by Opiyo Oloya
The album, recorded in New York, is a blistering combination of classic mambo and Cuban sone with Mandingo sound to boot. The relentless percussive power of Papa Pepin's conga, drives the voices of famous Zairean singer Tabu Ley Rochereau, Guniean Sekouba Bambino Diabate, Senegalese Medoune Diallo and Pape Serigne Seck and Benin singer Gnonnas Pedro. The trumpets of Hector "Bomberito" Zarzuela and Ite Herez have never sounded sweeter.
Tabu Ley Rochereau is exquisite on "Paquita", a number he sung in the late 1960s. However, the show is stolen by Guinean griot Sekouba Bambino Diabate whose vocals are superb on the tracks "Apolo" and "Mborin".
Ugandan music got an international boost with the recent release in Sweden of a CD series titled Music From Uganda Volume 1 to 3 (Caprice Records). The series is the result of collaboration between the Swedish National Concert Institute, Caprice Records, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) and the Uganda Ministry of Gender and Community Development.
These recordings were made by a team of Swedish technicians using digital equipment. And they come at a crucial time when Ugandan music is enjoying a cultural revival at home. After many years in a cultural vacuum brought by the wars in the 1980s, Ugandan artists are performing again at the local and national level.
The international market, however, remained out of reach to Ugandan artists. One reason was the lack of proper recording equipments. And equally important was their inexperience in international music marketing.
Sweden, already running other projects in Uganda, was the likely ally for the music project. The end result of this partnership is the series, which offers almost three hours of listening. It includes traditional, modern traditional and urban music from around the East African country.
Volume 1 opens with the esoteric traditional cattle song from Moroto county in the north east. This gives way to the rhythmic laraka-raka youth dance from Acholiland to the north. Later on, one gets the full flavour of the hip-swinging bakisimba traditional music from central Uganda.
But if Volume One is traditional, Volume Two is an eclectic collection of modern music ranging from church to soft rock played on the lukembe thumb piano. The track "Kuc iwi lobo" also known as "Joy to the World" is accompanied by a lively combination of drums, shakers and the adungu harp instrument. Meanwhile, three tracks feature bluesman Bernard Kabanda Ssalongo picking his guitar in a truly unique style. And things get rocking with the group Dim Abilo, a thumb piano ensemble that rivals any modern guitar band.
But if you are a fan of urban pop music, then Volume Three is for you. This album titled "Echoes of Kampala" offers a better sound quality since it was studio recorded. It is a vibrant blend of reggae, soukous, traditional rap and more. And while most of the tracks are performed by a city band known as the Big Five, the album attracts many talented Ugandan artists. The overall effect is that of sweet dance music heard in many of Kampala's fashionable night clubs.
In the end, Music from Uganda does not pretend to provide a complete selection of music from the entire country. Nonetheless it offers a peek at the creative energy that has been unleashed after many years of repression. Moreover it has opened the possibility to more international cooperation between aspiring Ugandan artists and record companies with deep pockets. And that more than anything else, is the real success of this project.
The previous edition of Afrodisc is available
Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.