followed by some follow-up commentary.  I also dig the colorful Nc20909 as it originally appeared.


Childhood and children, as topics of ethnographic research and representation, do not appear at all on graduate reading lists today.  This want of attention to our own passage, this willful looking-away from ethnography’s mirror, must say something about us.  Interbelline anthropologists, such as Malinowski, Fortes, Firth, Richards, and Evans-Pritchard, observed children in the contexts of kinship, ritual, education and socialization (Levine 251).  Mead believed in the potential instructiveness of childhood studies, characterizing “world cultural variation in child rearing as a laboratory in which ‘thousand year’ experiments were being conducted by different peoples.”  Ethnographic fieldwork in distant places could be “brought back to the Western world for the resolution of issues like whether ‘permissive’ rearing was advisable for US middle-class children” (ibid. 250).

The contributor of this edition of nC2 puts children at the center of the ethnographic record, as felicitous music teachers and as agents in his own enculturation process.  His is a willing looting-to that invites reflection on our filed practices.  Is the way we deal with children in the field a meme of “table etiquette,” whereby they “don’t speak unless spoken to”?  Taken at face value, without a reader’s compensation, their invisibility in published studies presents much of the world as eerily barren of children.  -Jesse Samba Wheeler, Co-editor, Nc2

Reference cited

Levine, Robert A.  2007.  “Ethnographic Studies of childhood: A Historical Overview.”  American Anthropologist

109(2):  247-260.

On the Laughter of Children and the Value of Play

by Peter Hoesing, Munamaizi Village, Namutumba District, Eastern Uganda, January 20, 2009

It is possible, if not inevitable, to be so focused on a particular person or event of interest in our fieldwork that we overlook other potentially instructive opportunities.  Children can all too easily be relegated to ethnographic peripheries.  I offer this reflection[1] as an urge (as much to myself as to others) to embrace the playfulness of fieldwork by approaching children as partners and peers in enculturation.

Much of the day has been spent watching the clan elders build small mud brick huts for ancestral spirits.  I haven’t heard much music.  Mwesige knows how interested I am in ritual drumming and song.  He asks me late in the day if I would like to play drums with him.  We play for about an hour, and people respond favorably.  Children watch closely.  They never play until their teenage years, but I can tell that they soak up a lot by watching and listening long before that.  They know the rhythmic idioms well.  When I play something that’s out of character with nswezi idioms, they respond with laughter.  As long as I stay within idiomatic boundaries, they watch me like they watch other drummers: with wide-eyed fascination.

Drumming lessons in Eastern Uganda provide me with learning experiences in the ethnomusicologist’s ideal classroom: the same place where my field consultants and teachers learn.  As people gather to watch possession ceremonies, drummers offer children their first opportunities to get close to the action.  Adults are so spatially focused on gathering around the spirit mediums to sing, shake rattles and promote possession that young people cannot see what happens inside that circle.  Newer to these performances than many of the children, I join them and use drumming to gain access to musical dramaturgy.  The laughter of children as they observe my lessons acts like an idiomatic boundary between what I can and cannot do in terms of rhythmic variations.

There’s one particular rhythm that I’ve been trying to get right for several days now.  Even when I play all of the variations progressively, this one rhythm continues to give me trouble. “You’ll get it,” says Mwesige as he keeps playing.  After several unsuccessful attempts, he walks away for a bit.  The kids laugh.  With each unsuccessful try, they laugh again, especially after I realize this and playfully digress into something completely out of character with the music.  One of the children picks up his sticks and plays his rhythm on the smallest drum (is this kid mocking me?)  His enormous grin reminds me not to take myself so seriously.  I play along with him for a bit.  Something seems to click, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what.  I take a look at my transcription before asking Mwesige to come back one more time.  I’ve corrected something and found a rhythmic hook to hang my hat on in terms of left hand playing.  I’ve been focusing too much on the right hand and not really thinking about this in the left-handed way that Mwesige works with in all of his playing.  When he comes back, I get it right immediately and then stay on it for a bit just to solidify it.  The kids love it, but they don’t laugh—they clap.  So do the ladies.  Those who have rattles shake them vigorously and many women ululate.  I decide to relish my success and quit for the day while I’m ahead.

