Tag Archives: uganda

Ethnomusicology in the News

I’m pleased to re-post some news coverage that we got last week regarding research endeavors at Claflin. It is exciting to see these projects taking flight at our little university: two out of three Global Leadership Program awards for international research went to ethnomusicology projects! Stay tuned for more as we prepare to leave in early June.

Update: our local newspaper, the Times and Democrat, covered this story as well.

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Music and Method

The proposal for my current research, “Music is the Method,” draws upon years of previous research to strongly suggest that musicking, spending time with musicians, and getting to know their repertories is a good way to understand how they live and what matters to them. It is also, in the context of this project, a good way to understand how people think about what it means to be ill and what it means to live well.

This part of the project seeks to return some of my field recordings to Uganda on a permanent basis. There the people who made them should be able to access them, and others will hopefully be able to use them for further research. It never ceases to amaze me how much time and energy it takes just to get and stay organized with this much material in hand (it’s not only my daily chore now, but sometimes I rope my wife into it as well). I’ve got audio, photographs, and video to contend with, much of which I’ve  annotated through fieldnotes, coding, and blogging. This project breathes new life into my efforts at collating these materials and making sense of them beyond the life of my now-finished dissertation.

My hope, bolstered by an encouraging first couple of weeks of this work, is that I can continue to connect these materials, get them to talk to each other, and organize an ever increasing series of cross-references. The contours of a kusamira repertory emerged well before I ever finished the dissertation. If I am to understand it well enough to comment on its relationship to creation stories and other folklore of this region in my book, this new archival effort will be a crucial step in that process.

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Singing at Ssezibwa

I had been in Uganda less than 48 hours when one of my dear friends, Ssematimba, called and invited me to a ritual at Ssezibwa Falls. We went there last year together to meet the main medium who lives there. Not intending to collect much new material on this trip, I took the opportunity to re-connect with Ssematimba and friends sans electronic devices. I didn’t even bring so much as a camera. I had forgotten how rewarding that experience can be.

It seems every time I go somewhere with Ssematimba, his wife and their friends, the rain washes out the roads or even the entire event. When I commented to him about this, he answered with a single word: “emikisa” (blessings). I then began to consider what kind of heart it takes to consider total inconvenience and a considerable amount of danger in passing over muddy bridges to be blessings. As we worked to get our truck unstuck and up a big muddy mess of a hill, it occurred to me that these are the kinds of blessings that we only reap through cooperation in a shared struggle. The danger factor always makes me nervous, but once up the hill, the challenge felt small compared to our camaraderie. 

Our arrival at Ssezibwa had the perfect soundtrack of two indistinguishable and equally powerful beating sounds: one of waterfalls beating down on rocks, and the other of hands beating drums. We drew nearer to the drums and the waterfall faded into the background as the playing and singing got stronger and stronger. The effect of this crossfade was intense, and it signaled the beginning of a truly powerful experience.

Playing music fosters a similar feeling of camaraderie described above, even if the circumstances are totally different. I was pleased to realize that all of the time I spent with Ssematimba and others on trips past has paid enormous dividends in terms of my ability to participate. Having transcribed and translated so many of those songs, I’ve become proficient enough at simultaneous playing and singing that I can focus my attention on lyrics or other elements of these events even while we’re playing. How Ssematimba knew I was ready for this, I’m not sure, but he didn’t hesitate to invite me into that experience. What a beautiful gift on top of a mountain of other blessings that he has shared with me! I can think of no more perfect way to have begun this journey.

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Back in Uganda!

I’ve been here enough times now that arrival always feels somewhat like a homecoming. I’ve only just arrived, so there’s not really much to report, but it sure is good to see old friends. More in a few days on the work once I’ve had a chance to get something done. For now it’ll be a cold Tusker for jet-lag recovery, thank you very much.

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Back to Uganda!

It is time to revive this dusty old blog, and a note from a current Fulbrighter in Uganda this morning reminded me of one reason why: it helps to create connections among the people I work with in Uganda (only some of whom use social media tools themselves) and my family, friends, and colleagues elsewhere in the world.

This summer, I’ll embark on an eight week journey back to Uganda with generous support from a UNCF Mellon Summer Research Residency Fellowship. Once there, I’ll be working with Dr. Sylvia Nannyonga-Tamusuza, the founding curator of the Makerere University Klaus Wachsmann World Music Archive and the director of that university’s ethnomusicology program, to reach out to the communities who facilitated some of the recordings that informed my dissertation research. I’ll be working with these communities to see how we might archive some of the audio and video recordings for further access and future research.

