by Jessica Rich
In this African Music Blog post, Samite shares his experiences from his most recent trip to Uganda in May 2010.
First, it is important to provide a brief introduction to the most recent political situation in the region. Over the past several years, the Acholi people of Northern Uganda have emerged wounded, but not broken, from a violent rebel movement led by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The goal of Kony, a self-described religious prophet, is to restore the Ugandan Constitution with the Ten Commandments, an effort that he directs by weakening the will of the Acholi, devastating their homes and their families.
In the past two decades, according to the Enough Project, Kony’s army “has abducted as many as 40,000 children, forcing them to serve as soldiers, porters, or sex slaves.” Many children, who will have witnessed the brutality with which the LRA ravaged their villages, were orphaned and taken to protected camps for internally displaced people (IDP). While the LRA’s influence in the region has waned since 2006, due to the Ugandan government’s efforts to restore stability, the group’s violence has left many children and adults with horrific memories and few resources with which to cope.
This past spring, Samite traveled to Kampala, Uganda on behalf of his organization, Musicians for World Harmony, which was developed, as Samite states, “to bring joy and healing to war-torn areas.” The trip was coordinated with help from the Soroti-based agency, Action Against Child Abuse and Neglect (AACAN). Working with children of war is a rewarding yet complex undertaking. Despite international humanitarian efforts in places like Northern Uganda, Samite has seen that child soldiers are often ignored. “I feel like they need a voice. Their childhood is stolen [and] they need to be taken care of.”
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During Samite’s most recent trip, he partnered with Maurice Kirya, a Uganda-based musician. In keeping with the African tradition of healing communities through the power of music, Samite and Maurice worked with former child soldiers to provide them with an artistic outlet through which to recover from the trauma of war. Samite and Maurice met with three young men, Mercy, Phillip and Justin, in hopes of bringing another form of healing to their world with music. The musicians introduced different instruments to the group, including the guitar, as well as traditional African instruments such as the finger harp (or kalimba).
In our next post, the African Music Blog will share the music that Samite and Maurice created with these three young men.
I have been teaching myself to play a new African instrument; one that you may have read about here a few years ago. It is called an adungu and it is indigenous to northern Uganda. I have admired musicians that played it and about 9 months ago, a guitarist who often plays with me, Charlie Shew, called me and told me that he just bought one. He strongly encouraged me to do the same… and I did! Rarely has there been a day since that I have not played it.
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Charlie introduced me to Martin Klabunde, a master of this instrument. Don’t worry, you can have one too, Martin sells them in America at Collective Awakening. Here you will find videos that teach you how to play the adungu, books, and a variety of other instruments as well.
Playing the adungu is meditational and you don’t have to be a master to start playing a song – the instrument will play you for awhile before you can play it. Unfortunately you won’t remember what you have played for awhile, but I stopped worrying about that because it has given me so many songs already that it seems endless. It took me about 3 months before I could play the same song again and now I have begun to introduce the instrument to my audiences and I hope to start recording with it soon.
Samite has just released his ninth CD, “Trust,” as a fundraiser for the non-profit organization of which he is the Founding Director. Musicians for World Harmony will receive all the proceeds from the sale of this CD. To learn more about the music and the making of “Trust,” visit TrustCD.org.
Read a review below (and more reviews at trustcd.org)
Samite Mulondo, Charles Evans, Jr., amp; Tony Cedras
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I admit that I have sat on the recording Trust by Samite, Charles Evans, Jr. and Tony Cedras for over a month because I didn’t know how to frame the music on the CD. First, and most important, Trust acts as a fundraising album for Samite’s nonprofit Musicians for World Harmony which brings music and music therapy to at-risk groups in Africa, mainly East Africa. Second, the CD comes with a warning that the music that appears on the recording is from the movie Addiction Incorporated in which Samite composed the soundtrack. And with all that gravity, you probably expect sad ballads with social messages, none of which you will find on this CD.
The musicians mention in the press notes that they wanted to create a danceable African recording without drums. And darn if you don’t want to get up and dance listening to these polyrhythmic songs that feature acoustic guitar, and accordion played South African style, Samite’s kalimba, flute, and vocals, along with a diverse lineup of guest musicians bringing in horns, penny whistles, cello, percussion, electric guitar, and bass to the mix. Yet, even with this menagerie of instruments, Samite’s signature comes through, just interpreted through new eyes of the guest musicians. Take a listen to Wise Man’s Story and you will recognize one of Samite’s songs reincarnated for this album. Trust falls into world-jazz with the horns coming on board and the effervescent production comes through crystal clear.
So if you seek happier music and want to support a good cause of healing refugees and war victims through music therapy, then pick up Trust. Everybody wins.
Nicholas Geisler is a rising senior at Hamilton College who spent his last semester on an abroad program studying Art and Culture in Dakar, Senegal. This piece is excerpted from a larger blog about the trip at http://studyinsenegal.tumblr.com/
Today, through a turn of events of circumstances too bizarre for me to even begin explaining, I was given the chance to meet Fou Malade, one of Senegal’s most important working rappers and founder of the incredibly influential political movement Y’en a Marre (more on that later). Naturally, I was ecstatic – for those of you that don’t know, my capstone project here is going to be a trilingual poem/rap having something to do with language and cultural appropriation. I started my research with poets, but it quickly became clear that the rap route was going to be more fruitful.
For those of you that have been following me for a while, you’ll remember that literature has been on the decline for some time here in Dakar. But as literature has fallen from favor, hip-hop has risen to take its place. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s hip-hop took off in the US and made its way quickly eastward, and Senegal was not immune to the craze. The early music was tied closely to its American roots, but it didn’t take long for the music to reach the suburbs of Dakar and really explode. Positive Black Soul (PBS) was the first group to really make it big, thanks to some help from French rapper MC Solaar, and their example paved the way for a new youth culture in the outskirts of Dakar.