By paying attention to this mode of reaction among the children, I continue to develop my ability to play idiomatic variations for nswezi possession rituals.  When my teacher leaves me to figure something out on my own, the laughter of children guides my trials and errors until I can get it right.  Their playfulness encourages exploration.  When I forget myself in this kind of play, my hands find new idiomatic possibilities even in places where my conscious mind least expects them.

Ethnomusicologists have spilled a lot of ink about the nature of enculturation, but what can the people in the midst of that complex process teach us practically?  This village classroom reveals many more teachers than the individual who actually demonstrates on the instruments.  The model of neophytes learning from and being initiated by adepts certainly works, and it operates here as well, but it does account for opportunities in which a novice can learn from other novices.  During a day of building and other important non-musical work, musical play offers a welcome diversion for all.  Learning opportunities abound in this ritually sanctioned space for play, but only if I am willing to learn from other learners as I participate in their process of enculturation.

[1]The sections in italics are excerpts from my fieldnotes.


Although Jesse’s introduction provides apt context for this piece, I think there are some notable exceptions to what he’s saying about the absence of children in published studies.  First, what about Ryan Thomas Skinner’s children’s book?  It’s not ethnography, but Skinner is an ethnomusicologist and this book project makes a sophisticated ethnographic commentary on children and enculturation.  What about Kyra Gaunt’s award-winning book?  Moreover, ongoing research on youth cultures might be considered ethnography specifically about children.  The point of this piece, however, is that children ought not be artificially separated from social spaces where we do ethnography.  Their presence and their actions, as the above narrative suggests, are not merely instructive; for the non-native language speaker, they can often be the most accessible point of entry.

I recognize the negative ways this might be read:

Option 1: non-native ethnographer can’t get competence and resorts to hanging out with children and playing off their laughter for lack of something better to do.

Option 2: non-native ethnographer, even if the linguistic competence is there, runs the risk of non-verbal (but nevertheless clear) responses, potentially misunderstanding cues and jumping to hasty conclusions.

These readings miss the whole point of what it means to learn something from a fellow participant in any process.  If the laughter of children and the value of play do not do enough to keep the interest of fun haters shrewd observers, let me appeal to a humanistic cost/benefit analysis: we were playing at the time anyway, learning the parts, and the presence of children and other laughing observers brought immeasurable joy to that self-conscious experience.  I suspect it was that willingness to forget myself for a moment that enabled me to turn my rhythmic thinking around and, in the end, “get it.”


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Ugandan Journalism and the Production of Power

You wouldn’t have to be living under a rock to have missed what was going on in Uganda over the last two weeks.  Major North American news outlets provided lackluster coverage in rather inconspicuous places, and it seems the largest networks now have bigger fish to fry jerks to gawk at.  Admittedly, I’m a bit more closely tuned in to Ugandan news than the average American, but I’m no less interested in a concept we have in common with Uganda: free speech is supposed to be a cornerstone of both constitutional governments.  Permit me this temporary departure from strictly artistic concerns in favor of a concern that many artists share.

Uganda is a tricky setting for examining this issue, because on the surface, major media appear to be reporting the facts.  This seems to be the case even when police make outlandish claims about how many citizens can suddenly get a hold of illegal firearms (note: while it’s true that a small number of firearms were stolen from police stations, that doesn’t seem to add up as the sole cause for the total number of people injured and dead).  Good thing that by Sunday, things appeared to be back to normal.  President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni must have cleverly used that magic “combination of political might and political nuance to handle the situation” as his supporters put it (via Voice of Africa).  It’s the ratio that’s really troubling; Museveni seems to lean more toward might all the time.

French intellectual Michel Foucault famously wrote in several different ways about the relationship between force and authority.  For the purposes of examining the contemporary Ugandan situation, we can boil Foucault’s observation down to this: true and effective authority cannot rest on force, brute strength, or military power (the power over life and death) alone.  Museveni apparently knows this, which is why he also makes every attempt to control something else Foucault wrote extensively about: the regime of truth.