The e-mail I got this morning was a great excuse to re-connect with Ssematimba Frank Sibyangu. I had worked previously with him and had contacted him about working together again during this trip. The woman who e-mailed me is teaching on a Fulbright in Mukono District, where Uncle Ssema lives. She had seen my earlier post about him and reached out to see if she might take some lessons with him. Given that her Fulbright has just been renewed, I’m hoping we will all meet up once Ssema and I resume working together.

Meanwhile, I’m also planning visits to some other field sites that I’ve written about here in the past…if you haven’t been back in a while, if you’re taking my online summer course, or even if you’re just discovering this site, stay tuned!

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Muchomo

The first time Jenn visited me in Uganda, I posted about some of the good things we ate. In fact, many of my ethnographic adventures have been shaped by the gastronomic adventures that have come as an essential part of those experiences. My dear sister in law asked me to write down some of the recipes, and although I did, so many of them cannot be made without locally sourced ingredients, or at least things I can’t get in Tallahassee. This is not the case for muchomo.

Muchomo refers to roasted meat of various kinds: beef, pork, goat’s meat, even chicken. My favorites among these in Uganda were definitely goat and pork, and many a weekend night found me taking a brief break from research to enjoy some of the local delicacy with a cold one. I’ve been working on this recipe for a little over a year now, and I think I’ve got it tweaked to where it tastes enough like East Africa that it’s worth a try on the Blog-b-cue.

This is the basic marinade recipe that could be used with 1.5-2 lbs. of any of the above-named meats, boneless and cubed like stew meat:

1 lemon or 2 T. juice

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1/8 t. cardamom

1/8 t. cayenne

1/8 t. coriander

1/4 t. cumin

2 cloves garlic

1/2 t. onion powder

1/2 t. pepper

1/2 t. salt

Combine everything and stir it up well before pouring it over the meat in a Ziploc bag. Marinate for at least 1 hour (I did 4-5 hours, but overnight would be ideal). Roast the meat on skewers over low flame for as long as possible without overcooking (read: low and slow for that outside crunch with the juicy center). Serve with salt and piri-piri (liquid or powdered hot stuff) on the side, avocado, tomato, and roasted matooke if possible. Otherwise find an appropriate potato to pair it with and put it on the table next to your favorite beverage.

VARIATIONS

In Kampala, people who do this nightly make a living at it, and people who own the operations—often called “pork joints” (not what they sound like)—turn a handsome profit. In that context, the flame comes from wood charcoal. If you’re into that, use it. If not, use store-bought charcoal or a gas grill (I’m using regular old Kingsford this evening). That brings us to the defining characteristic of muchomo: beauty lies in the taste bud of the be(er)holder. Actually, my favorite place in Kampala ended up being this joint where my friend Freddie supervised and instructed the cooks to roast the meat halfway and then fry it up with onions and spices to finish it off. Yum.

This has gone over well with Ugandan palettes. I’m trying it for the first time tonight with a group of Tanzanian musicians. Like the recipe? Try it without the wet ingredients as a rub or send me your variations and improvisations in the comments! I’d love to take a few of these ideas back, as the home muchomo provides as much leisurely fun in Uganda as the backyard barbecue does here.

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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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Boston, Baby!

I’m not a Daddy Blogger, if there is such a thing. Maybe that’s why I don’t write too much these days: it’s challenging enough to balance Daddy time, research time and other work time, so reflecting and writing about all three often seems overwhelming. These experiences so rarely coalesce or even overlap in smooth ways; like many people, I find it easier to compartmentalize. Less messy in so many ways, but we pay a price for that. The last weekend of September, I had the pleasure of traveling with my family to a quasi-working environment in a potential new field site where we celebrated life with extended members of my adoptive Kiganda family. And yes, it sort of felt like that much of a mouthful, but in a good way. My spouse was here in the U.S. during my extended field research in Uganda, so this was a new combination for all of us.

Several things amazed me:

1) I have the world’s coolest family. Yes, I’m biased. Deal with it.

2) The terms Daddy, husband, and researcher do not represent mutually exclusive categories of people. Hopefully my family will confirm this observation. Compartmentalization might be convenient at times, but it’s not near as much fun as coalescence.

3) Ugandans in the Diaspora are as warm, polite and welcoming as their counterparts Over Home. This didn’t surprise me in the least, but the kindness of relative strangers (or is it strange relatives?) never ceases to humble and amaze me.

