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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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.


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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