Evidently Museveni thinks he will be able to control the flow of information to bolster his government during turbulent times.  His supporters think along the same lines, making it hard to believe that every journalist held for any charge was held on Museveni’s orders.  He may in some cases be an unwitting accomplice to his loyal followers power hungry police brigades who, while attempting to restore order to the streets of Kampala, have violated journalists’ constitutional rights.  However, if current reports about the growing importance of citizen media or indeed the increasingly sophisticated commentary of the blogren are any indication of things to come,  neither Museveni nor the police will be equipped to quell social unrest by controlling mass media outlets and the journalists who write for them.  Dare I ask what their next steps would be?

Museveni is no fool.  While for various reasons his government has not put a stop to an LRA conflict that remains rather distant from the capital and the state house, he has been in African politics long enough to know that there’s a difference between an extended bush war and an all-out civil war that plays out in urban violence.  For now, an already war weary Uganda seems to be finding ways to keep the peace even at the cost of many of its independent news media.  Museveni has played a role in making this a one-sided conversation during the past week, and perhaps people accept this on the surface as they draw on all too recent memories of the role that radio played in the Rwandan genocide of the mid 1990s.  Citizen media, on the other hand, behave on their own terms.  People can blog or microblog anonymously, and Ushahidi maps crises like this one outside the scope of any single government’s reach.  Then again, I haven’t seen any tweets or blogs on these issues from those I follow on those media since about five days ago.  Have things really calmed down that much, or are we seeing a new caution among the blogren borne out of fear, censorship, or both?

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New Directions in Research

Okay, so I’ve been teasing along with this for months now, dropping hints about a return trip to Uganda.  At first it was simply hopeful (as in someday), but it’s been more than that for weeks now.  The truth is, two weeks after I got back from the last trip, I received a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Fellowship.  I haven’t exactly kept this a secret or anything.  It’s just that this is a windfall that I had written off as so unlikely it would never happen.  It’s humbling to know how many more deserving applicants could be out there.

One of those applicants comes from FSU’s beleaguered Anthropology Department.  I claim Anthropology as a kind of disciplinary home away from home on campus, and I have great respect for their students and faculty.  So it is with bittersweet admiration that I congratulate  Bryan Rill.  Bryan works on issues that are very close to home for me, and I can think of no more deserving candidate for this fellowship.  Congratulations, Bryan.  While we’re at it, congrats to your colleagues on three NSF Dissertation Improvement Grants.  Maybe FSU will see fit to reconsider some if the more unfortunate budgetary decisions of the past few years in light of your achievements and those of the distinguished anthropology faculty.  Maybe.

FSU has done well in the past few years with national and international fellowships at the undergraduate level, thanks in no small part to the Office of National Fellowships (ONF).  There are, however, strong graduate students at FSU winning other awards.  Jason Hobratschk in the College of Music and Victoria Penziner in the History Department both snagged Fulbright IIE grants this year.  Kimberly Leahy is among 22 others to do the same since 1985, but it’s interesting to note that a disproportionately large number of those have come since the ONF opened.  BTW, I’ve had the privilege of knowing both Jason and Vicky for a few years, and I know both of their projects will yield fascinating results.

These accomplishments and others across campus in the past few years have started to make FSU look more like a Carnegie Doctoral Research Institution, and it seems the university is starting to take that role seriously.  After a tremendous success rate with the pilot of the ONF,  The Graduate School announced the opening of a new Office for Graduate Fellowships and Awards (OGFA)  this semester.  It’s about time.  ONF was really gracious about helping graduate students with fellowship applications (my own included), but even their staff recognized a major gap between their own undergraduate focus and the faculty-only nature of the Office of Research.  I applaud FSU’s efforts to help more graduate students secure outside funding through the new OGFA.  In fact, its sole staff member has already been very supportive as she administrates these new Fulbright-Hays and NSF awards.  Having watched similar programs help generate thousands of research dollars for students at other institutions, I am confident that the OGFA will be a successful project for FSU.