So, let me start at the beginning: several months ago, I got a call from my Ssenga (literally, paternal aunt), the sister of my Muganda host father. She invited my family for a betrothal ceremony called okwanjula, meaning “introduction,” which would take place in the city where she works, Waltham, Massachussets. My initial response was wholly and irresponsibly American: I was too busy, had too little money for travel and did not know either of the bagole (bride and groom). Ssenga Babirye persisted, calling a month later and adding calls from her sisters two weeks after that. It is rude to refuse someone’s hospitality. Even just dropping by a proper Kiganda home requires the consumption of tea, or at the very least a glass of water. An old proverb that my dear brother Ssetimba taught me states this unequivocally:

mu nju, temuli kkubo

in the house, there is no road

The bassenga demanded satisfaction in their own way, and we acquiesced, making plans to attend this family event as a family. Moreover, they insisted that we stay with one of them, just as we would if we went to visit our own biological families.

So to my first point: coolest. family. ever.

Our son got through the TLH-ATL-BOS leg of the trip like a seasoned traveler. This was his first air travel, and we couldn’t have been happier with that. Meanwhile, my spouse demonstrated the same patient resourcefulness that has become her hallmark in our home. The trip back was no different. Okay, realistically, we all get tired/hungry/annoyed/irritated and just plain want a minute to ourselves – we’re real people. This family of mine is great for their efforts to keep cool heads despite all of that. Moreover, the folks who invited us to Boston have given us the privilege of calling them family as well.

When I first started studying Luganda, I had two teachers. One was a fantastic young linguist named Deo Kawalya, the other a tutor for practical application. The latter, named Waalabyeki Magoba, became my dear friend and host father. He used to take me around to markets, taxi parks, and other public places to practice what I had learned in the classes. After a few weeks, he took me to his family home, where his aged parents gave me a Kiganda name.

Over the next two trips in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, Mwami Magoba took me to several kwanjula celebrations. These were family affairs: Kiganda kinship makes no distinction between daughters and nieces, so anyone who shares our kika or “type” also shares our totem animal, Ffumbe (a civet cat). Those in my age group are therefore my sisters (bannyinaze) and daughters of Magoba and his generation. One of the things I learned from a host brother very early on in this process was the clan slogan (omubala):

Galinnya, galinnya e Bakka,

They are climbing, they are climbing [the hill] at Bakka,

Basengejja, banywa omwenge!

They are brewing, they are drinking [banana] beer!

Kasolo ki? FFUMBE!

Which small animal? FFUMBE!

Kakozaakoza – Tolikoza mu lw’Effumbe!

Let food be dipped [in sauce] – you shall not dip in the sauce of the Ffumbe!

This slogan outlines both the geographic history of ekika ky’Effumbe, those who share the Ffumbe as their totem animal, and the principle of kin avoidance in marriage as it applies to this kika. In other words, anyone who shares the Ffumbe totem animal, whose ancestors were born and lived at Bakka, shall not marry another person from that group. Reinforcing this notion of avoidance at kwanjula – the first public, official event recognizing a couple’s intent to marry – perpetuates strongly held beliefs about eligible partners for any given Muganda.

Americans define family in terms of various shared substances: blood/biology, residence, extended time in armed combat together or even pet ownership. Baganda use some of these same markers for kinship, but sharing blood or other biological symbols proves secondary to other elements of and symbols for shared substance. Avoidance of a totem animal provides the basis for an enormous number of extended kin relationships and for adoption of outsiders into the cultural fold. Sacrificing time and resources in the name of sharing food and other resources builds community fellowship in both contexts.

When I consider what my family has sacrificed in order to facilitate my research, and in turn what my host Ugandan host family has given in order to create lasting bonds with us, I am truly humbled and amazed. I left Boston feeling like I would miss it even though we had never been there before. We left Waltham, which my wife dubbed “Little Buganda,” knowing it was only a matter of time before we would return. We carried our son back through airports and trams to our home with gratitude for the enormous privilege we enjoy in knowing and loving our African family and our new relatives in the Diaspora. Overwhelmed? Maybe, but joyfully so.

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Not What It Sounds Like: A (Ffumbe) Clan Meeting

When I first came to Uganda in 2006, I came to study Luganda intensively. I spent my days going to language lessons in the mornings and embarking on a wide range of adventures in the afternoons that provided me with abundant opportunities for practical application of the language. The teacher who so graciously allowed me to tag along on these outings soon adopted me into his clan and his family, and he has since been a most fantastic host father, trusted mentor, and loyal friend.*

The first time I met the broader Ffumbe clan, they named me Kigozi and welcomed me with some of the warmest hospitality I have ever experienced. Subsequently, I lived with Magoba and his family in Ntinda. During this time and since then, whenever I’m in the country it’s a matter of joyful social obligation to attend family and clan-related events. Parents here use the same terms for their nieces and nephew that they use for their daughters and sons, so there’s no such thing as extended family in the sense that we think of it. People are just brothers and sisters, sons, and daughters. That means every time one of those people introduces her soon-to-be spouse to her parents, gets married, graduates from something, has a child, or dies, I have the privilege of joining the Ffumbe clan for commemorative events and life-cycle rituals.