Since PBS, Senegalese rap has been contained mostly in West Africa, though that’s not necessarily because of poor quality of output. Rather, it’s because Senegal has so re-appropriated rap to fit the local culture that it has become its own living language of Dakar (there is also a solid scene in St. Louis, and Zinganshore, but I can’t really speak to those yet). Wolof, French, English, Serrer, Pulaar, Mandinka – any language you could imagine — is fair game to be spun into a verse.
That doesn’t mean that they just mix up words haphazardly. Rather, there seems to be a bit of an unspoken code as to why and when each language is used. French is the catchall, the way to make the message the biggest and broadest, and speaks to everyone from kids in the streets to diplomats and politicians (more on that later). English is the party mix, a cultural nod to American rap roots that is saved mostly for hooks and breaks. Wolof is for the youth, and is the most powerful way to be heard about issues that are strongly Senegalese. But it is also, like the many other languages I’ve mentioned, the most personal, functioning like an uncontainable burst of the mother tongue to speak from the heart.
Because rap here is about more than money, women, and cars (gross oversimplification of American hip-hop, but the only rap that really makes it out here is radio popular stuff, though somewhat tellingly, Tupac is huge), it’s about a new youth identity. There is not a whole lot of money in music thanks to non-existent copyright laws and the ease of illegal downloads, so rap has to have another purpose. According to Fou Malade, if you walk on stage and rap about “fat stacks”, you’re going to get stones thrown at you. Rap here is about giving the suburbs a voice, about giving power to the powerless. It’s about developing a new language from the cultural rubble that globalization and colonization left in its wake.
Cue G Hip-Hop, the brand new center for Urban Culture Fou Malade opened in his home neighborhood in Guidiwade. The walls were freshly painted with street art ranging from swaths of abstract colors to a huge portrait of Nelson Mandela, and the open courtyard was populated by lounging young men trying to stay out of the midday sun. I got there a bit early and hung around talking to the people that came through. We each bought a CD and checked out the local paintings until, almost out of nowhere, Fou Malade walked in.
As a side note, meeting a celebrity from another culture is a pretty strange experience. On one hand, I knew that I should be nervous – after all this is one of the top rappers in the country. But on the other, I didn’t knowwhy he was famous, other than the basic facts. I’d heard a song or two, read a few articles, and heard his name dropped once or twice. One of the cool things about Senegal is that, being such a small country with such incredible cultural output, it’s really not that hard to meet anyone around here if you have a couple of connections to explore. It wasn’t until I was actually face to face with the man that I realized exactly who I was meeting.
Luckily for me, talking to him came naturally as anyone else I had met. He is a small guy, but he has a fiery temperament – not angry, but passionate about his work and mission. And his intelligence was apparent in the first few minutes, ; he spoke fluidly and articulately in both French and English whenever the need suited him.
G Hip-Hop is somewhat a culmination of many of his artistic goals. On one hand, it’s a performance space, and place for rappers to have discussions and come together. It’s also an art showcase, with paintings and graffiti spilling out from the courtyard into the streets surrounding it. It’s a learning space, with writing, art, and recording spaces and workshops every week for neighborhood children, with over 200 already registered in the first few weeks. There is really only one thing that it’s not – a political space.
That surprised me, coming from the leader of Y’en a Marre the political action group he founded in 2012 to fight against then-President Wade’s unconstitutional bid for a 3 term (they, like us, only allow 2, a rule Wade ironically put in the constitution himself). The group exploded, particularly in the suburbs, where it was sustained by the sort of Hip-Hop activism that would make Lupe Fiasco green with envy. But this center is beyond politics – he made a very big point of refusing any political money so as not to be beholden to the government. He runs the center on gifts and volunteerism, and that’s very intentional. Because the goal of the center is not really to produce music, it’s the byproduct.
The goal is just to build. Too often, Fou Malade laments, we view Hip-Hop as critical and deconstructive, and there is clearly a need for that. But that kind of attitude only leads to more division if it’s not tempered by the joy of creation. G Hip-Hop is a monument to Malade’s home town, a shining example for the youth of what someone can build if they believe in themselves. Multiple times, he referred to his music as Hip-Hop Literature. It is beyond a type of music now; it’s an art form, and an important one at that.
Welcome to our new African Music Blog, a feature designed to bring you the latest news about the world of African music currently enjoying a worldwide following.
Thanks to our dear friend Samite, Soul of Africa sounds are available to a global audience. The New York Times describes Samite’s music as “serenity” that “seemed almost miraculous”. If you know about Samite’s extraordinary outlook on life, you will understand why his music is so transformative.
From his early years in Uganda where his grandfather taught Samite how to play a traditional African flute, to his escape from a political dictator to Nairobi, to the peaceful enclave of Ithaca, New York, Samite says music unites the world. He blends African traditions with challenge, fear and ultimate rebirth.
Our African music blog will provide you with some of this history and perspective and update you on Samite’s latest project, an 8th CD focusing on Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathai of Kenya. Samite is proud that the winner of this prestigious honor hails from his native Africa and he will strive for music that is worthy of the occasion.
Like Samite’s extraordinary life, music with African roots continues to evolve. Historically African music has been difficult to record in writing; it is passed down in an oral tradition and that makes it very different from western music and even from the music of Northern Africa which has Arabic influences.
Sub-Saharan music involves dance as an extension of the expression of music. Since African dialects involve tone languages, that is, the pitch of the delivery changes the meaning of essentially the same word, rhythm; melody and dance follow the tone of the voice to assist in the “translation” of the song.
We will provide a lot of exciting information for you to peruse, both traditional and modern. So check back frequently with our African Music Blog and learn a little something new with every click of the mouse.