4 December 2012

Uganda: Musicians Return to Drawing Board

It is another busy November Wednesday morning. Kampala road is bustling with business - as I make my first visit to Kampala plaza, a new shopping mall opposite Fido Dido.

The shopping mall remains lifeless with empty rooms until you get to the very top where singer Angela Kalule has a restaurant, K'angiez restaurant. The restaurant is quiet, although outside, on the balcony, is a class-like setting where a group of people listen to an instructor.

And once my host Rosette Nteyafas, Bayimba's Arts Education and Programme coordinator, gets me a seat, I realize I know many people in the class. Musicians Sarah Tamba, Irene Ntale, Anique and Ian Kagimbo are attending the Bayimba artistes training workshop under the theme: 'Practical Musician Season 1'.

For the three-week training, I am the odd man out, attending for the first day in the final week. I am driven by curiosity; what does a training like this add onto already talented musicians like Tamba or Ntale?

Well, it is until you sit in such a class that you appreciate that talent alone cannot take you far unless you grasp the nitty gritty of music. In a red Bayimba T-shirt, the instructor, Kaz Kasozi, a skilled musician and music instructor, was teaching about modes of music.

Even with my four hours in the class, I was able to learn that there are seven modes of music that artistes can explore to sound unique. Yet most of the music today is produced in just two modes; Ionian and Aeolian, which makes it sound the same.

This, according to Kaz, is because very few musicians understand what style of music they do. In fact because of this lack of knowledge of music, most musicians cannot command a band to play their music and in many cases leave the direction of their music to producers, who usually plagiarize hit songs of the time to produce something similar to what the musician has been listening to on the airwaves.

"We don't have a clear identity of our music. What comes around is what we jump on," Kaz said.

With this programme, however, Kaz is optimistic that musicians will begin to appreciate the need to be distinct. The programme equips musicians with skills on how to construct their own scales of music enriched by our diverse indigenous music.

Ian Kagimbo, a singer and songwriter, said: "Uganda has rich rhythms that we have not exploited. I have learnt how to utilize the different rhythms from different regions onto what I do to get a unique sound."

Titan Mukasa, another musician, said: "When you learn music, it helps you to identify the other side of you because most of the times we want to sound like other musicians yet there are things that make us unique."

The short intensive course was designed to appeal to both the beginner and the practising musician in need of skills development. Kaz was assisted by Maloe, a tutor at Kampala Music School. And occasionally veteran musicians such as Moses Matovu, Annet Nandujja, Rachel Magoola and Siraji dropped in to speak to the artistes.

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