I offer a few critiques here even as I champion FSU’s recent efforts to make graduate research a priority, and I do so at the risk of soiling the extraordinary sense of gratitude I feel for having been selected as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow.  This is the most honest brand of school spirit: ONF is great, but OGFA is proof that we can do better at the graduate level.  The next step must be to support the academic programs and professors that foster bright students and award-winning ideas! (Ahem: ‘Noles Need Anthropology)

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My concept of home has become rather fuzzy over the past few years.  When I left my parents’ house for college, I left a pseudo-hometown that I liked (but had really only lived in for ten years) for a college town that I loved.  I felt very at home there, and my closest mentors and friends cultivated that feeling.  When we moved to Florida, I moved into the first of several dwellings with my wife.  Now that we’ve lived here in Florida for six years, this feels more like home than anywhere else.  And yet, when you live somewhere for eight months with the same people and they quite purposely become your family, the notion of home shifts once again.  This poem has come back to me again and again as I’ve traveled back and forth to and from Uganda.

Home, oh Home


The soul of your variety

All my bones remember

-Lucille Clifton

I now also have a home in Africa.  Trite and potentially corny as that sounds, I do feel a kinship to the people whom I lived with in Uganda.

Now I’m HOME, and that means the only place in the world that feels completely like my home: I’m with my wife.  I’m in our house.  We’re with our dog.  We cook and relax and have fun together.  I have never been away from this home for this long, and now that I’m back, I seem to have a stronger sense of home.  I’ve taken almost a month to reflect on this, and it is perhaps fitting that I should post about it on Independence Day weekend.  I’ve just spent the past two days on the beach with Jenn and on the water with some friends who have a boat.  Prior to that, I’ve been enjoying some of the many things that are just not the same when I’m not home.

I’m about to make a totally cliché case in point.  When Jenn asked me what I wanted my first meal to be when I got home, my first instinct was steak.  Ugandans don’t eat that much beef.  Half the time their beef has been boiled so long it has the consistency of a shoe, and the other half of the time, it might be tender or flavorful, but rarely both.  (n.b. this is not a commentary on Ugandan food, which more generally speaking is very good.)  After some thought, I started considering that a steak was all of the things I DON’T miss about American food: it’s a big hunk of meat, it’s way to much protein for one meal, and it makes me fat.  If I was going to eat meat, I decided that I wanted a burger.  A good Ugandan restaurant can serve you a steak that will rival anything you can order in a decent American steakhouse.  No Ugandan I’ve ever met can cook a burger that’s anywhere close to this:


Jimmy Buffett starts running through my brain just looking at this.  Wash it down with a cold domestic lager and it tastes like home to me.  The kale chips next to it are a testament to the changes that inevitably happen at home any time I’m gone this long.  Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em though; they’re very tasty.

We didn’t wait too long after I returned to get back to a summer routine that includes regular visits to the beach.  Here’s a shot from our first trip out: Bald Point.


We’ve been out twice since then to our favorite place, Cape San Blas.  The most recent trip was Friday, when Jenn had the day off.  Saturday we were back out in the sun with some friends who have a boat.  How fun was that?  Well, I’ll offer a hint: I’ll post more pictures when I find my camera.  Until then, suffice it to say that I’m happy to be home!

UPDATE! A few pix from San Blas:


me in my hat that reminds me how lucky I am and how good life truly is


some of the rugged beauty of the dunes


friends out on the “mega station” (winner, best flotation device ever)


finally, my favorite time of day on the beach.  Enjoy!


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Bye muzungu!

I’m never sure how to say goodbye to Uganda because every time I’ve left, it’s been with the distinct feeling that I will return.  This time is no different.  In fact, I started writing this post on the day I left a couple of weeks ago, but I am only finishing it now because my brain is only now getting re-adjusted to the U.S.

Perhaps this feeling of ambivalence about how I leave Uganda can be summed up using the enigmatic phrase that children often use to greet me: “bye muzungu!”  They say this to me even when I am saying hello in their language and even if I’m clearly going to be around for a while.  An elder once told me that the etymology of the term muzungu refers not to the color of white skin, but to a habit that white people in East Africa still have: they pass through, they are transitional, they ultimately don’t stick around.  In this way the children remind me with their greeting that they were here long before I came and they will be here long after I leave.  I alternate between the discomfort that this causes (it lumps me into a group with 19th century explorers, colonialists, and missionaries) and the notion that when I do come back, Ugandans always receive me with warm hospitality.  Maybe that’s why I keep coming back.


