Tag Archives: kusamira

Kusamira: the Book is Available NOW!

At long last, the project at the center of my ethnographic research focus since 2006 is finally published. Get your copy now, stay tuned for multimedia components to come (beyond the film), and get in touch if you’re interested in discussing this work with colleagues and students!

Need a little teaser? Head over to the University of Illinois Press Blog for an interview about the project.


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Eastman and Mount Holyoke

I was honored to speak last week on the Eastman School of Music Symposium Series, where my colleague and friend Jennifer Kyker invited me to give a talk on my kusamira research. I did an overview of this Ugandan ritual repertory, a talk that I called “Sound Medicine: the Performance of Healing in Post-Colonial Uganda.” Earlier last Thursday, I also spoke to Jennifer’s “Music, Ethnography, and HIV/AIDS” class. At both the Eastman School and the University of Rochester’s River Campus, I received a very warm welcome and encountered sharp, energetic students.

Jennifer and I attended a conference on “Development in Crisis” at Mount Holyoke College. It was interesting, but I found it wanting for a more radical economic perspective from folks working in development.

This morning I spoke in Professor Holly Hanson’s History 101 class at Mount Holyoke: “How Wars End.” In a little over an hour, I’ll give a talk in her History 206 course, “African Cities: Development Dreams and Nightmares,” on the destruction of Kasubi Tombs last year. The students here are truly impressive, and I look forward to more time with them this evening.

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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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