This past weekend, it was okwanjula, literally meaning “to introduce.” One of our sisters, Zawedde, was introducing her fiancee to her parents. This is a normal ritual for youth preparing for marriage here. The biologically related clanmates and friends of the bride gather at her parents’ home, where they await the arrival of the groom and his family. When they come, they begin an extensive set of complex greeting customs that eventually involve the exchange of dowry and the agreement between families that their children will marry.

Above: the happy couple greeting ssenga, an auntie of influence in the family.

At an earlier kwanjula, I had been asked on the spot to beat the mubala, a kind of slogan that every clan has. These are normally proverbial or riddle-like in nature, and they often identify the totem animal of the clan and/or outline taboos pertinent to that clan. Evidently I performed well, because Magoba asked me to come to Zawedde’s kwanjula to beat an extended version of the mubala for Ffumbe clan.

At the designated time in the proceedings, the muwogezi (lit. clever speaker, a kind of emcee/negotiator that both families must have for this event) called me to beat the following mubala:

Galinnya, galinnya e Bakka

Basengejja, banywa omwenge

Kasolo ki? Ffumbe!

Kakozakoza: tolikoza mu lw’effumbe.

Translation:

They climb, they are climbing at Bakka [hill]

They are straining [local brew], they are drinking beer

Which animal? The civet cat!

The one who dips his food in every kind of sauce: you shall not dip into that of the civet cat!

The last two lines of this mubala identify the ffumbe, or civet cat, as the muziro (totem animal) for this clan. The last line makes explicit the food taboo associated with this animal. Even one who eats all kinds of animals should not eat the bush meat or even taste the sauce of the ffumbe. There’s another connotation here, too: the food taboo parallels a sexual and marriage taboo whereby one member of a clan must not marry a member of the same clan.

Well, the whole thing was an even bigger success than the previous time. It’s all because of Magoba’s careful mentorship. It was he who taught me a deeper version of this mubala, he who invited me to perform it again. His habit has always been to thrust me into public situations to test my skills and encourage me to rise to those occasions.

Wattu musajja mulungi ow’effumbe, kitange kiganda: weebale kunsomesa ssebo!

My dear good man of the Ffumbe clan, my Ganda father: thank you for teaching me!

*Edward Waalabyeki Magoba is a novelist, folklorist, magazine publisher and radio personality whose vernacular writing has had a huge impact on southern Uganda. His radio program, Ekyoto, offered 90 minutes of folklore-fueled fun for all ages on Saturday nights before CBS radio was shut down here late last year.

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A Strange Twist on Kusamira Ritual

A little over a year ago, I started going to this place called Kakooge. It was unlike any other place where I had observed possession rituals called okusamira. Instead of drums made of cowhide and singers using ggono ornamentation, these musicians played with keyboards, guitars in the style of Franco Luambo and Koffi Olomide of Lingala fame, and drumsets with delightfully trashed-out cymbals. This was not the esoteric music of nighttime clandestine gatherings and village ritual; this was more like pop music, and in fact the people at Kakooge assured me that several prominent Ugandan pop musicians had been long time members there.

Surreal? Maybe, but definitely worth a follow-up or ten. Last month, I took a colleague to this place just to see what she made of it. Now, this colleague, a historian, had not been to the many village rituals I had. She came with completely fresh eyes, and I turned out to be very grateful for her perspectives on this whole scene. In the time since I had been there, however, things got more bizarre rather than less, so the whole experience was even more interesting.

Inside one of about twenty small shrines, built for a spirit called Mukasa, there’s this eclectic melange of things on the wall. I look up and notice the particularly ironic portrait of Christ at this otherwise thoroughly polytheistic site of worship.

Inside the bigger shrine, there’s a large structure built in homage of Kiwanuka, the spirit associated with lightning and thunder who eats fire. He’s not unlike Thor in his association with his hammer and lightning:

Directly above this beautifully ornate depiction of Kiwanuka’s hand with his hammer, we find these:

So between people making the sign of the Cross, bowing on bended knee, putting forehead to the ground as they would at a mosque, there are also people dancing around in possessed ecstasy.

To top it all off, there’s this:

So where Muslim and Christian bodily practices play nicely in the same space, symbols of both traditions adorn the walls, and people become possessed by spirits of still unrelated nature over a backdrop of Hindu celebration of the Divine. Is this the music of God in all of her staggering diversity? All I can say is, “Bweeza Merry Krishna As-Salaam Aleykum!”

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