So it’s goodbye to these schoolchildren who feign shyness when I reply to their collective “bye muzungu” in Luganda.  It’s goodbye to their families in the village:


Goodbye to baakisimba dancing,


and to drumming with my friends.


Goodbye to the host family that was so good to me.  Magobas, how can I ever adequately thank you?


The charm, wit, and wear-with-all of these folks have been the heart of my living experience.  I have been fortunate to have all kinds of instructive research experiences in my time here, but a soulful host family really makes a journey extraordinary.  You’ve seen other pictures of Magobas and their family on this blog, but I’m not sure any sum up the simple, beautiful way they bid me goodbye on the day I left their home and Uganda than this silent gesture that young Mugumya sent my way:


So among all of the things I take with me as I leave Uganda, the most appropriate memory to leave here in the public sphere is one of family and warm hospitality.  I don’t see the world through rose-colored glass, so it’s only fair for me to note here that my stay in Uganda this time saw challenges and frustrations as well.  Those things are natural, and I write about the ones relevant to my research here and elsewhere.  The others I simply let go in the hope that when I face similar challenges in the future, I will be prepared to deal with them.

Until next time, Uganda:


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The Creative Head

9 May 2009

I’ve been traveling more for the past few days, so I haven’t written any posts.  Munsa, one of Uganda’s significant archaeological sites, another trip to Mubende that afforded me the opportunity to experience some music there and do some interviews…all good, but follow me as I wrap up a few stray things that I have yet to do in Kampala.

This morning I’m on the way to Katwe, a place known for spare parts of all kinds car and motorcycle mechanics, metal workers, and musicians.  I’m going to meet a locally famous musician named Deziderio at his offices.  As his group prepares the instruments and transport to go play at a wedding, I will be talking with this elder who has been a musician his whole life.

I first met Ssaalongo Deziderio Kiwanuka Matovu at a New Year’s celebration south of Kampala.  His wife is the main medium for Byuma, a patron spirit for the mmamba (lungfish) clan.  There’s another connection apart from Deziderio between this medium and Katwe.  The place where she resides is called akatwe kagezi, the creative head.  Moreover, the noun ebyuma refers to metal objects, machines, and other metal things, just like those found in Katwe.  It fascinates me that music also falls into this cultural genre, as if musicians, blacksmiths, and mechanics all trade in similar kinds of intelligence and creativity.

I show up to the Bagoma offices to see a very typical Katwe scene: the juxtaposition of music and mechanics.  The image below shows the sign for these offices in front of a broken down back-hoe.


Today Deziderio’s group, the Bagoma Dancers, will play a wedding reception at Gaba Beach.  On the shores of Lake Victoria, Gaba Beach is a popular place for pop artists to have concerts.  The beach facilities also host three or four weddings every weekend.  Now, wedding music is far from the subject of my research, but the people who play with this group hold vast knowledge of ritual songs and performance practice.  I’m tagging along today in order to get time to talk with several of these folks at the same time.

When I arrive, some of Deziderio’s sons are making booking calls, repairing drums, and moving instruments into the van for departure.  One guy takes a short break to play for a bit:


When Deziderio arrives, we get a moment to chat.  “Obuze!” he tells me, meaning that he hasn’t seen me for a long time.  He’s in a jovial mood, clearly ready to play for this wedding.  During our chat, I get an opportunity to hear him apart from the group, playing the ndingidi he’s so well-known for.


Later at the wedding, I struggle to hear him over his son’s raucous drumming.


There’s a lot going on at Ugandan weddings, so the group has plenty of opportunities to take breaks between sets.  The drummer above, Ssematimba, befriends me quickly.  He’s a gregarious fellow who apparently knows a LOT about kusamira (possession) ritual, and he shares his expertise freely.  We resolve at the end of the day to meet up again soon, and he agrees to listen to some of the recordings from the New Year’s celebration where I first met his father (Deziderio).  I’m excited.  I have taken these recordings to language experts, but they’re so distorted by loud drumming and too many shakers that nobody has been able to make out the text.  Now that I’ve got someone working with me who knows the songs, I’m taking a melodic tack and hoping that we can re-record these to get the texts.  This technique was fairly successful in Busoga, so I’m hopeful that during my last month in Uganda, I can finally make some progress on these recordings.

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